The 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees defines a refugee as someone who:
‘…owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being resident outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.’
Article 14(1) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states:
‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’
“We hold the vision that the UK will be a welcoming place of safety for all and proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution.” (City of Sanctuary UK 2017)
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees states: “No one becomes a refugee by choice; but the rest of us can have a choice about how we help.” As Christians we are guided by biblical teaching and our following of Christ. In this season of preparation for Christmas we are reminded of our responsibility, along with God’s promise of light and life for this world.
Jesus became human: For Christians the Incarnation is an expression of God’s unlimited love for humanity, the babe born in a manger was to be good news of joy for all people (Luke 2.10). Just as every person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1.27), so Jesus becoming human affirms the dignity of all people. No individual or group of people are ‘problems’ to be dealt with but they are deserving of dignity as people loved by God. We all share a common humanity devoid of distinction between strangers and inhabitants.
Jesus the refugee: He took refuge in Egypt as a child when Mary and Joseph fled Herod’s threat to kill him. Jesus also experienced life under Roman occupation so knew measures that deprived people of their freedom and trampled upon their dignity. Jesus is born homeless and experiences tyranny and suffering. He identifies with the refugee and the oppressed and calls on us to similarly identify compassionately with the vulnerable.
Jesus the stranger: Jesus tells us that our response to the stranger is a response to Jesus himself (Matthew 25.40). When recognising Christ in the stranger’s guise we begin to encounter the divine in the other. Not only do we then move from a situation of ‘us’ and ‘them’ to a new relationship of ‘we’, there is blessing in the encounter and we become human together.
Chester Cathedral will strive to be a place of welcome and refuge for asylum-seekers and refugees both within our city, area and nationally. As Christ said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me”.