Organized actions to save Jewish children facing extermination in Nazi Germany and Austria began before World War II. In Great Britain, the Movement for the Care of Children group organized the travel and shelter of over 10,000 central European Jewish refugee children between December 1938 and September 1939. The operation became known as the Kindertransport, because these children traveled without their parents. Britain, in fact, was rightly proud of the part it played in this movement.
Now the home affairs select committee is calling on the government to halt plans to limit the number of child refugees coming to the UK to 350, and to conduct a thorough investigation into the capacity of councils to take in unaccompanied children.
About 3,000 children were originally expected to come to the UK under the scheme but the home secretary, Amber Rudd claims that the number was lowered because councils did not have enough capacity. However, evidence given to the select committee challenges the government on how far it consulted councils, and suggests that at least 4,000 children could be found homes if central funding was forthcoming.
It is not only a question of receiving child refugees. How we treat the poor is how we treat God. Jesus’s words about the Last Judgement, as we find them in St Matthews Gospel, chapter 25, tell us how we will be judged. We will be judged not only on our treatment of the poor, but also (quoting Jesus’s words) ’I was a stranger and you made me welcome’. This statement is most topical when we are faced with refugees and asylum seekers today. Not only is starvation in Sudan and other parts of Africa the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II, but equally millions of people are being driven from their homes and countries with no place willing to receive them.
The issue of refugees and asylum seekers is very sensitive and complex. Countries need to defend their borders and protect their citizens. There are real political, socio-economic and security issues involved. But we are, in religious terms, told to welcome the stranger in spite of inconvenience and even possible dangers.
We can find all sorts of reasons, political, social, economic, and security for not welcoming the stranger. But how far are these excuses for rejection and exclusion and how far a denial of our obligations? Will the words addressed to us at the Last Judgement be: ‘I was a refugee and you did not welcome me’.
John Cairns, King’s Lynn Catholic Church