Immigration and Refugees
Quakers believe that the testimony to equality should determine our treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. They also recognise that firstly war and secondly economic inequality are the primary factors depriving people of the capacity to earn a living wage in their own countries and driving refugees from their homes.
As Michael Bartlet, the parliamentary liaison officer for Quakers in Britain, wrote in the Guardian newspaper:
“Refugees are the human face of international injustice. They are the place – in this country – where we see the real impact of inequality: armed conflict, the inability of failed states to provide a secure home for their citizens, and abusive governments. The impact of climate change adds a further dimension in increasing pressure on land and resources. “
Quaker concern for refugees rose first out of their wartime relief work. The Friends War Victims Relief Committee (later the Friends Relief Service) was first set up during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-3) and operated in South Africa during the Boer War (1899-1902). Along with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), they ran refugee camps in Southern France during the Spanish Civil War (1936-9) and from 1940 to 1948 operated in Great Britain, France, The Netherlands, Greece, Germany, Austria, and Poland. In these and many other examples, Quakers worked on the principle of providing help equally to all sides.
The Germany Emergency Committee (later Friends Committee for Refugees and Aliens) was set up in 1933. In 1938 they played a key part in organising the Kindertransport, rescuing 10,000 children who might otherwise have died in concentration camps.
When war broke out in 1939, Friends became concerned about the 60,000 Jewish refugees in Britain. Some were destitute, some were classified as enemy aliens and confined; all were in need of support and care. Bloomsbury House set up training schemes that would help refugees qualify for jobs often very menial. By the end of the war 95% of refugees were self-supporting.
In 1942, the AFSC were one of the only groups in the US to publicly support the 120,000 Japanese Americans forced to leave their homes on the West Coast and detained in camps across the US. The AFSC led the Japanese American Student Relocation Council that helped more than 3,600 students out of the camps and back into American Universities. In Canada, Quakers also worked with United, Anglican and Catholic churches to help Japanese detainees.
In the 1940s and 50s, the AFSC worked to resettle refugees during the partition of India and on the Gaza Strip following the Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
Quaker and civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin, spoke out in support of Vietnamese and Haitian refugees to the US in the 1970s. As a representative of the International Rescue Committee, he visited refugee camps in Thailand, Somalia, Pakistan and Puerto Rico. He wrote:
“If our government lacks compassion for these dispossessed human beings, it is difficult to believe that the same government can have much compassion for America’s black minority, or for America’s poor.”
In the 1980s, Quakers helped to found the Sanctuary Movement , which helped Salvadoran and other refugees fleeing conflict in Central America.
In Kenya, after the post-election violence in 2007, many people fled their homes to live in temporary camps. The Kenya Friends Church Peace Team provided some immediate help and later enabled many refugees to return home.
Today, Quakers in Britain, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand are lobbying their governments to ensure that policies towards immigrants and refugees are based on a respect for human rights.
Since 2006, the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network has worked in the UK to change the way that Refugees and Asylum Seekers are treated, to ensure that justice and compassion are the guiding principles. They campaign against the detention of children, against indefinite detention, and against the use of forced removals.
The AFSC’s web page on immigration justice states: “Humane immigration policy must include a fair path for undocumented workers to gain permanent residence status. It also must be coupled with economic and trade policies that permit working people to earn a living wage in their home countries, foster an authentic commitment to demilitarization, and lead to the peaceful resolution of internal and international conflicts.”