Migrant crisis: Cardinal Nichols criticises 'trade in fear'

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Politicians and the media are "almost trading in fear" over the migrant crisis, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has said.

In a BBC interview, Cardinal Vincent Nichols also criticised the "self indulgent way" in which some Britons had been expressing a hatred of people they see as different.

And he urged people to learn from the faith of Muslim immigrants.

He said society had to have a "fundamental generosity and respect".

Cardinal Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, spoke about a "them and us" attitude to the migrant crisis, which he said "denies our common humanity".

"I think the immigration crisis is real and it needs concerted effort to address it," he said.

"It needs to be addressed realistically with resources and proper legislation, but it's almost impossible to do that in an atmosphere in which fear and hatred are the dominant features."

He cited the example of migrants from Poland and Africa who had been left uncomfortable at the way "arguments around the referendum on EU membership were conducted".

He said "expressions of hatred" on social media as well as racist graffiti were "creating a culture of fear among people who have been welcomed here, never mind those for whom we do have a responsibility because of their desperate need".

'Negative' news

Asked whether he thought politicians or the media could be blamed for his concerns, Cardinal Nichols said: "What we seem to be living with is a kind of popular leadership which is basing itself on fear. It's almost trading in fear.

"As far as I can see that is the worst kind of leadership."

He added: "Sometimes it is the media that gives an opportunity and creates an environment in which every item of news about migrants in this country is negative.

"And that is I think untrue to the reality of this country and corrosive of our best nature and our best contribution."

Cardinal Nichols leads a church that claims four million members in England and Wales, but declining attendance among Britons is being offset by a rise in the number of immigrants.

He said: "I think this country will benefit actually from the vibrancy of the Christian faith that many people bring here.

"Of course what we have to learn too is from the vibrancy of the Muslim faith that comes here."


By Martin Bashir, BBC religious affairs correspondent

When the Pope visited the small Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013, which had become the point of entry into the EU for thousands of migrants and asylum seekers, he spoke of "global indifference" towards the suffering of others.

"It doesn't affect us," he said, "It's not our business".

But fast-forward three years, and the migrant crisis is affecting the entire continent.

Cardinal Nichols' critique is a challenge to the binary account of this crisis, which denotes migrants as "them" as opposed to "us", thereby denying our common humanity.

He says that the consequence of separating people in this way leads directly to the kind of rhetoric that has seen migrants depicted as exhausting the NHS of resources, lowering wages and making no contribution to civic society.

But this kind of rhetoric doesn't simply denigrate one group of people; it may be intended to elevate those making the distinction.

The theologian Miroslav Wolf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, says that blaming and denouncing others can seem beneficial to those casting judgment. Wolf argues that "otherizing" any group - people who may be different racially, socially or sexually, for example - gives us "the illusion of sinlessness and strength".

The cardinal believes that without a more temperate and rational conversation, the hard work of developing a coherent, Europe-wide response to the crisis is made much more difficult, perhaps impossible.

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