Meeting for Sufferings: Welcome and hospitality

Meeting for Sufferings was held on 2 December at Friends House in London and saw the Sanctuary Everywhere Manifesto approved

Two important subjects received thoughtful and perceptive discernment from Friends at Meeting for Sufferings, which was held in the Large Meeting House at Friends House, London, on Saturday 2 December, and decisions were made on both of them.

The two subjects presented to Friends were the revised Sanctuary Everywhere Manifesto, received from the Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee (QPSWCC), and the report from the Book of Discipline Revision Preparation Group.

A full agenda included minutes received from Area Meetings; the Court and Prison Register; General Meeting for Scotland and Meeting of Friends in Wales; reports from European Yearly Meetings; an item on Quaker Recognised Bodies; the Britain Yearly Meeting trustees report; and the Meeting for Sufferings draft Annual Report (reports on these items will appear in next week’s edition of the Friend).

The meeting ran in parallel with the Young People’s Participation Day. A group of Young Friends aged from fourteen to twenty-one years old joined Sufferings for parts of several sessions during the day, several making contributions, and they also engaged in conversation and discussion with older Friends during the lunch period. There was a very positive response to their participation and to the valuable contribution they made to the day.

At Meeting for Sufferings in Manchester on 7 October Friends were invited to respond to a Sanctuary Everywhere Manifesto that had been drawn up by QPSWCC in consultation with the Forced Migration Advisory Group. The Manifesto was discussed in Manchester and a recommendation made that it be referred back for revision (20 October).

A second draft had been produced and brought to Sufferings and the responsibility of representatives, it was explained, was to respond to this draft.

A Friend said he was ‘grateful for the new work done’ but still had some concerns. He questioned the use of the word ‘violence’ in the Manifesto and highlighted a line: ‘leads us to oppose deportations and removals’.

He explained: ‘Are we saying we oppose deportations and removals under all circumstances?’ Friends, he felt, should offer sanctuary to the innocent, but cited the case of someone involved in international trafficking, who had come into the UK to ‘get slaves into the country’. Would that person, he asked, who had been ‘processed and refused entry’ and who was to be removed, be included? He also said: ‘Are we saying that it’s OK if extremists aren’t challenged?’

He referred to the case of Nazarin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is presently serving a five-year sentence in Iran, as an illustration of the complexity of the issues raised. Many British people have expressed their belief that she should be deported from Iran to the UK.

A Friend spoke strongly that it should be made clear that Quakers opposed ‘unjust deportations’ and removals ‘without due process’.

Another Friend was very concerned about the use of the phrase: ‘It is impossible for a human being to be illegal.’ He urged Friends to be careful with the words they used and that Quakers might be ‘too easily discredited’ if more care is not taken on such phrases.

‘As it stands,’ he said, ‘the statement is legally and logically illiterate. The Manifesto seems to be saying that everyone who is here has a right to stay’. He asked: ‘What about an escaped convict? He is extremely dangerous. Do we say no human being is illegal? As a statement of general principle it does not make sense’. It was, he said, like a ‘slogan’ and he felt ‘if we want to be taken seriously we need to apply more intelligence to the subject than putting out slogans.’

Helen Drewery, head of witness and worship, was invited to respond to these concerns. She said: ‘I’m finding it difficult to know how to respond. A lot of thought has gone into it [the Manifesto]. I am not sure that I can usefully say anything to you. Its up to you, Friends.’

Several changes were made to the revised Manifesto and the new version was then read to Friends.

A Friend welcomed the revised version and said: ‘The Manifesto needs to be set clearly in the context of forced migration.’ She also stressed the importance of ‘how people are treated within the system.’

Another Friend asked for clarification to be made on the words ‘without due process’.  A Friend highlighted the significance of the words ‘welcome’ and ‘hospitality’. Many Friends nodded in approval.

A Young Friend spoke movingly about the importance of stressing the word ‘compassion’ and referred to his own family background and the welcome and compassion given to his mother when she came to Britain. Friends in the room clearly endorsed this heartfelt contribution.

The carefully revised Manifesto was read out and approved by Sufferings.

Sanctuary Everywhere Manifesto approved

A revised Sanctuary Everywhere Manifesto was approved by Meeting for Sufferings and included in the final minutes. It was clearly stated that the revised Manifesto ‘places it firmly within the Quaker tradition of seeking that of God in everyone, speaking up for the oppressed and speaking out against all ‘‘acts of government which set people against one another and turn away those in need”’.

The Manifesto was framed ‘in the context of Quakers’ longstanding work of welcoming newcomers to our shores’ and, with some amendments, was approved as follows:

As Quakers, we have long worked for peace and equality, because of our belief that there is that of God in everyone, everywhere, whoever they are.

Through Quakers’ longstanding work welcoming newcomers to our shores, we have seen up close that the government’s creation of a ‘hostile environment’ is increasingly embedding policies of discrimination into the practices of the British state. Quakers in Britain are committed to working with others to change this, creating a culture of compassion and welcoming hospitality that answers that of God in every person.

Our Meeting for Sufferings was born of a response to the government’s systematic discrimination against Quakers in the past. Today we turn that experience into solidarity, and stand against all oppression and suffering. We declare our determination to work for sanctuary everywhere, including here in Britain, by agreeing this Manifesto for change.

  • Human rights standards for all should be the foundation on which any national policy or international agreement on migration is founded, and these include the right to work, to learn, to housing, to medical care and to security in the event of adverse circumstances beyond personal control.
  • We will campaign for change to the asylum process so that it is built on a culture of compassion and practical response, rather than starting from an assumption of disbelief.
  • Within the UK system of immigration detention is institutional violence and discrimination. We oppose indefinite detention, which we believe neither right nor necessary, and will work towards the closure of all detention centres. Other more humane policies are more effective and should be introduced.
  • Our belief in every human being’s equality leads us to oppose unjust deportations and removals, whether to the EU or to the wider world.
  • The humanitarian risks of trafficking and unsafe passage lead us to work for new, peaceful, safer routes of migration, including the introduction of humanitarian visas and improved rules for family reunion.
  • To ourselves and wider society, we reaffirm our determination to acknowledge and dismantle discrimination in all of its forms, wherever it is to be found.

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