Archbishop of Canterbury uses new year message to speak up for refugees

The Archbishop of Canterbury kneels before the altar at Westminster AbbeyReuters

The Archbishop of Canterbury today speaks up for refugees, calling on Britain to welcome them today as this country has done in the past. Society becomes a better place by holding out the hand of friendship, he says.

The Most Rev Justin Welby, delivering his new year message for the BBC, says: "Jesus was a refugee – fleeing as a baby with his parents, returning years later to a strange new 'home'.

"He tells us to be those who welcome the alien and stranger, the poor and weak. As a nation we have always done so. In today's world hospitality and love are our most formidable weapons against hatred and extremism."

Speaking about Marsh Academy, a school in Canterbury diocese, he says: "I had the honour to meet, privately, an inspiring boy, who at just 14 fled his homeland in North Africa after soldiers stormed his school and attempted to abduct him. He was saved by a courageous teacher but was so terrified that it would happen again he decided to escape. This is just one example of the many desperate journeys children are making on their own to save their lives."

He praises the school as a place that welcomes, loves, serves, teaches and equips,  and demonstrates Britain's ability to live up to a long tradition of warmth and hospitality.

"It's not a rich school; many families in the area are struggling on a day-to-day basis. And yet this school and surrounding community are astonishingly generous. If they can do it so can we all."

He also refers to the historic chapel in Canterbury cathedral that was set aside in the sixteenth century for refugees fleeing persecution in France.

"The hospitality of people here brings love, hope and joy. If we imitate them society becomes a far better place."

A scene in the Calais 'jungle'Seeking Sanctuary

Europe is currently in the grip of the biggest refugeee crisis for decades. Germany took in more than a million refugees last year, compared to a tiny fraction of that number taken in by Britain. A growing crisis is engulfing the refugee camp in Calais, with hundreds from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries in Africa and the Middle East trying unsuccessfully to break through the barriers around the Eurotunnel on Christmas Day.

Former foreign secretary David Miliband, who now heads the Internatiomnal Rescue Committee aid agency, has called on the US and UK not to close their doors to refugees from Syria in the wake of the attacks in Paris and California. He said last month that this would have a serious "ripple effect" across Europe and the Middle East.