I was born a mile from a village called Fleur-dy-lys, an unusual French name for a place in one of the eastern valleys of Wales. The village came into being because of a group who might be classed as amongst Britain’s first refugees.
The Huguenots were French protestant followers of the teachings of John Calvin and some 50,000 fled France because of religious persecution by the dominant Roman Catholic church during the 17th century.
I am sure, like me, you have been following the recent events in the Mediterranean and southern European states with a mixture of sadness and horror.
It seems as if the picture of a child’s body being collected from the surf, just one of thousands of people who have drowned this year, finally triggered a collective revulsion at inadequate leadership across the continent and a surge of compassion for those fleeing the carnage of the Middle East.
The crisis facing Europe is very complex and there are no easy answers.
The response of those who have welcomed the refugees with cheers and material help is incredibly heartening. Germans in particular will understand the trauma of becoming refugees after the terrible events that beset them in 1945 -46.
One of the things I sometimes challenge pupils in school assembly is if you had to leave your home at short notice and not return what things would pack if you had just a rucksack? It makes a point about what is a luxury and what is a necessity. What would you do?
The peoples of the Middle East have a strong ethic of welcoming the stranger. The bible is shot through with references of welcoming ‘strangers at the gate’. It is not a suggestion but rather an injunction.
Sadly the issue of sheltering the refugee has become confused in our country with the wider issue of immigration and the language employed is often unhelpful and dehumanising.
In 1914 Bridport welcomed refugees from Belgium. Bridport did not turn its back on ‘the strangers at the gate’ then and I am sure it wouldn’t now.