Dover Prayer Service & Westminster Cathedral Mass for World Day of Migrants and Refugees

Mass at Westminster Cathedral, 26 September, 5:30-6:30pm

Bishop Paul McAleenan

The annual International Mass on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees will be celebrated by Bishop Paul McAleenan at Westminster Cathedral, Victoria St, London SW1P 1LT, UK.

All are welcome to attend in person or via the Cathedral livestream.

https://rcdow.org.uk/news/live-streams-from-westminster-cathedral/

Little Amal meets Pope Francis

Amal is visiting Westminster Cathedral on Monday, 25th October 2021, 2-3pm.

Photo: Sarah Loader

Photo: Sarah Loader

Source: Independent Catholic News

On Friday 10th September Little Amal, the 3.5 metre puppet of a nine-year-old Syrian refugee girl who is on an 8,000 km journey from the Syrian border to Manchester, was greeted in the Vatican by Pope Francis.

Pope Francis has been deeply engaged in the plight of refugees over recent years including many who fled war-torn Syria in search of safety. Little Amal was invited to the Vatican where the Pope blessed her and wished her well on her journey in search of her mother. She is an emblem of the millions of displaced refugee children separated from their families. Embodying the urgent message “Don’t forget about us”, her journey shines a light on the stories of the refugee children she represents.

“Among migrants, says Pope Francis, children like Amal constitute the most vulnerable group, because as they face the life ahead of them, they are invisible and voiceless. Amal invites us to open our eyes and hear their voices, so please come to meet her when she is in Rome.”

The Walk, the name given to the long journey of the puppet, consists of more than 100 acts of welcome in 65 villages, towns and cities. Beginning in the city of Gaziantep in south-east Turkey on 27 July and ending in Manchester on 3 November, at each stage of her journey she is being welcomed by artistic and cultural events created by and reflective of the communities she visits.

Addressing Amal as she stood amidst a crowd in St Peter’s Square, Cardinal Michael Czerny, Undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees section of the Vatican, said: “Amal is great and beautiful. Meeting her is a pleasure, but she reminds us that encountering asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants in our midst requires more than just looking.”

To celebrate the occasion of Amal’s arrival, the diocese of Rome organised a party for hundreds of children from different Roman parishes.

Little Amal is at the heart of The Walk, one of the most ambitious artworks ever created, produced by Good Chance Theatre under the artistic direction of Amir Nizar Zuabi and producers Stephen Daldry, David Lan, Tracey Seaward and Naomi Webb, in association with the Handspring Puppet Company.

A 70+ page Education & Activity pack and Teachers’ Notes in six languages featuring illustrations by Syrian artist Diala Brisly. This can be downloaded from The Walk’s website: www.walkwithamal.org/education/activity-pack/

The Walk brings together celebrated artists, major cultural institutions, community groups and humanitarian organisations as well as municipalities, civic and humanitarian organisations, faith leaders and schools. For a full list of partners please visit: www.walkwithamal.org/friends/

The Walk website contains a donation page which invites the public to help to fund Amal’s journey at £1 per step.

The full programme is available on The Walk’s website: www.walkwithamal.org/events/

London Churches Refugee Fund Statement on Afghanistan

The trustees of the London Churches Refugee Fund stand in solidarity with the children, women and men of Afghanistan in their deep trouble.

To those who have managed to escape to Britain, far from home, families and lives broken, struggling to survive in an unfamiliar world: we welcome you, praying that you meet with love and compassion from the British people. We pray also for the families and friends left behind, hungry and afraid, and facing a terrifying future and the threat of violent death. Our hearts go out to them.

Now more than ever all refugees need our help, material assistance and prayers. LCRF recognises that all the refugee charities we support in London will have an additional burden to bear as a result of this unfolding human tragedy. They will stand in ever greater need of our twice-yearly grants to help support those destitute asylum seekers who access their services. And we, in our turn, pledge to do all we can to help them.

https://www.help4refugees.co.uk/

Little Amal Takes Her First Steps on The Walk

Photo: Hüseyin Ovayolu

Photo: Hüseyin Ovayolu

Source: Independent Catholic News

Little Amal will be in Central London on 23rd October, waking up on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and being welcomed by many faith leaders

Little Amal took her first steps last night, 27 July, marking the start of The Walk and her 8,000km journey from the Syria-Turkey border to the UK. The 3.5m puppet of a nine-year-old Syrian refugee girl started her journey in Gaziantep, Turkey. Many streets in the ancient heart of the city were illuminated by lanterns creating a path for Little Amal to follow to reach a special concert for her at Gaziantep Castle.

