My View, Peter Burrows: Welcoming those in danger

Children run past tents at a Syrian refugees camp in Yayladagi, Turkey. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Children run past tents at a Syrian refugees camp in Yayladagi, Turkey. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

The first few days of the New Year brought horrendous images of more than 1,300 migrants being abandoned off the Italian coast by ruthless gangs.

Among them were pregnant women and children held with others in squalid conditions, left at risk of losing their lives after the crew deserted the ships.

Thankfully, they were rescued by the Italian Coastguard – though an uncertain future now awaits them.

It would appear that behind this lay the international problem of people-trafficking – criminal gangs preying on vulnerable people escaping the horrors of war, terrorism and political unrest.

After paying thousands of dollars, the migrants are promised a better life in Europe.

In every city and town, including our own, we find refugees relating stories of ill treatment and threats of death in their own country.

They have made unbelievably risky journeys in a bid to escape the intimidations, only to discover a harsh life awaiting them.

The people on these boats and other refugees and asylum seekers are fellow human beings and, whatever their background and circumstances, deserve compassion and a generous welcome from their host country. This is without doubt an international problem and the European Union must take urgent and concerted action.

However, we should all respond.

The people of Doncaster will soon have an opportunity to do so when it hopefully becomes a City of Sanctuary.

This is a movement to build a culture of hospitality for people seeking sanctuary in the UK.

A City of Sanctuary is a place of safety and welcome for people whose lives are in danger in their own countries.

It is a place where the skills and cultures of people seeking sanctuary are valued, where they are included in local communities and able to contribute to the life of the city.

It is a place where community groups, local government, media, business, schools and colleges have a shared commitment to offering sanctuary, so it is seen as part of the city’s identity.

Through these relationships, local people come to understand the injustices refugees face and become motivated to support and defend them.

In his New Year message, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby said: “When we are at our best, living out the generosity of Jesus Christ, as that has formed itself in our national character; when we turn outwards and use our best resources to change this world in which we live; we see what a wonderful heritage we have – and the hope we can bring to the poorest. My hope and prayer is we are the kind of country that goes on looking outwards; that is full of a generous spirit. Because when we’re generous we find joy and others find comfort and hope.”

I pray Doncaster will be that kind of place as it becomes a City of Sanctuary.

*Peter Burrows, Bishop of Doncaster