Methodist leader criticises British Empire amid Carrick migrant controversy

The leader of the Methodist Church in Ireland has attacked Britain’s history of colonialism, as he rallied to the defence of foreign nationals who are being housed in Carrickfergus by the Home Office.

Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 7:46 pm
Dr Sahr Yambasu preaching during his installment as Methodist president last month

Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu, a farmer’s son from Sierra Leone in west Africa, took up the denomination’s top job last month.

He was reacting to a row over the government’s use of the currently-closed Belfast Loughshore Hotel in Carrickfergus to accommodate foreign nationals.

Rumours surrounding the new arrivals have been rife for several days, fuelled by the flat refusal of either the Home Office or Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to answer any questions about the matter.

Instead, the Home Office issued a generalised statement condemning “dangerous, unnecessary and illegal small boat crossings” – adding: “Due to the unprecedented demand we have had to use temporary accommodation such as hotels to manage demands on the asylum estate.”

Much of the news coverage of the issue has focussed on the comments of DUP councillor Marc Collins who had said: “At the end of the day we have plenty within our own communities who need help first and foremost...

“Why can’t our homeless veterans be put up in hotel accommodation until a home is found for them? Why can’t working class families who are struggling to stay above the breadline be provided with their food and drink free?”

He added: “In our daily work we come across so many local families and individuals who are in crisis, homeless, relying on food banks, etc. and yet none of this help is ever afforded to them...

“I’m all for helping those that need it, but let’s get our priorities straight first!

“Having legitimate concerns is not the same as being racist.”

What followed was a storm of criticism of these remarks, including from Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson.

In response councillor Collins said: “Stewart Dickson thinks it is ‘vile’ to ask questions on behalf of constituents who have genuine concerns... It is my duty to get them answers.”

GOVERNMENT ENGAGED IN ‘TRAVESTY AGAINST HUMANITY’:

Rev Dr Yambasu has been an Irish citizen since 1989, has lived on the island of Ireland since 1995 due to civil war in his home country, and is married to Clodagh Yambasu, a fellow Methodist minister.

Speaking to the News Letter about his stance on this matter, Rev Yambasu began by quoting from Matthew 25: “...I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in...”

These, he said, are some of Jesus’ “criteria for judging those who belong to His Kingdom”.

“I start by respectfully inviting Mr Collins and his supporters who are probably Christians to reflect carefully on what they are standing for as people who call Jesus their Lord,” he continued.

“How, I wonder, would Mr. Collins feel if he, a member of his family [or constituents] were at the receiving end of such an attitude and view in their time of need?”

He also said the government’s current bill to criminalise people who “knowingly arrive in the UK without permission” would be “simply laughable if it was not such a travesty against humanity”.

Rev Yambasu added: “It makes me wonder what permission Britain received, and from whom, when they went round the world to take possession of other people’s countries and colonise their peoples?”

He also said: “We know most vulnerable people who come across our borders seeking for asylum are running away from desperate situations of war in Yemen, Syria, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, and so on.

“Some are running from the effects of climate change in terms of droughts and the undermining of livelihoods. And still others from political persecution.

“Some are trafficked and others travel by themselves.”

‘WE TOO ARE IMPLICATED’:

He continued: “Our own governments and people are not always uninvolved in the reasons for people leaving their homes to seek for asylum elsewhere.

“There are geopolitical reasons that implicate them and us even if they do not want to acknowledge them.

“Their arms production and sales industries which create jobs for them are part of the problem.

“Climate crisis created and sustained by our methods of production to satisfy our insatiable needs implicates us and our governments.”

He also said that some people “talk about economic migrants as though Irish people have never been economic migrants in other people’s countries and are not now” – but that “there are many undocumented Irish people in America and possibly other parts of the world”.

Rev Yambasu has previously spoken out about his concerns over a rising tide of “right wing thinking”. Just ahead of his installation as president, he said:

“As a church, we are often more exercised about the shade of paint on a church wall, what doctrines we teach, what denomination we belong to, what interpretation is correct or wrong than we are with the value and equality of every human being.

“The Black Lives Matter movement, the rise in popularity of right wing thinking and groups, the hostile attitude towards migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and

Muslims, the continuing disparity in pay and awarding of leadership roles between men and women and the rampant discrimination and racism in the workplace and beyond point, among other things, to the fact that some human beings are not recognised, respected and valued in the same way as other human beings.”

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