The Walk continues until 3 November 2021, through Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany before reaching its finale in Manchester. In each village, town or city she visits Little Amal will be welcomed by major new arts commissions, city-wide community performances and intimate events. All events are free and have been designed by The Walk, in collaboration with each local partner to create one of the most adventurous public artworks ever attempted. Audiences will be able to follow Little Amal’s journey online and across social media, as well as joining in with events in their local area.

Little Amal represents the millions of displaced refugee children separated from their families. Her urgent message to the world is “Don’t forget about us”. Produced by Stephen Daldry, David Lan, Tracey Seaward and Naomi Webb for Good Chance Theatre, the producers of The Jungle, in association with the Handspring Puppet Company, the creators of the War Horse puppets, and led by Artistic Director Amir Nizar Zuabi.

It takes three puppeteers to operate Little Amal; a stilt walker who also brings her face to life and one on each of her arms. There is a total team of eleven puppeteers, including two from refugee backgrounds. The puppet is crafted from moulded cane and carbon fibre.

The Walk has developed an Education Programme which will connect young people from refugee and host communities to forge bonds of friendship. The programme includes:

A 70+ page Education & Activity pack and Teachers’ Notes in six languages featuring illustrations by Syrian artist Diala Brisly. This can be downloaded from The Walk’s website: www.walkwithamal.org/education/activity-pack/
A series of free online education events for teachers and educational leaders “Make With Amal” – an online engagement programme of art activities inspired by Amal’s route.

The Walk today launches ‘City Through Their Eyes’, a new digital guide on the Bloomberg Connects app – a free digital guide to cultural organisations around the world that makes it easy to access and engage with arts and culture from mobile devices, anytime, anywhere – to elevate and celebrate the voices of refugee and migrant artists across Turkey and Europe. Drawing from the cultural richness of their homelands, artists from refugee and migrant backgrounds offer intimate and unexpected insights into the towns and cities they now call home, alongside contributions from people who have lived in these towns and cities all their lives. To coincide with Little Amal’s first steps in Gaziantep, audio guides from artists and cultural leaders across Turkey are now available exclusively on the app. As Little Amal approaches each country on her journey, a new collection guides will be added. The app also offers a suite of six exclusive interviews with the cast and creative team of The Walk.

The Walk brings together celebrated artists, major cultural institutions, community groups and humanitarian organisations as well as municipalities, civic and humanitarian organisations, faith leaders and schools. For a full list of partners please visit: www.walkwithamal.org/friends/

The Walk website contains a donation page which invites the public to help to fund Amal’s journey at £1 per step.

The full programme is available on The Walk’s website: www.walkwithamal.org/events/

Caritas Westminster Statement on Nationality and Borders Bill

Source: Caritas Westminster

One of the principles of Catholic Teaching is the “Preferential Option for the Poor”. This means going beyond treating people equally, but rather working to bring people out of their desperate situations, enabling them to live full and dignified lives. It means we can judge our decisions, and the decisions of policy makers on their impact on those who have the least. It also means, as Pope Francis says, to put the poor at the centre of our thinking

On 6 July the Nationality and Borders Bill entered parliament. The government has said this Bill will produce a fair and just asylum system. But many Catholic charities have said that the proposals are unfair, unjust and will not work. They also do nothing to address the root causes of forced migration and trafficking.

Bishop Paul McAleenan spoke at the latest Diocese of Westminster network meeting for those working with migrants and refugees, saying, “one can look at what is immediately before us, refugees seeking shelter, and address that question, which we should do. We can also be bolder and ask, ‘How did this happen?’ Are we somehow responsible for creating this situation?” For example, when people flee from conflict, we could ask “who supplied the weapons for that war?” And if someone needs to leave their home because it has become uninhabitable due to the changing climate, we know that wealthier countries like the UK have contributed more to climate breakdown.

