Supporting migrants and refugees has long been part of the Church's mission. In the national debate, one of the most important voices is also one of the quietest - that of the refugee.
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is an international Catholic organisation, at work in over 50 countries around the world with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
As we continue our series of interviews focusing on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees that will be celebrated on Sunday, 26 September, we hear from one of the JRS’s refugee friends. It’s an opportunity to hear a voice that often goes unheard.
You support the Jesuit Refugee Service and find out more about its work at jrsuk.net.
Interviewer: Could you tell us a bit about your own story and about what Pope Francis’s message means to you?
I arrived in the UK in 2005 as a visitor – all my siblings are here. I just thought, I’m the only one back home. Both my parents have died and one or two things happened to the condition of the country where I was brought up.
I have a disability which has given my family a lot of concerns leaving me alone as the fifth of my mum’s five children. They were worried about my welfare.
I had my own business back then but one day robbers came and burgled my shop. I was down… so depressed.
The fear, coupled with the love my siblings had for me, they knew I had to be moved so they invited me to come to the United Kingdom. And I’ve been here since then – thanks to the glory of God.
Interviewer: You’ve had that really positive engagement with JRS and that’s obviously the sort of work that the Pope is talking about in his message. Could you tell us a bit more about your reaction to it? What so the Pope’s words mean to you?
The Pope is, to me, like God’s representative on Earth so the Pope’s words meant a lot to me. As Christians we have to be together. You are no longer one, but only one single body in Christ. That body encompasses all humanity. We are one body – we walk together as human beings. So the Pope wants us to come together as Christians that we should walk together as one.
If you look at Matthew 25:35, He says: “You have been so good to me.” They said: “When did we do this to you?” He said: “When my people were in prison, you visited them. You gave them food when they were hungry.” So I think the UK should accommodate [refugees]. No matter what, they should accommodate them, be more friendly to them.
There’s an adage where I come from, in Nigeria, that says: If you see a man running, if something is not pushing him, he must be pushing something. Someone that has left their comfort zone – their country – to come to a country that’s unknown, leaving all their comforts, their family and everything… There must be something they are looking after. When you go to this country expecting a good welcome and they’re hostile to you, this can make a person go mad.
One thing the Churches in England and Wales can do is work together with the law of the country – maybe to amend it to the way of Christ. Also give the refugees what they need to work. Maybe as soon as they come, when they scrutinise them and everything, they should give most of them papers to work and contribute to the economy of the UK.
A lot of them who are there want to work. When they work, it impacts on their image, makes them free and thereby boosts the economy of the country.
There must be reasons for them to come to this country. Let’s use my country Nigeria as an example. I was discussing with a sister right now about what is happening in Nigeria. Things everyone knows about… kidnapping, bad political leaders. You know, they want all the money to be in their pockets alone. They use people to work and at the end of the day the tax goes into their pockets.
Someone was telling me… you don’t know what the future holds for some of the youths that are growing up in Nigeria now. So is that the country you want to send
someone back to? Someone who left the country 16 years ago? To go back to that country to work when you don’t even have enough energy to walk. There are people like that. [The UK] should just make them comfortable. Let them feel welcome. They should try to accommodate everyone.
If you don’t get closer to me, you won’t know who I am. If you are not close to me, you won’t know my capability. So they should try to accommodate them, make them welcome – let them feel at home and I know if they try to do that, definitely there are a lot of migrants out there that want to contribute to the
economy of this nation. But because of the, let me say, hostile environment, because of the hostile welcome, because of the hostile law that is holding them down.
Interviewer: Thank you so much for that and for all your reflections on what Pope Francis’s message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees means in our context here in England and Wales. It has been so valuable to hear your voice as part of this discussion. And we hope and pray that the changes that the Pope has called for will be seen in our own society here. Thank you again for joining us.
Thank you very much.