“You work with asylum seekers. Of course you’re political.”

“I’m not very political”, I said laughingly in response to something someone said the other evening.

“You work with asylum seekers,” he replied, “of course you’re political.”

It was a line that slightly jarred and one that I’ve been reflecting on since.

I have certainly become more political since I started working with asylum seekers. Working in the voluntary sector, I’ve watched the disappearance of one local project after the other and it’s hard to ignore the implications of funding cuts and policy decisions, especially on the poor. My MP’s number is saved in my phone, and I am more than happy to call it. I felt a sense of pride and duty when I went off to vote, and a rising irritation at some friends’ apathy. I sign petitions, I want to speak out and I would align myself with Bonhoeffer’s conviction that “we are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

So, I’ve become more political, and I’m glad about that. However, I didn’t take on my job as a political cause, but because asylum seekers were the people I saw around me and cared about. For me it’s always been about people. Nonetheless, it is impossible – going back to Bonhoeffer – to bandage one wound after another without coming round to the need to drive a spoke into that wheel.

But there’s an aspect of the assumption that there’s something inherently political about working with asylum seekers which doesn’t sit quite right with me, and I can’t quite work out why. I don’t know if it’s the conflation of issues that gets me (tying together questions of asylum, safety and protection, with those of immigration policy, disbelief and quotas), or what.

Am a bit stuck in my thinking on this one. Any thoughts?

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