Watch Bishop Paul’s contribution at this meeting on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSdhV-_KCFc

The Nationality and Borders Bill treats people who have been forced to flee their home, as a problem to be solved, rather than as a product of an unjust global situation. Its aim is national self-preservation and self-interest, rather than compassion, and care for humanity.

Those working in foodbanks, homeless drop-ins and other projects supported by Caritas Westminster, witness first hand how our asylum system forces people into destitution.

The new Bill will make this worse by deliberately dividing refugees into two groups – those who came here under a government resettlement scheme, and those who had to make their own way using unsafe and so-called “illegal” routes. This in itself is discriminatory.

As Bishop Paul said: “Catholic Social Teaching states that each person must be treated with equal care, equal compassion and equal dignity, all are made in the image of God. They are all refugees, all fleeing for whatever reason.”

The Government also claims that penalising those who have been forced to pay traffickers for unsafe boat crossings will put those traffickers out of business. But as Bishop William Kenney, a member of the Santa Marta Group, said of these proposals: ‘Across the world it has been consistently demonstrated that policies criminalising those seeking sanctuary and introducing new border security measures do not save lives but are simply a charter for trafficking’

The Bill includes plans to expand the use of asylum accommodation centres. Centres like the Napier Barracks have been housing asylum seekers in prison like conditions, effectively punishing people who have arrived using “illegal” routes. This could be against article 31 of the 1951 Convention on Refugees. The use of such centres is not only inhumane, but provides little support for people to navigate their way through the complex asylum claim system. It also prevents refugees integrating into British community life, creating more division and suspicion in our population.

Caritas Westminster, along with other Catholic Charities sees three main issues that the Government needs to address:

The asylum system should never penalise people for arriving spontaneously or without documents, or differentiate asylum claims on the basis of how people got here. Most refugees have no choice of how they travel.

Asylum claimants should have safe and dignified accommodation within British communities.

Secure safe routes to the UK and prevent dangerous Channel crossings. We need ambitious, compassionate and detailed plans that will meaningfully expand safe routes to the UK for refugees – until then, people will continue to risk dangerous journeys to reach protection and loved ones.

What can you do?

Responses from Catholic charities with expert knowledge of refugees and the asylum system:

The SVP says: “In a nutshell, only those who have travelled directly to the UK from a country where their life or freedom was at risk will be able to claim asylum on arrival. Those who arrive via a third country will have no opportunity to claim asylum on arrival and will be at risk of being sent offshore, leaving them vulnerable and stripped of their human rights. This approach abandons the principle of international protection and ignores the reality of forced migration. This proposal is unlikely to deter people making dangerous journeys to the UK to find safety.”

“The Refugee Convention does not state that a person must claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. We believe that by penalising asylum seekers based on their mode of transport to the UK and the route they took to arrive on our shores the Government is creating an asylum system lacking any kind of empathy or compassion for human beings in need.”

On the publication of the Bill, Sarah Teather the Director of JRS UK said: “Today is a dark day in British history. Punishing people seeking safety for how they travelled to the UK is a shameful violation of our commitment to international law & puts many more lives at risk. Those seeking refuge on our shores deserve to be welcomed with humanity, and fair process – not a barbaric culture of hostility.”

LINKS

Nationalities and Borders Bill – https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3023

JRS report published earlier this year: Being Human in the Asylum System – www.jrsuk.net/publications/

Message of Pope Francis for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2021 – www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20210503_world-migrants-day-2021.html

Response to the Bill from Safe Passage – www.safepassage.org.uk/news/2021/7/7/our-response-to-the-borders-bill

Westminster Justice and Peace among signatories of letter to Priti Patel urging rethink of the government’s New Plan for Immigration

Source: Independent Catholic News

A coalition of faith groups and faith leaders have written to to Home Secretary Priti Patel urging her to rethink the government’s proposed New Plan for Immigration, which they say ‘lack humanity and respect for human dignity.’

Signatories include the Jesuit Refugee Service, Caritas, Welcome Churches, the Salvation Army, Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network, UK Welcomes Refugees, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Free Church of Scotland and many others.

