Campaigning for better treatment of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. QCEA organised a conference of its Associate Members on the theme of Strangers in a Foreign Land in October 2000. This resulted in a Statement, and some practical suggestions for action by individuals.

Statement of the Conference

The Quaker Council for European Affairs was established in 1979 to represent Quaker concerns to the European institutions. The following Statement is the result of a conference of its Associate Members held on 6/7 October 2000 in Leuven, Belgium.

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is deeply concerned about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers within Europe today. This concern has its roots both in our testimony to peace and equality and in our practical experience working with victims of persecution and war. We recognise the creative contribution made by migrants and refugees in our midst, and our need to listen more sensitively to their voices.

Respect for fundamental human rights and equality before the law are universal imperatives. As Quakers we affirm that our concerns spring from a moral conviction and a pattern of values based on the need to respond to “that of God in every person”. We are gravely concerned to see intolerance (racial, ethnic, cultural) re-emerge as a leading factor in the violation of basic rights in Europe. The fears which impel refugees to leave their homes are mirrored in the fears of those who feel threatened by the presence of strangers in their midst. Such fears cannot be the basis for responsible public policy. Individuals and families who struggle to escape from injustice and conflict deserve our respect and understanding. This oppression, even in subtle forms, diminishes oppressor and oppressed alike.

We have met together at a time when the policies of immigration and asylum are increasingly being determined at a European level. We are all of one human race and responsible each for one another. How we respond to the needs of the vulnerable among us is the litmus test of our civilisation.

We call on the European Union and on the national governments of the member states and the applicant member states to:

  • Encourage appreciation of the contribution to society made by refugees and asylum seekers
  • Secure the rights of third country nationals to participate in the cultural, economic and political processes of those countries in which they reside
  • Implement laws against racism and discrimination
  • Strengthen the 1951 Geneva Convention to include within its scope oppression by non-state parties
  • Immediately end detention in prisons or closed reception centres of asylum seekers when they have not been charged with a criminal offence
  • Guarantee freedom of movement without the need for travel permits for refugees within the country in which their asylum application is being processed
  • Develop comprehensive immigration policies based on criteria other than those now applied to asylum applications.

That which is morally wrong can never be politically right.

Oppression in the extreme appears terrible: but oppression on more refined appearances remains oppression; and where the smallest degree of it is cherished it grows stronger and more extensive.

From ‘A plea for the poor’ John Woolman (Quaker) 1720-1772

Ideas for Information, Reflection and Action by Individuals and Meetings

  • Invite speakers to Meeting for an ongoing clarification of thought.
  • Counter anti-refugee sentiments (in the press and other places) with informed statements, including statistics and personal stories where appropriate.
  • Challenge myths and stereotypes involving migrants wherever these are encountered.
  • Encourage positive reporting in the media.
  • Lobby politicians on local/national/European level.
  • Seek to understand the root causes of migration.
  • Seek to understand the causes of local anti-refugee sentiments.
  • Activate/reactivate MM social action groups.
  • Organise social events for/with refugees.
  • Make available space in Friends’ Meeting Houses for use by refugee groups.
  • Befriend individual refugees.
  • Find out information on new asylum seekers arriving in the locality.
  • Accompany refugees in their contact with local authorities.
  • Support local refugee service initiatives (advocacy, literacy, language, orientation).
  • Organise collections of furniture, clothes, dictionaries, toys, money.