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Refugee Week: Rowan Williams calls for Britain to honour its history of hospitality towards refugees

19 June 2016 -The UK must do much more to respond to the current refugee crisis and ought not to ‘turn a blind eye’ to the suffering of people seeking sanctuary, Dr Rowan Williams has said.

Speaking ahead of Refugee Week, the Chair of Christian Aid said: “The UK has a proud history of offering refuge to those who are in need. In the 1930s, the Kindertransport saved the lives of Jewish children from Germany. We welcomed Ugandan Asians, and Vietnamese refugees, in the 1970s, and Kosovan refugees in the late 1990s.

“British lawyers inspired by Christian principles drafted the UN Refugee Convention. Our history shows that in moments of crisis the world can come together and choose the right, if not the easiest, path. Will we do so today?

“The vision that inspired Christian Aid’s creation in 1945 was one that emerged from destruction, pain and suffering, and a belief in a world where all people would live together as neighbours. 

“Some seventy years later, we find ourselves facing the biggest displacement of people to Europe since the Second World War. Desperate people who have been driven out of their homes by war are being forced to make dangerous journeys in search of sanctuary. Yet many countries are closing their borders and putting up barbed wire.”

According to the UN, poor countries such as Lebanon and Iraq are hosting 86 per cent of the world’s refugees, while the five richest countries in the world – including the UK - hosts less than 5 per cent of all refugees.

Dr Williams added: “The UK must not turn a blind eye to this crisis. We can and must do more to respond. The rhetoric in the media is one that suggests that the UK is ‘full’, and that those arriving on our shores are ‘a drain on our economy.’ Not only are these assertions unfounded, but they fail to recognise the positive, life-affirming contributions that generations of refugees have made to British society – and that we ourselves are changed by welcoming the stranger.

“Rather than treating people with hostility and disdain, we must recognise that every neighbour is our neighbour, and that we have it within ourselves to respond with compassion and welcome, and to offer an opportunity for people to rebuild their lives.”

Ahead of the UN High Level Meeting on Refugees and Migrants on September 19th, Christian Aid is calling on the UK government to take a fair and proportionate share of refugees, and provide safe and legal routes for refugees to travel to, and through, Europe.

Christian Aid currently works in Greece and Serbia through the ACT Alliance. Our partners are providing essential humanitarian support such as shelters, beds, mattresses and hygiene kits. On the Greek mainland, our partner the Greek Council for Refugees delivers legal protection services to unaccompanied minors, and our partner Catholic Relief Services provides housing to some of the most vulnerable refugees.

Christian Aid is urging the UK Government to:

  • Resettle far higher numbers of refugees, broaden the nationalities it resettles and significantly accelerate the resettlement in the UK of the 20,000 Syrians it has already agreed to accept.

  • Introduce a system of humanitarian visas to the UK, including via third countries;

  • Strengthen and implement adequate measures for family reunification;

  • Act on its responsibilities to relocate refugees already in the EU.


To arrange interviews with Laura Taylor (Head of Advocacy) or Sian Rowbotham (Senior Refugee Crisis Programme Officer) please contact Amy Merone on 07731 431 679 and amerone@christian-aid.org. 24 hour press duty phone – 07850 242 950.  

Notes to editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.

2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.

3. Christian Aid is a member of ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. 

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid, visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk

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