Guest blog by Rain Sherlock, an Associate Fellow of St Ethelburga’s.

It’s difficult to ignore the truth, that our world has many problems. In Britain, we face increasing homelessness, education failure, in-work poverty and increasing violence. Brexit and austerity have exposed divisions by politics, race, class, religion and geographical location. Across the globe, ecological collapse, mass migration, ever widening inequality, technological advancement and globalisation are all becoming more and more salient. 

The lack of trust I harbour towards the very structures, institutions and leaders that I am supposed to have faith in, leaves me angry and dismayed in equal measure. However, perhaps the grit of our post-truth environment can be turned into a pearl and harnessed as the springboard we need to mobilise a quantum jump into a more intelligent, joined-up and compassionate way of being in the world.

Taking a ‘Head, Heart and Hands’ approach to the plight of displaced people, I want to take a moment to give a cameo of context to their reality. Over 70 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, war, natural disaster, extreme poverty, hunger and religious, ethnic, gendered and cultural persecution. While many people fleeing home start their journey with some feelings of hope for a better future, the experience is also full of danger and fear. Many people risk falling prey to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation while some are detained and tortured by authorities once they arrive in host countries. Even once those fleeing their home country have settled into a new life in a new country, they often face daily racism, discrimination and xenophobia. 

While certainty is not a characteristic of the asylum/refugee journey, the degradation of trust – as part of this journey – almost certainly is. It is evident that trust and mistrust feature significantly in the forced migration discourse, from escaping danger in the home country to securing refugee status in a host nation. Decreasing capacity for trust, coupled with the emergence of distrust as a habitual strategy for survival, renders it immensely challenging for forcibly displaced persons to rebuild their lives and integrate into a host society. The restoration of mutual trust as part of the refugee integration process is essential for antidoting the culture of fear, guilt and greed that seems to prevail. 

Currently, the refugee integration process is dismal, not to put too fine a point on it. In the UK, the hostile environment – a policy designed to disincentivise newcomers from seeking asylum – not only negates the process of building trust, it actively encourages a culture of mutual distrust. The policy comprises administrative and legislative processes that conspire to make remaining in the UK difficult for those who do not have the correct documentation. By denying asylum-seekers essential needs, such as access to healthcare, education, a bank account and safe accommodation, the hostile environment aims to deter future asylum-seekers whilst simultaneously encouraging those who are already settled in the UK to ‘voluntarily’ leave. 

Perversely, the hostile environment policy undermines the UKs formal integration framework at all levels – housing, education and employment; social connections; language and cultural knowledge; and rights and citizenship. The disparity between these two policies, both of which are framed as UK policies directed toward refugees reiterates the endemic culture of falsehood, nonsensical methods and destructive distrust that has come to characterise our modern world.

To comprehend this reality for all the many millions of displaced people is painful. It’s uncomfortable. It’s too big to think we can make any difference. Understandably, we commonly fall foul of slipping into cognitive dissonance, as the gap between what we know to be true with our Head and what we can bear to feel about it with our Heart is too great to reconcile. Yet the Heart is the very bridge we need to engage to connect our rational understanding of a situation, indeed our whole world’s situation, with the action we need to take with our Hands, individually and collectively, to foster viable and effective solutions. 

To quote Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. It is time for a shift.  If we cannot hope for decency and integrity from the top down, we have to pare back to the roots and re-build from the bottom up. Ultimately, all we have left to build with, is our humanity…… if we so choose to nurture and exercise it. All we can do is seek to cultivate core values, first within ourselves and then within the immediate tangible real world we occupy, with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and the strangers we encounter.

While we continually look outside of ourselves and blame others; the system, the leaders etc, we will struggle to bring about change, like trying to fight fire with fire. The change has to start within. That doesn’t mean, nor can it mean, that we sit back on our laurels and indulge in our own salvation before seeing to anyone else’s. Quite the contrary my own salvation is directly tied to the liberation of others. 

What we can do each day, is engage the Heart and cultivate core values of kindness, decency, manners, goodwill, solidarity in all our interactions – the simple things that are in fact, often the most profound. Doing so may support a grass roots revolution of Head, Heart and Hands to generate a ground swell of common humanity, strong enough to challenge the status quo of the dysfunctional values demonstrated daily by our political system and its protagonists.

Given that the socio-political agenda subscribes to perpetuating our differences, breeding mistrust, hostility and the illusion that we can exist separately and independently from each other, then The People’s agenda needs to be reinforcing the simple truth that we are fundamentally interconnected, that the environmental crisis knows no borders, that ‘none are saved until all are saved’ and that unity in our humanity is a far deeper truth than the political arenas can ever comprehend, much less embrace. 

We know intellectually, that the magnitude of the refugee/migrant crisis is immense. But until we engage our Hearts, we can keep the issue at arm’s length, safely beyond the reach of our Hands to take action. Just because we can’t fix all the problems today, it does not mean that we can’t address and maybe even fix, a problem today. To tackle the problem of the erosion of trust in the experience of displaced people, the question is, what can I do today, what can we do today? 


UNHCR Figures at a glance –

#CommunityAcrossDifference #OpportunityWithinCrisis #RefugeeAllies

Rain Sherlock, an Associate Fellow of St Ethelburga’s and an alumnus of St Ethelburga’s Act: Speak: Inspire programme (Sacred Activism).  She is passionate about shaping integrated development and social impact policies in response to the current global challenges we face. With an MSc in Migration, Mobility and Development and an MA in Psychology, Rain currently works in evaluation and research for a London based charity. Rain’s mission is to bring compassion and understanding to her work, mobilising her inner values to form outer action.


St Ethelburga's Guest