The Refugee Crisis – Can we at St Mark’s make a difference?

James MacDonald Reid reports    

At the 2016 AGM of St Mark’s Unitarian Church, Edinburgh, there was a suggestion that we might seek to affiliate with some larger organisation or movement which is dedicated to assisting vulnerable refugees. In particular, the recent situation when it was revealed that there were upwards of 3000 unaccompanied refugee children in the camps of northern France, many of them with relatives within the UK. As the Home Office was holding up their applications for entry, it seemed imperative that those of us who are concerned with humanitarian principles should be ready to provide them with security of whatever sort and by whatever means possible. As our most basic Unitarian principles fit in quite neatly with the concept of helping the innocent when in a crisis, this should be a cause around which we can all rally. However, such a small community as ours would be more effective if we were to unite with others. As the person who made the suggestion, it fell to me to investigate the various organisations and come up with a recommendation.

With that in mind, I spoke with two politicians who are noted for their humanitarian principles: Alyn Smith MEP and Tommy Sheppard MP. Both of them recommended Re-Act as the most appropriate charity for our aims. As Tommy Sheppard happens to be the MP for Edinburgh East (within which constituency St Mark’s is situated; Edinburgh East currently extends from Portobello to Lothian Road since the demise of Edinburgh Central in Westminster seats), he suggested that he come to St Mark’s personally to address us on this issue and others. It was settled that on Sunday 19 June that Tommy would come and take the slot normally reserved for the sermon.

Tommy took to the podium without notes, as is his usual practice (remember; he was the founder and director of The Stand Comedy Club before entering politics). He covered quite a range of topics but especially the general principles behind the assistance of refugees in a crisis. Those who are unaccompanied children cannot possibly pose any danger for a host country, and we have plenty enough to provide for the most basic and immediate needs of those who have come to our shores when their own homes have been destroyed. Further, it would be possible for people like us to provide sponsorships for individuals who are displaced. For the immediate situation, a dialogue with Re-Act would seem the most sensible.

After the service, Tommy held a question-and-answer session within the church. During this it was revealed that he had just announced that he was standing for the new Depute Leader of the SNP. Although he held a formal meeting for party members at 5pm that very day, his Q&A session at St Mark’s will be remembered as his first meeting in which he announced his intention to stand for the position. A positive rapport between the Edinburgh Unitarians and our MP might well lead to further developments in the future as Tommy Sheppard holds many principles in common with our community.