The full statement follows:

On 24 March 2021, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced the government’s New Plan for Immigration (NPFI), which was launched alongside a consultation on the proposals. Following the closure of the consultation on 6 May 2021, the government is planning to introduce a bill to enshrine the proposals into UK law.

As a coalition of Christian faith groups and faith leaders brought together by the St Vincent de Paul Society (England & Wales), we believe these proposals lack humanity and respect for human dignity. We believe it would be wrong to create a system in which the way people enter the UK will impact how their asylum claim is processed and the status they might receive.

Many people who are forced to flee their homes in desperate circumstances simply have no choice but to cross borders informally to reach a safe haven; to penalise them for this is to abandon the very principle of international protection. Moves to criminalise and penalise undocumented entry to the UK set out in the NPFI mean it will effectively be impossible for most people to claim asylum in the UK because safe and legal routes for claiming asylum in the UK are extremely limited, and could never feasibly be made available to all who need them. We cannot ignore their plight and reduce it to a statistical act of bureaucracy.

This nation has a long history of welcoming people from all over the world. People who have arrived in our communities through the asylum system are our neighbours, members of our congregations and valued members of our neighbourhoods. We should recognise our common interests of family, community and faith, and embrace the diversity which makes our communities dynamic and vibrant. We call for a rejection of hostility towards people seeking asylum and an end to punitive measures aimed at people who are seeking sanctuary in our country.

We welcome the government’s commitment to resettlement through the new UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) and look forward to the announcement of resettlement targets for the years to come, but this must not be at the expense of an asylum system that strives to offer protection to those who need it.

We urge the Home Secretary to embed principles of welcome, protection and integration into the government’s policies. We must treat individuals and families seeking sanctuary on our shores as our brothers and sisters and valued members of our communities. How we respond to those in need has profound implications for who we are as a society. Recognising our obligations to those who seek sanctuary is fundamental to building a just and flourishing nation.

Signed by

Elizabeth Palmer – CEO St Vincent de Paul Society

Ben Gilchrist – Chief Executive of Caritas Shrewsbury

Lizzie Reynolds – Ordinand on placement at Ripon Cathedral

Sarah Teather, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service UK

Emily Holden – Acting CEO at Welcome Churches

Anne-Marie Tarter – Member of the congregation of Ripon Cathedral

Rev Dr Simon Cartwright – Vicar at Walbrook Epiphany Team

Sister Margaret Barrett – Director of Mission, Daughters of Charity Services

Naomi Bennett and Danielle Wilson, Co-CEOs at Red Letter Christians UK

Carmelite Prior of Aylesford in Kent

Barbara Forbes, Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network

Rev Will Leaf, Vicar at St Mark’s Kensal Rise

Claudia Holmes – UKCEN Founder

Sally Smith, Sanctus St Mark’s, Diocese of Lichfield Sally Smith

Catherine Gladwell, Chief Executive, Refugee Education UK

Rev Ian Rutherford, City Centre Minister, Methodist Central Hall, Manchester

Mauricio Silva, Coordinator at Fatima House

Ben Bano & Phil Kerton, Co-Directors – Seeking Sanctuary

Ros Holland, Chief Exec, Boaz Trust Ros Holland

Rev Gerard Goshawk, Six Ways Erdington Baptist Church, Birmingham

Revd Jon Scamman, Vicar of St Thomas’ Church Lancaster

Reynette Roberts MBE, CEO of Oasis Cardiff

Nadine Daniel BEM, Campaigns and Communications Coordinator, UK Welcomes Refugees

Rev Ian Dyble, Priest in Charge, The Weybourne Group of Churches (CofE)

Hugh McLeod, Derby Quakers Hugh McLeod

Sr Margaret Walsh, Patron and Trustee, St Chad’s Sanctuary

Domenica Pecoraro, Kent Refugee Project Officer, Diocese of Canterbury

Patrick Coyle, Chair of Cytûn: Churches Together in Wales

Mark Wiggin, Director of Caritas Diocese of Salford

Julian Prior, CEO, Action Foundation

Church and Peace, Britain and Ireland Region

National Justice and Peace Network

Barbara Kentish, Committee member of Westminster Justice and Peace

Paul Southgate, Chair of National Justice and Peace Network

Christians Aware

Vicar is David Tomlinson, St Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain

