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

Bishop calls for ‘shifting of mindset’ after migrant family drowns in Channel

From: Catholic Herald Staff Reporter

Bishop calls for 'shifting of mindset' after migrant family drowns in Channel

On Wednesday, Bishop Paul McAleenan lamented the deaths of four family members who drowned trying to make their way across the English Channel.

Rasoul Iran-Nejad and Shiva Mohammad Panahi, both aged 35, died alongside their children Anita, aged 9, and Armin, aged 6, as they made their way from France to the UK on Tuesday.

The Kurdish-Iranian family’s 15-month-old baby, Artin, has yet to be found, whilst fifteen other migrants on the boat were rescued and taken to hospital.

Bishop McAleenan, auxiliary bishop of Westminster, said we should be “united” in our response to the tragedy:

“All who value human life, whatever their position on migrants and refugees, will be united in sorrow following yesterday’s tragedy in the Channel,” he said in a statement.

“Immediate thoughts should be with the adults and children who died, their families wherever they are in the world, and their companions who will remember forever what they witnessed. It is hoped that no one will want to make a mere political point because of the incident.”

McAleenan, Chair of the Office for Migration Policy, said that such unity is needed to respond politically to the challenge of unsafe migrant crossings:

“What is truly needed is a meeting of minds. That will require a shifting of mindset on the part of those who set the rules, and the pursuit of heartless profiteers to ensure that no one feels compelled or encouraged to risk their life, or that of their children, in a dangerous craft on the open sea.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his thoughts were with the victims and he promised to tackle the smugglers responsible for the crossings.

“My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who tragically lost their lives in the Channel today. We have offered the French authorities every support as they investigate this terrible incident and will do all we can to crack down on the ruthless criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people by facilitating these dangerous journeys.”

Back in July, Bishop McAleenan responded critically to Britain and France’s joint Declaration of Intent to establish an Operational Research Unit that would target the criminal gang networks behind migrant smuggling.

The bishop said that the two countries should prioritise trying to “eradicate the underlying reasons why these same people are willing to risk their lives in the open sea.”

“I would like to see the details of the agreement between the UK and France, that would indicate how they understand and perceive what is taking place in the English Channel,” he continued.

“Surely two countries which pride themselves on being progressive and enlightened will see that the welfare of those who are destitute is vital. Protection of people should be foremost in their thinking.”

Featured Image: Bishop Paul McAleenan, centre, meets charity workers and volunteers helping refugees in Dover, England, Sept. 15, 2020. Credit: Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

Delivering the petition on human rights on the French-UK borders

By Barbara Kentish, Westminster Justice & Peace Commission Lead on Refugees and Migrants

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 120195500_10220219789258568_3826096059446201821_n-2.jpg
Delivering letter at the French Embassy

Five of us, obeying government guidelines on numbers, delivered our letter and petition as promised, to the French Embassy this morning. Pat Gaffney from Pax Christi, Fr Dominic Robinson SJ from Justice and Peace, Brother Johannes from London Catholic Worker, Fr Joe Ryan from West Green Tottenham parish and myself took the hundreds of signatures and our letter asking for French-British collaboration for a humanitarian outcome to the small-boat Channel crossings. We succeeded in handing it over to officials at the French Embassy in leafy Knightsbridge and had a pleasant walk across the park to the Home Office in Marsham Street. Here we found a very closed door. The head security officer told us, after he had investigated, that delivering petitions could only be done if accompanied by a solicitor! We had emailed earlier in the week, with copy of our letter, but this was not enough: you need your solicitor to go along too, so after a friendly chat with the security man, we beat a retreat. Rather like the rules on COVID 19, the UK Home Office can be extremely unpredictable. We will make an appointment of course, but this could be a long wait!

Turned back from the Home Office

There is still time to sign the petition until we get an appointment with Ms Priti Patel’s elusive staff!

Meanwhile, our friends on the other side of the Channel in Calais demonstrate for human rights in their city today (Saturday, 26 September.) We wish them well, and pray that they will be heard as they claim not only rights for migrants, but also for themselves, so they don’t pick up the infections.

Sign the petition here: www.change.org/p/demand-that-the-french-and-uk-governments-recognise-people-s-human-rights-and-safe-routes-to-asylum

Bishop MacAleenan prays at Dover Migrants Memorial

Report from Independent Catholic News

Bishop Paul McAleenan visited Dover on Tuesday to meet with some of those working to help people who have arrived there to claim asylum. The gathering was organised by Seeking Sanctuary and hosted by the parish priest, Fr Jeff Cridland.

A TV team preparing for a coming episode of ‘Songs of Praise’ was also in Dover on the same day. Deb Barry posted the following reflection on the Care4Humanity’ Facebook page.

