By David Waywell Adapted from an article first published at the Spectator.
What a wonderful gesture by the UK’s Archbishop of Canterbury who is inviting ‘a family or two’ of refugees into his home. Well, not specifically into his home but a 4 bedroom cottage that sits in the grounds of Lambeth Palace. Opening up your home-which-isn’t-your-home to refugees is becoming quite popular among people who have more houses than hats. Bob Geldof has offered the use of his country home as well as his London flat. The Pope has instructed that Vatican lodgings should be made available to a few refugee families. This crisis is proving easier to solve that we first thought. By my quick calculation: that’s possibly up to 10 families fixed up. Just another two hundred thousand to go. If somebody could just persuade Cliff Richard to open up his various homes, we might be able to house the lot.
I don’t suppose that this is the time to talk about tenancy agreements and how long they’ll be allowed to stay. No doubt it’s until they’re ‘back on their feet’, though in a country already experiencing critical housing shortages and increasingly low wages, the Archbishop should get used to the sound of refugee children kicking footballs beneath his window for some time to come.
My advice to any refugee family soon to call the Archbishop their landlord – you can start by picking out your own curtains. There won’t be many places available in London as comfortable, spacious, or as centrally located as a cottage in the grounds of Lambeth Palace. And who, frankly, will have the audacity to move you on? The headlines write themselves should you outstay your welcome: ‘Archbishop Chucks Out Refugees’; ‘Wellby seeing you!’; ‘Vicar evictor!’
The story exemplifies the way the problem is being variously considered. Men such as the Archbishop, the Pope, and Bob Geldof, concern themselves with the moral dimension. Moral problems tend to have simple answers such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The refugee crisis certainly has a moral component to which the answer should always be ‘yes’. However, it is largely a practical challenge meaning the answer should largely be ‘no’. The Archbishop has a finite number of cottages at his disposal in the very same way that the government has a finite amount of housing, a finite number of hospital beds. The sanitation system was built and is slowly rebuilt for estimated but finite populations. There are also a finite number of refugees but their numbers potentially far exceed the resources any country has available without impacting on the provision of services provided to the resident populations.
So the telling part of the Archbishop’s gesture isn’t that he’s allowing families into Lambeth Palace. It’s that he’s actually closing his doors to the rest. In a sense, the Archbishop of Canterbury is being far less Christian than even the supposedly villainous Hungarian border police who have admitted far more than ‘a family or two’.
If the Archbishop of Canterbury is sincerely arguing that we’re not doing enough, he would and should allow any and all refugee families into Lambeth Palace. It might get a little crowded but if he genuinely outraged by the government’s ‘very slim’ response, then the subsequent chaos would demonstrate why this is not simply a matter of saying that ‘Jesus was a refugee’.