Speaking up for refugees & migrants: London rally

Showing solidarity with refugees: Some of the JRS/Jesuit group
Showing solidarity with refugees: Some of the JRS/Jesuit group

Volunteers and supporters of Jesuit Refugee Service UK - including a number of Jesuits - joined the protest in Whitehall on Monday evening on behalf of migrants and refugees. Tens of thousands took part in a show of solidarity following last week’s decision by President Donald Trump to bar refugees from entering the USA and to close the country’s borders to people from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Jesuits from across London, including members of the Mount Street Community and the Hurtado Jesuit Centre, expressed their disquiet at the policy, which is regarded as discriminatory, and likely to damage Christian-Muslim relations.

“We can't pretend that what is happening in the US is not our concern,” says Sarah Teather, Director of JRS UK. “It threatens to destabilise refugee protection mechanisms elsewhere, both resettlement and asylum, let alone the possibility that this marks the beginning of even more serious descent into state sponsored discrimination. Now seems like an important time to join with others to speak up for refugees, and for Christians to stand with their Muslim brothers and sisters in solidarity.”

Fr Damian Howard SJ, the Superior at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre, who teaches inter-religious dialogue at Heythrop College, also took part in the London protest. He believes that Donald Trump’s orders on asylum unfairly punish all Muslims for the actions of a few. "They single out countries whose citizens have never carried out terrorist attacks on the US, meanwhile ignoring others, such as Saudi Arabia, whose records are rather less innocent," he says. "Helping Christian refugees from the Middle East is a good thing; abandoning others who desperately need our protection, simply because they are not Christian, feeds sectarian resentment. The most dangerous thing is that this unjust and needless step will at a stroke give credence to the claim that the West is at war with Muslims. This narrative, which always stokes the fires of radicalism, must not be allowed to prevail.”JRS voices: Sarah Teather, Megan Knowles and Kate Stogdon

Contrary to Gospel values

After the rally in Whitehall, Sarah Teather described it as "an amazing turnout ... making our voices heard about welcoming refugees, calling on the UK government to condemn the US ban with its implications for destabilising refugee protection worldwide. Amongst our group, we had JRS and JM (Jesuit Missions) staff, volunteers, Jesuits, and religious sisters. Eight Jesuits were in the crowd, six Cenacle sisters, one Medical Missionary Sister, a Franciscan and two sisters from the Holy Family of Bordeaux. We also caught up with friends from Cafod who had a big group too. As Christian organisations we stand together with refugees regardless of their faith. To reject refugees is contrary to the gospel."

Also attending the rally yesterday evening in Whitehall were Fr David Stewart SJ of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network, Fr Mike Smith SJ, who works with JRS and in Adult Education, the Jesuits in Britain's Treasurer, Br Stephen Power SJ, and Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, Superior of the Mount Street Jesuit Community in central London. Fr Robinson says that he took part because he believes the decision of the US administration to be contrary to Christian and Catholic values of human dignity, care for the weakest in society and of religious freedom.  "In particular, the appeal to Christians by prioritising Christian refugees and refusing entry to those from Muslim countries is in fact a paradoxically pernicious way of promoting what is sheer contrary to Gospel values," he says.

"The tragedy of Islamic extremism is real and, rather than punish those fleeing terror by sending them back to terror simply because they were born into the Islamic religion, we need to support work for reconciliation in the Middle East," continues Fr Robinson, who believes that Christianity is a unique and vital bridge in this work. This means that, in addition to offering welcome to those of all religions or none who have to flee, we need also to help the Christian community to stay in their historic homelands. "Instead of this, the appeal to Christian prioritisation and blanket refusal of refugees from Muslim-majority countries distorts the Gospel and hampers the work for reconciliation by spreading a gospel of isolationism and fear. And it flies in the face of religious freedom," he says.

In addition to London, there were also protests in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Newcastle, Sheffield, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton, Gloucester, Leeds, York, Liverpool, Leicester and several other towns and cities.