People Not Walls UK

Revd. Lynn Green – General Secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain

Fr Michael Hartley

Rev Maureen Priddin, Chaplain for Justice and Peace Derby Cathedral, Member of the Derby City of Sanctuary network

John O Fulton, Moderator of the General Assembly, United Free Church of Scotland

Bishop Nolan, President of Justice and Peace Scotland, commission of the Catholic Church in Scotland

David Moore, Easton Christian Family Centre

Rev Canon Simon Gatenby, Christ Church Brunswick, Manchester

South Lancaster Refugee Welcome

Natalie Williams, CEO, Jubilee+

Jo Simister, Derby City Deanery

Lancaster Quakers

The Church at Carrs Lane, Birmingham (Methodist and United Reformed Church)

Fr Dominic Robinson, Chairman Westminster Justice and Peace Commission

Rev’d Carol Backhouse, Christ Church, Lancaster (Church of England)

Rev Alton Bell, Movement for Change and Reconciliation

Fr Peter Hughes SSC, Regional Director of the British Region of the Society of St Columban

Community Church Harlesden

Carolyn Lawrence, Vice President of the Methodist Conference

The Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly, The Church of Scotland

Rev Clare Downing and Mr Peter Pay, Moderators of General Assembly, United Reformed Church

RC Southwark archdiocese

National Board of Catholic Women

Fr Habte Ukbay, JPIC Southwark

Jo Watters, Father Hudson’s Care based in the Archdiocese of Birmingham

Derby City of sanctuary network, Chaplain for Justice and Peace Derby Cathedral

Dean Pallant, Lt Colonel, The Salvation Army

Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director, The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE)

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, The Ark Synagogue

Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi

Rabbi Sybil Sheridan – Executive Director, Lyons Learning Project

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Rabbi Kath Vardi

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, Edgware & Hendon Reform Synagogue

Rabbi Dr Barbara Borts, Associate Lecturer, Dept of Music, Newcastle University and Honorary Research Associate, Dept of Anthropology, Durham University

Rabbi Daniel Lichman

Clifton Road interfaith committee

Bishops Letter of Concern to Home Secretary on the government’s New Plan for Immigration

Bishop Paul McAleenan at the memorial to migrants at Dover in 2020

Source: CBCEW

Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees, and Bishop William Nolan, Chair of the Scottish Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace, have written to the Home Secretary about the government’s New Plan for Immigration.

The Bishops echo concerns expressed by Catholic charities including the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Santa Marta Group in their responses to the government consultation. In particular they express strong opposition to the proposed creation of a two-tier asylum system and warn that plans for tougher border security could drive more people into the hands of traffickers.

They also call for clear resettlement targets and proper support for civil society groups welcoming refugees through community sponsorship.

Drawing on Pope Francis’ recent message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Bishops end with an appeal that we continue to make room for people who seek safety and a home among us in the UK.

Full Letter

Joint Letter: New Plan for Immigration-070521

Dear Home Secretary,

We write on behalf of the Catholic Church concerning the New Plan for Immigration and the consequent implications for the human dignity of people seeking sanctuary in the UK.

In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, released this week, Pope Francis calls on each of us to move ‘towards an ever wider we’, drawing on the deep interconnectedness of humanity and recognising that all refugees and migrants are made in the image of God. He urges us to ‘break down the walls that separate us and build bridges that foster a culture of encounter’.

This year, being the 70th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention, it is especially pertinent to reflect on our history of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating refugees. It is also a time for action to ensure that our asylum system embodies the values Pope Francis speaks of and provides a generous response to those driven from their homes by the many challenges facing our world today, such as poverty, conflict, or the climate emergency.

We cannot ignore our own role in this displacement, particularly through making significant cuts to the aid budget, which are falling upon the world’s poorest people, and our status as one of the largest exporters of arms, which fuel conflicts around the world. As Pope Francis reminds us, all of humanity is interconnected.

