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“Refugees” and the Problem of Identity in the UK

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Religion in the European Refugee Crisis

Part of the book series: Religion and Global Migrations ((RGM))


This chapter takes the concept of identity as a lens to examine the shifting patterns of attitudes in England to those who are forced migrants. As a policy adviser in the Church of England, Martin Kettle has observed how both legal and political rhetoric have manipulated what was once, perhaps, a straightforward concept of “the refugee.” A particular focus in the UK, since late 2015, has been the resettlement of Syrian refugees. Churches have been to the fore in campaigning on behalf of this group of refugees. Kettle attempts to trace how the “refugee” identity has been problematized as a result. Amid all the layers of social, political, and economic context which shape understandings of the “refugee,” Kettle suggests that a robust eschatology of the kingdom of God will need to be articulated if a healthy approach to refugees and identity is to be maintained within churches.

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  1. 1.

    For a key early text in the long history of study of identity politics, see Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43/6 (1990), 1241–1299.

  2. 2.

    See ibid.

  3. 3.

    See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Random House, 1975).

  4. 4.

    Ibid., 191.

  5. 5.

    See George Sørensen, “An Analysis of Contemporary Statehood: Consequences for Conflict and Cooperation,” Review of International Studies 23/3 (1997), 253–269. See also Dan Bulley, Migration, Ethics and Power (London: Sage, 2017), 91–92.

  6. 6.

    See again Sørensen, “An Analysis of Contemporary Statehood.”

  7. 7.

    Bulley, Migration, Ethics and Power.

  8. 8.

    See Gordon Brown, “The Future of Britishness,” Speech to the Fabian Society, January 2006.

  9. 9.

    See Her Majesty’s Government, Prevent Strategy 2011 (London: Crown Copyright, 2011), 34.

  10. 10.

    See Home Office: UK Border Agency, A Strong New Force at the Border (London: Crown Copyright, 2008). The exception here is the strengthening of physical security, at British expense, to prevent unauthorized journeys from Calais to Britain.

  11. 11.

    See Free Movement, “Another Massive Increase in Immigration and Nationality Application Fees for 2017–18,” available at (accessed 05/2017).

  12. 12.

    In an interview with The Telegraph in 2012, then Home Secretary Theresa May described the aim of her policy as “to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.” See (accessed 05/2017).

  13. 13.

    See Liz Fekete, “The Emergence of Xeno-Racism,” available at (accessed 05/2017).

  14. 14.

    See Archbishops’ Council Mission and Public Affairs Division, “Countering Far Right Political Parties, Extremist Groups and Racist Politics,” available at (accessed 05/2017).

  15. 15.

    See Chris Allen, “Fear and Loathing: The Political Discourse in Relation to Muslims and Islam in the British Contemporary Setting,” Politics and Religion 2/4 (2010), 221–236.

  16. 16.

    See Bulley, Migration, Ethics and Power, 89–114.

  17. 17.

    See Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978).

  18. 18.

    See, for example, Barnabas Fund, “UK Discrimination Against Syrian Christian Refugees,” available at (accessed 05/2017).

  19. 19.

    See ibid.

  20. 20.

    The Persian congregation at Liverpool Cathedral is one example. See (accessed 05/2017).

  21. 21.

    The “Social Exclusion Unit” was established in December 1997 and continued until 2004. See (accessed 05/2017).

  22. 22.

    See Louise Casey, The Casey Report: A Review into Opportunity and Integration (London: Crown Copyright, 2016).

  23. 23.

    Ibid., 168.

  24. 24.

    Ibid., 14.

  25. 25.

    Ibid., 95.

  26. 26.


  27. 27.

    Ibid., 168.

  28. 28.

    Ibid., 5.

  29. 29.

    For the “New Neighbours” scheme, see (accessed 04/2017).

  30. 30.


  31. 31.


  32. 32.

    Casey, The Casey Report, 136.

  33. 33.

    See Office for National Statistics, “Migration Statistics Quarterly Report May 2016,” available at (accessed 05/2017).

  34. 34.

    See Esther Addley and Helen Pidd, “Scotland Has Taken in More Than a Third of all UK’s Syrian Refugees,” The Guardian, May 27, 2016, available at (accessed 05/2017).

  35. 35.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury, cited in Daily Hansard, September 7, 2015, available at (accessed 05/2017).

  36. 36.

    See “Theresa May’s Speech to the Conservative Party Conference—In Full,” Independent October 6, 2015, available at (accessed 05/2017).

  37. 37.

    See (accessed 05/2017).

  38. 38.

    See (accessed 05/2017).

  39. 39.

    See Susanna Snyder, Asylum-seeking, Migration and Church (London: Routledge, 2012); Fleur S. Houston, You Shall Love the Stranger as Yourself: The Bible, Refugees and Asylum (London: Routledge, 2012).

  40. 40.

    See Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, “The Faith-Gender-Asylum Nexus: An Intersectionalist Analysis of Representations of the ‘Refugee Crisis’,” in The Refugee Crisis and Religion, ed. Luca Mavelli and Erin K. Wilson (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 207–221.

  41. 41.

    See House of Bishops, “Who Is My Neighbor?,” available at’-pastoral-letter-on-the-2015-general-election.aspx (accessed 05/2017), 3.

  42. 42.

    Ibid., 13.

  43. 43.

    Ibid., 33.

  44. 44.

    Ibid., 36.

  45. 45.

    Ibid., 52.

  46. 46.

    See Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 3 vols (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).

  47. 47.

    See Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology. With a New Afterword (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 87–140.

  48. 48.

    See Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).

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Kettle, M. (2018). “Refugees” and the Problem of Identity in the UK. In: Schmiedel, U., Smith, G. (eds) Religion in the European Refugee Crisis. Religion and Global Migrations. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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