Bishop Paul is the Catholic bishop who leads on migration issues for fellow bishops in England and Wales wanted to meet with the organisations working with refugees. Care4humanity was asked to participate in the discussion groups, along with other local faith and community leaders, representatives from the Anglican diocese of Canterbruy, Seeking Sanctuary, KRAN and Samphire (organisations supporting refugees in Kent).

Key messages that everyone agreed on today included the need to remember that each of these refugees is an individual, they have an identity and their own unique story. Youth can play a really instrumental role in humanitarian work and advocacy, they are our future leaders and can be mobilized now to help refugees in so many ways and be a real example of peace and acceptance. Refugee work continues to be a global issue and we need to work across countries, faiths, governments, civil society and ethnicity, only as we come together in peace and a desire to truly help each other, can we find lasting solutions.

At the conclusion of the meetings, we then went down to Dover promenade where we met with the BBC Songs of Praise crew. We stood by the memorials to those who had lost their lives while making that crossing from France to the UK in order to seek sanctuary. The Bishop then said a prayer at the memorial and reminded all of us of the importance of each of these people’s lives. He prayed that people would be able to understand and assist those who have journeyed for a new and better life. He also prayed for all those who help, the policy makers and the opinion formers.

It was lovely to be able to stand together today, technology has allowed us to still operate during this time, but seeing so many people social distancing and standing in a circle today was a great strength.

We are excited at Care4Humanity to continue to work with so many different groups of people and stand together in peace to bring change.

The programme that includes the material filmed in Dover is scheduled to be aired on Songs of Praise on 11th October 2020 in the UK

Bishop McAleenan gave us this short reflection and prayer.

Listen

Soundcloud

Reflection

My name’s Bishop Paul McAleenan and I’m responsible for migrants and refugees for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Yesterday was 15 September, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows – Mary who stood beneath the Cross as her son was dying. The Cross of Jesus and Our Lady of Sorrows always go together.

Here in Dover, it has been most edifying to meet those who, like Our Blessed Lady, have thrown in their lot with the refugees and are willing to support them, speak on their behalf and advocate for their cause.

On this beautiful afternoon, I met so many people who spoke movingly about their work and their intention to continue to spread the message that it’s so necessary for us to support migrants and refugees. Through their work, meeting with refugees, they have discovered the truth – that they are God’s children. We are all brothers and sisters in Jesus and we support them.

Let us pray.

We pray for volunteers who work for refugees here in the Dover area and in northern France, and for those who go to the rescue of those in danger.

We pray for policy-makers and opinion-formers.

May they provide a system whereby no-one needs to risk their lives in the quest for safety and freedom.

This prayer we make through Christ Our Lord who stretched out His hand to Peter on the Sea of Galilee and gives us the will to do likewise on the English coast.

Amen.

I thank you for joining me in this reflection and I ask you to continue to pray for migrants and refugees – and to remind you that on 27 September it’s the World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees.

Text from Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales

Catholic Union call for answers on homelessness with Justice & Peace and Catholic charities

We have partnered with the Catholic Union and front-line Catholic charities in London and around the country to appeal strongly to the government for support schemes to be made available to people with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) for the duration of the pandemic emergency.


The Catholic community stand ready to give charitable and voluntary assistance, wherever statutory services are provided, to enable people resolve their precarious life situations and return to self-sufficiency.

Homeless queue outside National Gallery
Homeless queue outside the National Gallery, London

The Catholic Union and other church groups in London have warned of a rough sleeping crisis, unless the Government acts soon.

Around 15,000 people across the country have been housed by local authorities since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. This has been made possible by extra funding from the Government to provide accommodation for rough sleepers in empty hotels and hostels as part of the “everyone in” scheme. This includes 1,400 people in London.

Many of the contracts between local authorities and accommodation providers are due to come to an end shortly, as hotels are allowed to reopen from 4 July. The Government has announced £85 million of new funding to secure alternative rooms for rough sleepers, such as student accommodation. But church groups are worried this has come too late for some people, and there is no extra help for the growing number of people still on the streets.

The Government has said it is committed to meeting the needs of rough sleepers to ensure “that as few people as possible return to the streets.”

Dame Louise Casey has been asked to lead a taskforce on providing long-term solutions to ending rough sleeping. But no timescale has been given for this work, and church groups are worried that time is running out to produce a plan.

In a letter to Dame Louise, the Catholic Union has called for all people currently given shelter by the “everyone in” scheme to be housed permanently. It also highlights the challenges faced by rough sleepers with no resource to public funds.

The letter was sent on behalf of the Justice and Peace Department of the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, who are working in conjunction with Caritas, the social action department of the Diocese of Westminster and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK.

Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace, Fr Dominic Robinson, commented: “During the lockdown the central London Catholic Churches have been working nonstop with local businesses and government to help the many rough sleepers still on our streets. Some funds are being promised to rehouse the homeless currently in hotels but now many more men and women who’ve lost jobs and become destitute are pouring onto our streets. This catastrophe is avoidable if there is a temporary reprieve for the growing number of destitute who have no recourse to public funds. If public funds are made available for this group of people left on the streets, we stand ready to work together for what we all want – a permanent and holistic solution to this affront to human dignity which sees those who have lost everything with nowhere to turn”.

Catholic Union Head of Public Affairs, James Somerville-Meikle, commented: “The new funding from the Government is a step in the right direction, but it has come late in the day. Many rough sleepers face being turned out of hotel and hostel rooms in the week ahead. Whilst the long-term commitment to end homelessness is welcome, we need an immediate plan for how to prevent a rough sleeping crisis. Church groups stand ready to be part of the solution and can help get support to some of the most vulnerable people in society – people that government services often struggle to reach.”

Read the full letter here:

Dame Louise Casey
Chair, Taskforce on Rough Sleeping

Dear Dame Louise

Re: Contribution of church groups to tackling rough sleeping

I’m writing to you on behalf of the Catholic Union and several church groups involved in helping the homeless in London.

They include a number of parishes and social action groups within the Catholic Diocese of Westminster – Caritas, and Justice and Peace – who have been working with the London Passage and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK.

Representatives from Caritas Westminster and Westminster Justice and Peace would welcome the opportunity to brief you on the work they are doing, the challenges they face, and the help they can provide, in finding a long-term solution to ending rough sleeping.

The Catholic Union is the leading representative group for lay Catholics in Britain. We seek to promote the views and interests of the 4.5 million Catholics in this country.

The Catholic Church has a rich history of helping those in need, particularly at times of crisis, including the homeless, and has been the principal provider of emergency food and pastoral care for the homeless during the lockdown as all the usual day and night shelters have been closed.

We welcome the work of your taskforce in looking at the causes of rough sleeping and producing recommendations to Government on ending homelessness. This work has clearly been given greater importance and urgency in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The extra funding given to councils to support rough sleepers during this crisis has been a step in the right direction. The “everyone in” scheme has helped to get thousands of people off our streets and into secure accommodation. This has been a fantastic example of good co-operation between local and central government, charities and the private sector.

The Catholic Church, along with other volunteer groups, has played its part by helping local authorities get rough sleepers housed during this crisis and looking after those still on our streets with an enormous feeding programme through our parishes’ contact with large London hotels who have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on this operation.

However, there are concerns about what will happen when existing funding for the “everyone in” scheme comes to an end. The policies below would make a huge difference is tackling homelessness once and for all.

1. A guarantee that the Government will extend housing support for all those currently in hotels, to support their move to new homes where this cannot be provided by local authorities.

A temporary reprieve for all those with no recourse to public funds in relation to support available to help the homeless, this would be in line with existing discretion with regard to destitution (section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999). This should include those who have exhausted their rights or have no current legal status.

Access to free legal advice concerning the rights of individuals to seek and receive help if they are homeless.

We sincerely hope your taskforce will consider these points and make recommendations on them when you report to the Communities Secretary and Prime Minister.

Church groups stand ready to be part of the long-term solution and can help get support to some of the most vulnerable people in society – people that government services often struggle to reach.

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, recently commented: “In 2020 no person should be faced with the indignity of being compelled to sleep on the street or the dangers and challenges associated with doing so… Only by working together can we find just and permanent solutions for the people who are homeless. I hope and pray that the new momentum found during this crisis can be sustained and will be successful.”

The Catholic Union would be delighted to help arrange a meeting with you to discuss the contribution of church groups in London to tackling homelessness. A meeting need not take long, but it might help provide a useful insight at this crucial time for the work of your taskforce.

If this is of interest, I would be pleased to discuss details with your office.

Let’s use this moment to end rough sleeping once and for all in this country.

Nigel Parker

Director
The Catholic Union of Great Britain Email: director@catholicunion.org.uk

Catholic Union of Great Britain

Home Bishops Speak on Racial Justice

We stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the USA as they challenge the evil of racism and the brutal killing of George Floyd. As the US Bishops made clear: “we cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice.” 

Systemic racism is embedded in our own society. The disproportionate harm suffered by BAME people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted profound inequalities, marginalisation and injustice here in the UK. The peaceful Black Lives Matter protests taking place in our towns and cities this week reflect the understandable anger that so many people feel about this.

As Catholics we recognise that racism is an evil which must be opposed; we all have a responsibility for actively promoting racial justice. Whenever we ignore racism or dismiss BAME people’s experience of it, we are complicit in violations of human dignity. We pray for God’s help to overcome racism in all its forms and that we might protect everyone who suffers its consequences. We are all made in God’s image.

Bishop Declan Lang – Lead Bishop for International Affairs

Bishop Paul McAleenan – Lead Bishop for Racial Justice