Across the UK, Catholic organisations such as Caritas, the Jesuit Refugee Service, St Vincent de Paul Society, and the Santa Marta Group, as well as many smaller groups of volunteers, are supporting our refugee sisters and brothers. They speak from a position of experience, drawing on their daily encounters. We share the concerns they have expressed about the New Plan for Immigration and encourage you to thoroughly consider submissions they have made to the accompanying consultation.

In particular we would like to draw your attention to three areas:

The creation of a two-tier asylum system

Creating arbitrary divisions based on people’s method of entry will have profound implications for those who need our support most. We know that many families and individuals have no choice in the route that they take and to penalise them on this basis dangerously undermines the principle of asylum. We oppose any move to treat differently those forced to risk their lives or make difficult journeys to reach safety and those who are selected for organised resettlement routes.

Community Sponsorship and resettlement

Pope Francis has called on Catholic communities to host refugee families and in response
parishes across the UK have been at the forefront of welcoming people through Community
Sponsorship. We are encouraged by the government’s commitment to a new UK
Resettlement Scheme and ensuring that more people can enter through the Community
Sponsorship route. However, we also recognise that the impact will be limited without
ambitious targets or proper support for civil society groups and urge you to incorporate
these into resettlement policy as it is developed.

Human trafficking

There are many shortcomings in our society’s response the evils of human trafficking, not
least in identifying victims, providing them with the right support, and prosecuting those
responsible for exploitation. However, these will not be solved by tougher border security
and a less generous asylum system, measures which risk driving more people into the hands
of criminals. We believe in tackling trafficking through combining a strong response to
organised crime, with the opening of more safe and legal routes to sanctuary, while
ensuring that victims are never criminalised.

How we respond to those in need has profound implications for our society. We must keep
in mind that welcoming successive generations of refugees has greatly enriched our
communities. It is therefore imperative that we continue to make room for people who seek
safety and a home among us in the UK.

With our prayers and best wishes.

Yours Sincerely,

Bishop Paul McAleenan
Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees,
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Bishop William Nolan
Bishop of Galloway, Commission for Justice and Peace, Catholic Bishops’
Conference of Scotland.

Annual Mass for Migrants, Saturday 1st May 2021 11.20am for 11.30am

Church of St William of York, Forest Hill, 4 Brockley Park, Greater, Forest Hill, London SE23 1PS

Bishop Paul McAleenan is the celebrant. 

This year’s Migrants Mass will be hosted by the Archdiocese of Southwark at St William of York Catholic Church, Lewisham. Owing to coronavirus restrictions, sadly only a small number of invited guests will be able to attend in person but the Mass will be live-streamed online so that all can participate from their homes.

The Mass is an annual celebration of the contribution made in the UK by all our migrant communities, held jointly by the Dioceses of Brentwood, Southwark and Westminster, with support from London Citizens.

https://actionnetwork.org/events/migrants-mass

There will be short video greetings screened from 11.20am before the start of the Mass at 11.30am. 

Westminster Justice and Peace Commission statement on the Jesuit Refugee Service report – Being Human in the Asylum System

By Barbara Kentish, Lead Commission Member for Migrants and Refugees

Being Human in the Asylum System

Westminster Justice and Peace welcomes with true Easter joy and relief the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) report on welcoming refugees, Being Human in the Asylum System.  Those who work for asylum justice, refugee rights and related issues, and indeed any people of good will, were devastated at the end of March to read of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s regressive proposals to change the current system, which so  infamously lacks compassion or justice. 

JRS have issued a ringing mandate to inspire us to new efforts of resistance to this inhumanity. 

The report provides an excellent overview of current policy and practice, the relevant principles of Catholic Social Teaching, as well as harrowing and shocking stories of refugees’ own experience. Much more crucially, it outlines the vision and policies needed for a humane approach to tackling asylum, which brings a ray of light and hope, just as many feel crushed and despairing in the face of the new Government proposals. 

Those already involved in welcome and outreach are all too aware of the many human rights abuses experienced by those seeking asylum in the UK and the New Plan for Immigration, announced with fanfare on March 24th by the Home Secretary, had us wringing our hands in despair.   

