It’s good to talk

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Marian Pallister reflects on the importance of dialogue rather than force in working with refugees.

Those of us old enough to remember the 1988 British Telecom advert starring actress Maureen Lipman as the over-supportive grandma Beattie, chatting on the phone to her grandson Anthony who has just failed all his exams, know that “It’s good to talk”.

And of course, we have it on a much higher authority these days. Pope Francis has said “If there is one word we should never tire of repeating, it is this: dialogue. We are called to promote a culture of dialogue by every possible means and thus to rebuild the fabric of society.”

Every means possible?

I would suggest that using music can encourage dialogue, and to that end I recommend listening to  ‘Welcome home’, written and sung by the rather splendid Scottish singers from Maryhill Integration Network’s Joyous Choir – see here for a burst of inspiration! 

Who can forget the solidarity shown in Kenmure Street, Glasgow, Scotland back in May? United Kingdom Home Office representatives turned up at dawn to ‘remove’ two men whose asylum status was not settled. In an extraordinary display of civic spirit, neighbours and friends gathered outside the address and summoned friends and relatives. 

Soon the whole street was packed with local people singing “these are our neighbours, leave them be …” and the scene was broadcast to the nation by TV news outlets. 

Faced with the opposition of literally thousands of local people, and after taking police advice, the dawn raid was called off and the refugees were released back to their community.

The song ‘Welcome home’ was written to celebrate that solidarity.

That extraordinary event of peaceful protest, in itself, offered the opening of a dialogue with the Home Office – the chant taken up in the song, ‘These are our neighbours, let them go’, stated the feelings of the local community but also wider society in Scotland which has made it clear for many years that refugees are welcome in our country.

The Kenmure Street raid by immigration enforcement officers was a bad strategic move on the part of the Home Office, of course. If they thought that this multicultural area of Glasgow was going to let this happen, they completely miscalculated. 

But instead of taking note of local people’s concerns, the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel chose not to enter into dialogue that could lead to peace and understanding. Instead, she piled on further pressure, stressing that, “Immigration is a reserved matter for the Government here [in London]… Quite frankly it is pretty clear that when it comes to the nationalists in Scotland they would much rather have an immigration policy of open borders, no checks when it comes to criminals coming to the UK, and no border controls.”

24/03/2021. London, United Kingdom. Home Secretary Priti Patel chairs a virtual call with members of the G6 at the Home Office in London. Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

She added that the Westminster Government was “…changing our laws and bringing in new legislation so the government can remove people that should not be in our country.”

And as if to add insult to injury, in a further speech, she said the Glasgow immigration protesters were protecting ‘rapists and murderers’.

Criminals? Rapists? Murderers?

Is that how we regard those of a different race, creed or culture to our own? Those who have come to our country in search of peace, freedom, help?

Rather we need to realise that refugees are not a threat, they are our neighbours. They are people seeking asylum, who deserve a safe home, just like the rest of us. Look far enough back in your own family tree and you will realise we are all refugees.

The Joyous Choir’s song has been my earworm since I first heard it. I hope it may get into your ear, too, and that we sing it in solidarity with all of our friends and neighbours, near and far. We are, as Pope Francis reminds us, all part of the human family.

My prayer, as someone working for peace, is that faith groups and politicians across the spectrum come together to offer dialogue with Ms Patel, with the aim of reducing the hostility, toning down the rhetoric, recognising the neighbours that we would like to welcome home – rebuilding the fabric of a peaceful society.

Marian Pallister is chair of Pax Christi Scotland

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