We have been so honoured to have the Rt Revd Paul Butler as our Patron but when he retires in February after ten years as Bishop of Durham, he will retire from Action Foundation too. At our End of Year Celebration today, he delivered his farewell speech to clients, staff and volunteers…

‘Stop the Boats’ has become a malign mantra daubed across politicians’ lecterns during this past year.

But in his farewell speech to Action Foundation, our departing Patron, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, declared:

“There is no such thing as an illegal human being and we are not in the business of stopping boats because there are people in the boats. And we should be welcoming as much as we can.”

He told the audience at our End of Year Celebration on Thursday that the UK had a proud history of being a country of welcome to those who seek asylum.

“That is this country’s history and anybody who traces their ancestry back several hundred years will normally find that, somewhere in their own history, someone arrived from another country and was welcomed in this country and contributed to it and that is part and parcel of what has made the United Kingdom the United Kingdom.”

Watch Bishop Paul’s speech

However, Bishop Paul said it felt to him that we were losing the sense of being a country of welcome and that the approach now appeared to be ‘We don’t trust you, we don’t believe you, we don’t really want you, unless you can persuade us otherwise’.

“It used to be the other way around. We trust you, we believe you, we welcome you,” Bishop Paul added.

At the same time he said the Government had just published the fact that this year more asylum seekers had been given permanent leave to remain or refugee status than ever in our history although he noted there had also been a significant increase of withdrawn asylum claims in the same period – something that required investigation.

“So the largest number were welcomed and the smallest number were refused as a percentage which keeps reminding me, and I hope the nation, that the vast majority of those who travel to this country by whatever means, seeking asylum genuinely do it because they need asylum and they need welcome and they need refuge.”

He asked Action Foundation to ‘keep up the campaigning at a local level’ and pledged that he would seek to continue to campaign on the national stage, whilst recognising his means for doing so might diminish as he retires in the new year.

“Action Foundation is the living example that the heartbeat of the ordinary people of this nation is to welcome people, is to support them, to care for them, to love them, to meet them in their need,” he said.

“That’s what Action Foundation does that’s what all of you who volunteer for it do. You seek to care, to welcome, to make things happen, to give people hope, to help people with clothing, to help people with language, to help people into jobs.

“And thank you for doing it, whether you get paid for it or whether you volunteer – and it is wonderful that those of you who have only been here a few weeks and still don’t know whether your future is secure are already engaging in welcoming and supporting and helping one another.

“We are a mixed nation, we send out negative messages, but at heart we still believe that we want to be a nation of welcome and this city of Newcastle, the City of Sunderland and Gateshead, they want to be places where people feel welcome and then can contribute to the life of the nation.

“So thank you for everything you do. It has been a real privilege being Patron of this organisation and I trust it will go from strength to strength in the future.”