Deporting Ourselves

Everybody loved the bit where the Queen pulled out that marmalade sandwich.

Warm and witty, it engaged her with the much loved Paddington. Whether through recent films, the BBC series or, like me, remembering the stories being read in primary school, everyone loves the bear from “Darkest Peru” with the tag asking “Please look after this Bear.”

There’s the obvious juxtaposition between love for this refugee bear coming alongside Home Office intent to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, but within it there is something to learn about the truly sinister in the policies of Priti Patel.

From his arrival at Paddington Station, the Bear pottered straight into the stuff of mundane life and enlivened it: take him shopping and he’ll end up in the department store window, take him to an auction and he’d shout at the wrong moment, or when going to an open air performance of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’ it’s natural for Paddington to slip away to complain to ‘Mr Sherbert’ and then end up on the stage. The common theme is his ability to go into mundane life and make a connection that opens up a bit of life and enlivens and brings out the warmth within it. It’s what he also did at the palace.

This is where the identifying of Paddington with the victims of the inhumane Rwanda policy brings home a truly troubling theological edge. We’re all aware this is an impractical and daft way to handle asylum unless you are a right wing party that’s not very good at governing and has had one too many lockdown parties needing a populist policy akin to Trump’s wall. If you’re the latter then ‘sending them…’ in this way offers a policy designed to appeal to that slither of population that could swing a certain demographic of voters. (In reality, I do think the red wall folks are a lot more decent and also not that stupid).

The theologically troubling bit of this policy lies in the interconnected nature of us all. It springs from something held by that image of a God who is Holy Trinity – the idea that who or what is behind all this, there is a ground of love and interrelationship whereby the life of one is in a divine dance with the life of others. It applies to us as individuals but also forms communities and societies. Archbishop Tutu captured it in teaching about the notion of ‘ubuntu’ – that “I am because we are.”

So, in that scenario you can’t ship off an asylum seeker without losing something of yourself. When the first plane takes off to Rwanda, we’ll be deporting something of ourselves. However bad we’ve been at asylum policy to date we’ve not sunk this far. If a plane departs, something about us will go with it.

In the end, Paddington was a gift (and, in a way, he still is). The tag “Please look after…” ends up curiously misleading because Paddington brings something out in his hosts, including the royal ones. It’s Paddington who does the looking after. Likewise, a heart for the refugee and asylum seeker moves beyond charity but this is not by reverting to self-interest. Instead, in the spirit of those Paddington stories, we discover a renewed sense of family and community. That’s the gift.

PS. There are things to be done about the Governments policy on deportation of asylum seekers.. We can write to MPs using this template from Asylum Welcome and this link enables a call to airlines to refuse participation in this evil scheme. Further information is available from organisations like the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and there is an excellent open letter of response from Migrant Help.

Huw Thomas

Thank-you for reading this. If this was of interest, “In the Way of the Story,” the latest book, is here , and there are more blog posts here. Any questions, comments or feedback, you can pop here. Thanks again.

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