Response to refugee crisis: an update

By Steve Atherton

As we continue to develop an Archdiocesan strategy for how to respond to the current refugee crisis, it is helpful to know what the Government's policy is for those claiming refugee status.
The Government's official website says that to be recognised as a refugee, you must:
  • be unable to go back to your own country (if you are stateless, this is the country you usually live in) because you fear persecution
  • be unable to live safely in any part of your own country
  • have failed to get protection from authorities in your own country
This persecution must be because of one of the following:
  • race
  • religion
  • nationality
  • political opinion
  • membership of a particular social group that puts you at risk because of the social, cultural, religious or political situation in your country, e.g. your gender, gender identity, sexual orientation
These criteria are applied strictly. The process is intended to be completed in no more than six months but often takes years to complete.
The UK government waived these criteria for a limited group of Syrian refugees when it launched the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) for Syrian refugees in March 2014. Since then, just over 200 people have benefited from the scheme. Last week it increased the targeted number to 20,000 over five years while at the same time confirming there would be no significant change of policy. The official website stated: "The Government believes the UK can add most value through a complementary scheme, focusing on helping the most vulnerable refugees who cannot be supported effectively in the region."
"The best way to help refugees is to donate cash to humanitarian organisations or charities. Cash donations are the fastest, most efficient way to get help to vulnerable people ... Cash donations enable relief agencies to cater to the specific needs of the affected population as quickly as possible. They also allow relief agencies to buy goods in the affected region, helping to regenerate the local economy.
"Many international organisations are working in the UK, across Europe and in the countries refugees are fleeing from to provide aid and assistance. Recommended and experienced humanitarian and relief agencies that you can support include:
During the last week a mapping exercise has begun to find out what resources we can offer. The categories we are using are:
ACCOMMODATION Empty parish properties Housing associations Spare rooms in people's houses  
TRANSLATION Arabic speakers Tigrinya speakers ESOL teachers  
MONEY Rent Ready cash Access to benefits  
EDUCATION Access to schools Adult education    
GOODS Furniture Cooking equipment Food Bedding
MEDICAL Access to doctors Access to dentists Access to opticians Access to psychological services
INTEGRATION Friendship UK culture Jobs Transport
SAFEGUARDING Archdiocese is preparing a briefing      
It does not seem enough to offer help to only a limited group of people. While applauding the Government's response in the refugee camps, our Catholic community is called to extend compassion to all: the Pope's call for us to open our hearts and our doors was not limited to a particular group of refugees. We must not forget the needs of the refugees who are already here or are walking across the world to get here.
"All the aid in the world will never be able to replace the warmth of assistance rendered by one individual human being to another." Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)
We are working with other faith communities and the local authorities to coordinate our response. We are in conversation with several organisations in our region that have extensive experience of working with asylum seekers and refugees. 
In the coming week we would welcome invitations to attend parish or pastoral area meetings to analyse the problem, to open up the issues, to hear people's perspectives, to examine what our faith has to say, to increase knowledge of what is available and to share ideas for how to respond. In this way we can coordinate what we can offer in the service of refugees and respond to Pope Francis's words: "Be 'neighbours' to the littlest ones, the most abandoned ones ... give them real hope ... Christian hope fights with the tenacity of someone aiming for a definite goal."