Few would deny that Britain is more divided than at any time...
Migration has been happening throughout human history. The Bible chronicles the migrations of Abraham, Moses and the people of Israel. America was built by generations of immigrants as was Australia. Conflict with the native populations happened but eventually the immigrants settled and helped to build new nations. Today immigration has become a hot political issue because of the numbers involved. It is estimated that there are more than 200 million migrants worldwide.
Migration can involve huge risks. It is estimated that 341,361 have already died trying to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe in the last few years. They were desperate to escape tyrannical Governments, religious persecution, extreme poverty or the effects of climate change that made it impossible to grow enough to feed their families. They also migrated to join their families already here, to work or to study.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a better life but some in the countries to which they sought to find sanctuary did not want hordes of refugees. Anti-immigrant parties sprang up in Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, France and the UK. Even in the USA President Trump has sought to block immigrants from Mexico and Muslim countries he considers a threat to America.
Much of this hostility is rooted in a fear that immigrants will not share the same values as the indigenous population and they will take their jobs and create extra pressures on housing and public services. It is not unreasonable to expect immigrants to respect the values and cultural norms of their host country but racist bigotry amongst the latter is equally wrong. Pope Francis was right to urge Christians to welcome people whose lives have been made wretched by poverty, injustice and exploitation.
Some people concerned about the number of migrants argue that we are the most densely populated country in Europe and have persuaded the Government that migration needs to be substantially reduced. They are wrong in two senses. First, Holland and urban Spain are both more densely populated than the UK. Second, whilst England has 406 people per square Kilometre, Scotland has only 67, Wales 147 and Northern Ireland 130. It is a question of managing immigration sensibly rather than a blanket policy for the whole country.
Those who came to Britain to work are playing a significant part in our national life. 150,000 of them work in the NHS, that’s 12.5% of its 1.2.million employees. Without these doctors and nurses the health service would struggle to meet our expectations. A similar situation exists in the construction industry. 7% of the 2.2million people in this industry are from the other EU countries and In London the figure is 28%. Their significance is enhanced when their ages are taken into account. 46% of the British labourers are 45 or older whilst only 18% of the migrant workers are in this age band. British agriculture and food processing tell a similar story. 35% of the farm workers, 44% of those in meat processing and 47.6% in fruit and vegetable processing are EU migrants.
People also come to Britain to study or teach in our universities. 19% of the students in British higher education courses and 42% of post graduate students are from overseas. The largest numbers come from China and India. Almost a third of their lecturers are non-British.
Asylum seekers are fewer in number but a no less important category of immigrant. Last year they numbered 14,767, of whom 5,866 were children. They come to escape violence, torture and imprisonment and even the possibility of execution. Britain has an honourable history of receiving deposed rulers and Jewish people escaping from Nazi Germany. We can do no less for those fleeing Syria, Eritrea and other tyrannical states.
On this issue, regardless of our political sympathies, Christians will be mindful of God’s injunction to not ill-treat the alien (Exodus 22:21; Psalm 146:9) and Jesus’ teaching about the Good Samaritan. As God’s elect we are all strangers in the world (1Peter 1:1) and will care about our oppressed fellow human beings