Hmmmm, I'm a bit troubled tonight about immigration due to a pastoral issue. I have never stopped caring about this issue, but for two years now it hasn't been such a live issue in the minds and lives of the people I am around. I'm again finding my thoughts drawn back the way - to the procedures, the offhand way in which some people are treated, the seemingly endless bureaucracy to even speak to someone in the Home Office....some readers with long memories may remember this blog - a joint project with two of my friends. I'm thinking it might need reawakened.
I was part of a team who pastored men, women and children who had suffered so much....I sat with women in the offices of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. I went to solicitor's appointments and to housing associations. I am delighted to say that everyone seeking to remain in Britain from my previous church (a substantial number) in time received Leave to Remain. This makes it sound easy - for some it took many years and not a little humiliation, such as every member of the family having to report to Brand St once a week, knowing that at any time they could be taken to a room round the back, interrogated and then driven away to Dungavel or Yarl's Wood if the Home Office had decreed that they had come to the end of the appeals process (all the cases I knew well were families who had been turned down and therefore were living on "borrowed time" as their solicitors lodged appeals). Some were taken away in dawn raids but didn't get so far as being put on the 'plane back. Each one I knew personally now has Indefinite Leave to Remain and indeed, some now have full citizenship.
I never understood the inherent suspicion with which these families were treated, even, sadly, by some of the legal aid solicitors. As if these women would flee to the UK for economic reasons....when all their loved ones were back in the other country....mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers they would not be able to see for years and years....
I once flew down to Yarl's Wood Detention Centre to visit a family with four children under ten years old who were taken in the middle of the night, thrown into a van bound for Manchester and then Luton and detained for 30 days. Make no mistake about it - these places are prisons. I found that the staff though were apologetic and even embarrassed about their role in locking away this family who loved Jesus and talked about him constantly. I remember *** saying that he asked for his Bible, and the dawn raid officers who were bundling clothes into black bin bags, refused his request. Never have I been so sad to be British.
On Good Friday I was interviewed by a Radio Scotland reporter about the issues that mattered to me in the forthcoming elections. I talked about our immigration and asylum policy. I said that the way we treat people who are genuinely in fear of their lives and their futures made me ashamed to be British.
You can bet my quote is on the cutting room floor.
The God of the Old Testament is the same God today. Please pray this verse over our nation's leaders and in particular over the civil servants in the relevant departments.
'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God'. (Leviticus 19:33-34)