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.
Today we celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. To mark the day, Bishop Paul McAleenan was joined in a discussion covering the current challenges facing refugees in the UK, Europe and around the world in light of the Pope’s message.
By Barbara Kentish, Westminster Justice & Peace Commission Lead on Refugees and Migrants
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Director The Catholic Union of Great Britain Email: email@example.com
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
Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for migration and asylum, has joined over 20 front-line facing organisations working with asylum seekers, refugees, and those with irregular immigration status in calling for a grant of a period of ‘leave to remain’ to those with insecure immigration status.
Bishop Paul said:
“I fully support the Jesuit Refugee Service and other charities in calling for a grant of leave to all with insecure immigration status during the current pandemic.
“One’s human dignity is the primary issue. In this crisis respect for human dignity demands that everyone without exception is given the right to protect themselves from COVID-19 and to receive medical treatment if necessary…”