Ceri Owen from Wales

ceri I thought I knew how messed up Britain’s asylum system is. I’ve been on protests about it, I’ve stood outside detention centres waving placards, I’ve signed petitions, I’d met a few asylum seekers at church and soup kitchens, I’ve done my bit for Stop The BNP. I thought I knew. But this is different. You can’t understand how dehumanising a system is until you fully understand the humanity of the people trapped in it. I thought I knew the situation for ‘asylum seekers’ was bad. When it’s a housemate and friend who has to formally prove risk to her life in a language she doesn’t speak, without being given even the necessities of life – that’s another level of understanding, not just intellectual awareness of injustice but a gut-level fear for a friend’s safety. As a Christian I’m called to love my enemies, and through the places I’ve lived and worked I’ve heard quite a bit of racism and BNP sympathisers in the last few years. I’ve tried to understand their fear, that the places they feel rooted in are changing in ways they can’t control, that the community they are a part of is becoming something different. Fear of the stranger is an understandable part of being human. But then I look at the guests at LCWF, and think – what if so much of the public discourse wasn’t about ‘asylum seekers’, but about the toddler with the beautiful brown eyes, or the young woman I shared a silly film with last night? The media bogeyman of the ‘asylum seeker’ is easy to fear. It’s only when you get to know people that they stop being just labels and stereotypes. It’s easy to use words like ‘asylum seeker’ as a political tool, and whether that’s to help or to demonise the people so labelled it’s still using them as a means to an end. I thought I cared about asylum seekers. Caring for a person who is far from home and needs somewhere safe to live, an individual with their own name and story and dreams, is different. Sharing a home with ‘asylum seekers’, working with people rather than for them, is changing the way I think. You can fight for a cause, you can believe in it and give your life to it, but you can’t love a cause or an idea. You can only love other people, and you can only grow into that by learning about them and knowing them as a person.