What’s the story?
Former England football star-turned TV presenter Gary Lineker drew a mix of anger and acclaim after publicly calling out racist attitudes toward refugees in Calais. His comments followed revelations that dental checks could be used to establish the ages of apparent unaccompanied child migrants, and led to responses ranging from supportive tweets to calls for him to be sacked.
After much campaigning – a lot of it from Christian groups – the British government has agreed to accept a number of unaccompanied child refugees into the UK. Around 100 children and young people, many of whom have travelled alone from war-torn Syria, are currently being resettled in the UK, while campaigners including former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams continue to fight for a further 400 child migrants to join them.
However, when several of the refugees arriving in the UK appeared to be over the age of 18, opponents of migrant resettlement led calls for the ages of all refugees to be verified. One of the methods suggested for this was the use of dental x-rays; an idea disputed as ‘unethical’ by the British Dental Association. Media coverage quickly began to propagate the idea that adult refugees were exploiting a loophole and entering the country under the pretence that they were children, and this soon led to an outpouring of anger across social media sites.
This in turn led to former sportsman Lineker’s tweet:
“The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What's happening to our country?”
Critics immediately argued that as a BBC employee – albeit a freelance one – Lineker should not be making such a political statement online. Equally, his stance won support from many, including leading refugee charity Care4Calais, who responded:
“Thank you @GaryLineker for speaking out about this. The world needs more compassionate people like you!”
The storm around Lineker’s words suggests that following Britain’s decision to leave the EU, the political temperature in the country remains high, especially around the issue of immigration. Opinion on the government’s immigration policies is fiercely divided, both inside and outside the church. Meanwhile, although the ‘jungle’ refugee camp in Calais has been demolished, people continue to head towards Europe in search of safety and a better life.
What have others been saying?
The Sun courted controversy by publishing a front page suggesting that Lineker should be fired from his BBC job after tweeting so politically.
...so The Independent’s quick-fire spin-off Indy 100 swiftly rounded up the best social media responses to the Sun’s rather ironic call for media discipline.
More seriously, Carey Lodge wrote powerfully for Christian Today that “our refugee policy needs to be driven by compassion, not cruelty.”
And a Premier radio interview with Ben Bano from refugee charity seeking sanctuary called the idea of a migrant ‘tooth check’ “un-Christian”.
#1 – COMPASSION
Whatever else our response to child refugees might be, it must be rooted in compassion. The word literally means ‘to suffer with’, and is most perfectly illustrated through the incarnation and death of Jesus. The Bible is littered with references to this sacrificial, getting-alongside kind of love, such as Paul’s words in Galatians 6 v 2: “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
And Mark 6 v 34 says that when Jesus saw a great crowd, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” If we want to emulate him, then we too must look on great crowds of ‘lost’ people and cultivate the same sense of self-sacrificing love in ourselves.
#2 – RACISM
No Christian believes that racism is Godly, but Christian definitions of racism vary wildly. For some the word should only be used for disgusting verbal and physical abuse, but for others it describes an attitude which is much more subtly entrenched in our behaviours and practices. If your church is full of people who all look the same, while the culture outside your doors is much more diverse, then perhaps you have a problem. The Apostle Paul wrote that “there is neither Jew nor Greek... for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), so our church communities must reflect this, if not in their makeup, then certainly in their treatment of ‘others’, including those who are refugees.
Points for prayer
- Pray particularly for unaccompanied child refugees, that they would be kept safe, have access to health provision, and where possible be reunited with their families.
- Pray for the continuing international response to the refugee crisis; that solutions would be sought and found.
- Pray for celebrities and others in positions of influence, that they would be able to use that influence for good.
Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor ofYouthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.