As  the JRS report summarises, current government praxis employs policies including the fostering of a culture of disbelief towards migrants’ stories, the impersonal and unaccountable dealings with cases, which frequently change hands and sometimes disappear, the notorious indefinite detention system, destitution, and of course the hostile environment policy, most recently evidenced in the use of insanitary and crowded disused barracks for housing newly arrived asylum seekers.  

Charity workers and volunteers constantly strive to remember the idealism of the 1951 Convention on Refugees, and the European Convention on Human Rights, to both of which the UK is  a signatory.     Catholics are encouraged by Pope Francis’s clear and frequent statements on the imperative to welcome refugees as brothers and sisters.   The New Plan for Immigration takes into account neither our international nor humanitarian obligations.  Instead its aims are defensive, with ‘fairness’, efficacy, deterrence of so-called illegal entry, and removal of those here ‘illegally’. 

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales responded quickly to these narrow and harsh plans.  On March 30th, Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees, who has spoken out many times on the inhuman treatment of migrants on the French UK borders, issued a statement calling for a just approach to asylum that has ‘people and families at its centre’ and recognises the ‘diverse and complex factors that shape the journeys of refugees.’  Echoing Pope Francis’ call for us to welcome, promote, protect, and integrate refugees, Bishop Paul stated: ‘The assistance that we provide to our sisters and brothers fleeing war, poverty, or persecution is a fundamental test of our society.’

Fast-forward to mid-April, and the JRS report which was in preparation some time before the Government’s announcement, is a welcome arrival.  The authors, led by Dr Sophie Cartwright, JRS UK Senior Policy Officer, and including Dr Anna Rowlands,  Professor of Catholic Social Thought & Practice at Durham University, state:

‘This report is not just a reactive publication, responding to new rapidly shifting proposals, but has been produced to aid a richer, longer term discussion of what a good asylum system might look like, and we hope will encourage the reader to inhabit a longer frame of vision.’

And there is no better organisation to formulate this new vision, since the Jesuit Refugee Service has worked with asylum seekers for many years.  The authors state:

‘This report takes experiences of people seeking asylum in the UK over the past 20+ years, building recommendations for what an asylum process which puts protection of refugees at the centre and promotes human dignity could look like.’

The 16 crystal-clear recommendations include,  ‘A focus on protection, respect for human dignity, and rejection of the culture of refusal and disbelief, must be reflected in ministerial planning, caseworker training and Home Office policy documents across different areas of the asylum system,’ and goes on to call for the end of detention, especially indefinite detention, for the right of asylum seekers to work, for dignified living conditions during the wait for claims to be heard, for in-country appeals to be heard, and for the hostile environment policy to be abandoned.  In short, for abuses to end and for asylum seekers to be accorded dignity, compassion and justice.  

One could only have wished for a word or two about the need for safe and legal routes to the UK, so that many do not feel obliged to use dangerous transport. But that is certainly implied in this vision.

Westminster Justice and Peace highly commends this short and hard-hitting report, bursting with the lived experience of asylum seekers, and pulling no punches as to what needs to happen.  The Government consultation on its new Sovereign Borders Bill ends on May 6th and if we do not ask for these recommendations to be considered and adopted we will certainly have an even more cruel asylum regime than that which is currently in place. 

We recommend reading the report and contacting any legislators who will listen. 

Jesuit Refugee Service – Download the Report

An Evening in Support of Refugees – 25th March 2021, 6pm

ondon Churches Refugee Fund and Church Times present an evening in support of refugees. With keynote speaker Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, actor Alfred Enoch, and representatives from LCRF and Migrants Organise.

Register below for a free ticket. The event will be broadcast live online on Thursday 25 March.

Speakers

Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, keynote speaker
Dominican friar, writer & former Master of the Order of Preachers

Zrinka Bralo
CEO Migrants Organise (organising with refugees for power, dignity & justice)

Revd Dr Andrew Prasad
Moderator Thames North Synod URC; former Executive Secretary Council for World Mission; LCRF Patron

Alfred Enoch
Actor (Harry Potter, Red, How To Get Away With Murder) & Patron of London Churches Refugee Fund

Revd Chris Brice
Chair of London Churches Refugee Fund