A numbers game

By Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker

Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker, offers a progress report on an initiative to welcome Syrian refugees to our Archidiocese.

Let us start with a number: sixty-five million.

This is both the population of the United Kingdom and the number of refugees in the world. And another number: four million. This is the number of Syrian refugees who have fled from their homes. And now another number: one million. This is the number of Syrian refugees that Germany has accepted.

Next, a smaller number: 20,000. This is the number of Syrian refugees that, in September 2015, our government offered to look after in the UK over five years. Another number: 6,000. This is the number resettled so far, since the offer was made.

The government has added an extra 3,000 to the number it will allow to come into our country on the condition that local groups take on the responsibility and the cost. This is known as the Community Sponsorship Scheme. It seems clearly to be our Christian duty to look after the poor, the weak, the vulnerable and the marginalised and you may remember reading about this in the Pictorial as long ago as August last year. We had said the following:

1. There are certain things that must be arranged before anything can happen:
• Find a group of like-minded people
• Get the approval of your parish priest
• Get the approval of the local authority
2. In addition, it would be useful to consider:
• Working with other parishes in your pastoral area
• Inviting other Christian churches to work with you.
• Identifying people with useful experience and expertise, e.g. parents, knowledge of local area, medical and educational systems, familiarity with local authority, etc.

Since then a group from the Justice and Peace Commission has been busy behind the scenes trying to help make this happen here. We have found that the urge to help was the easy bit. The nitty-gritty has been much more difficult to deal with and we have needed to be well-informed, trusted, networked, organised, realistic, positive, enthusiastic, and very patient. Things have progressed, though, and there is good news to report. 

The story so far is that: Archbishop Malcolm McMahon encourages parishes to get involved with community sponsorship as a 'Year of Mercy Legacy Project'; the Archdiocesan trustees have approved our involvement; Nugent trustees and management have agreed to be the sponsoring body; local authorities are willing to consider applications; the Home Office is keen to support groups; meetings have been held at LACE to listen to people who are already involved and to learn from them about the six essential areas where a group must be prepared to take responsibility (housing, education, employment, finance, benefit and welfare, and safeguarding); fund-raising has begun.    

One last number for you: five. This is the number of parishes in our archdiocese who have offered to become community sponsors and to look after a Syrian family by finding them a home and looking after them while they settle into life in our country. Please pray for them.

If you would like to know more, to get involved, or to donate to this work, please contact the J&P office on 0151 522 1080 or email s.atherton@rcaol.co.uk.