Churches in Lee on Solent act together for refugees

 When news came recently of a Government proposal to house young male asylum-seekers in the former Daedalus naval barracks of Lee on Solent, there was strong local reaction. An open meeting was planned at the Anglican Church hall, to discuss all the issues involved. The situation escalated rapidly, with petitions in shops and an open-air meeting on Saturday 15 February, at which all those who got to speak opposed the plan. The Daedalus railings were covered with banners and the incident led to national television coverage. Local churches felt compelled to speak out. It was true that the people had not been consulted or even informed, but the open hostility to refugees was taking an ugly turn. The four clergy of the churches active in Lee on Solent, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Community Church made a joint statement: 'Many people in Lee-on-the-Solent and Stubbington are very worried and in some cases afraid of the impact of an asylum centre upon their community. Some of the quick responses of some people have in our view been ill judged and disappointing. It is hoped that the authorities will consult widely with the local community before any scheme is actually implemented. Should the proposals go ahead there will be problems to overcome and it is essential that the centre and the community be adequately resourced to meet the needs of all who are involved. We recognise the Christian duty we have to welcome and care for refugees and we hope that we would be able to do that to the best of our ability with an eye to the needs of the whole community.' A local resident writes: The strength of feeling aroused was shown the day after the announcement when I encountered on my doorstep a forceful woman with a paper saying in enormous letters: NO REFUGEES IN OUR AREA. I asked her where she wanted them to be. "Not in my area" was her only answer. That was the response elsewhere, in the greengrocer's, the supermarkets, and the street. The petitioners engaged in no debate, and alternatives views met with blank stares at best. Unintentionally perhaps, thrusting these statements at people, expecting compliance, was felt by some as bullying. In contrast, the two Christians who distributed factual leaflets outside the open meeting on the slipway were described as gentle and courteous. The banners on Daedalus exhorted: "Protect our wives and daughters", and the more ambiguous: "Die they die for this?" with an arrow pointing to the war memorial. The anger at not being consulted was valid; but at times the expression was not. People were citing as fact some of the speculations in our less responsible newspapers. Some spoke with reason "They have to be somewhere": others had decided views on where: "Back where they came from". Christians are called by our faith to seek to heal the nations, and to speak for the voiceless. The voiceless here are the asylum-seekers, who have not been consulted either, and local residents uneasy at the one-sided approach, who want to ensure a complex issue is addressed with justice and thoughtfulness. There are good reasons why Daedalus may not be suitable for this proposed use. The local churches have spoken together to keep the discussion reasoned, on our duty to local people and a duty to those who have fled to our shores. source: Portsmouth Diocese

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