It’s not Christians who are unwelcome in the UK – it’s refugees | Andrew Brown

Andrew Brown
Zaatari camp on the Syria-Jordanian border: ‘Some Christian organisations claim that the refugee camps are not run on a basis of religiously neutral recognition of need.’ Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, fancies himself as the oracle of authoritative common sense. The only thing that shuts him up is his own foot, which he plants in his mouth almost every time he opens it. His latest claim is that there is a cabal of politically correct civil servants who are keeping Syrian Christian refugees out of this country for fear of offending Muslims.

He has been guided to this conclusion by Paul Diamond, a barrister with a record of mostly failure in bringing cases alleging discrimination against Christians.

Almost all Diamond’s most publicised cases have been brought to defend the right of Christians to discriminate against gay people. When this is denied them, he claims they are themselves discriminated against. So his grasp of this kind of logic may be questioned. Nonetheless, there is a possible case that the government is discriminating against Christian refugees. It goes like this.

The present British policy is based on funding refugee camps in the countries nearest Syria, and so far as possible keeping the inmates there. But a minuscule number of the neediest are resettled here, although religion is not recognised as a category implying special need. This seems to eliminate the possibility of religious discrimination. It doesn’t guarantee that the refugees are taken in proportion to their share of the prewar population, and nor should it. If the war itself is much harder on some groups of believers than others – Yazidis and Iraqi Christians, for example – they will show up disproportionately among the neediest and therefore be disproportionately rescued. But that’s obviously fair.

However, the claim made by some Christian organisations is that the refugee camps themselves are not run on a basis of religiously neutral recognition of need. Instead, they are claimed to be run by Muslims for the benefit of Muslims alone, and either to persecute or otherwise discourage Christians from sheltering. Nadim Nassar, a Syrian priest in the Church of England, says there are no Christians at all in the Syrian camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. So a policy which only chooses from refugee camps is going to be discriminatory in its application, whether or not that was the intention.

Other Christian observers say that the vast majority of Christian refugees avoid the camps voluntarily and end up with their extended families in neighbouring countries. In a Syrian context, there is a further complication in that some Christian groups have been among President Assad’s strongest supporters, not from affection, but because they fear his jihadi enemies far more than they do him.

What makes Carey’s arguments silly and irresponsible is the pretence that the British government might ever accept significant numbers of any refugees at all. The objection to taking in Christian refugees does not arise from an imaginary mafia of Guardian-reading civil servants in the Home Office, plotting to extirpate even the memory of Christianity and convert us all to Islam. It comes right from the top. Keeping out migrants of every kind is a central plank of this government’s policy, carried out without discrimination of age, colour, or creed. The British politicians doing most to keep Syrian Christians in Syria would call themselves Christian and devout. One is in fact a vicar’s daughter.

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