This week is Refugee Week – an annual programme of events highlighting the contribution refugees make to UK communities, and countering negative and misleading narratives about those seeking sanctuary.
It wasn’t that long ago I received a stark reminder of why such a week is necessary.
‘NICK COKE IS A RACE TRAITOR’. There before my eyes was a notice stuck to a lamppost. Six words in large, bold capital letters shouting out on a white background – the word ‘RACE’ enlarged for extra emphasis. Further on up the street I could see another, fixed to a pillar at the entrance to the supermarket carpark. I drove on, got out of the car and ripped it down. Apparently there had been more up and down the high street near to the church where I was shortly to speak about the life-changing work we do with vulnerable refugees. Early arrivals had spotted and removed most of them, except as I drove away at the end of the evening I caught sight of another further on up the road. It was late, I was tired and wanted to go home, I drove on.
Why would someone do this? Was it because of my billing on the church’s publicity as the national Refugee Response Co-ordinator for The Salvation Army, and a ‘supporter of refugees’? In truth I found it pretty shocking to be named and targeted in this way. It’s never happened before, I’m not convinced it’ll happen again – but it would be foolish to pretend that it doesn’t reveal something disturbing about the precarious times in which we live.
We talk about a ‘refugee crisis’ but it seems to me that the crisis is as much about our own hearts and minds as it is anything else.