The refugee crisis has led us to a series of conversations with the objective of ascertaining how it is possible to help. We have spoken to other Christian churches, especially Together Liverpool in the Anglican Diocese, and there have been conversations with the local authorities, housing associations and organisations looking after asylum seekers, as well as with Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) which recommended Citizens UK, the organisation fronting the National Refugee Welcome Board.
These conversations have been shaped around a 'See-Judge-Act' framework and here is an update on where we stand:
See: what’s the problem?
Initial analysis identified five strands of refugees:
• Those in the camps around the borders of Syria. Twenty thousand people are to be invited in over five years under the government’s Vulnerable Persons' Resettlement Scheme. They will have refugee status, financial support for one year and 'leave to remain' for five years. They will be provided with housing, a national insurance number, registration with the NHS, and school places where necessary.
• Those in the same camps who are left behind. There is a scheme that allows them to be invited in under the Private Sponsorship programme. They will be given refugee status, but not supported financially.
• Those who have left Syria and crossed Europe to reach the camps in Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk. These camps also include people fleeing from conflicts and endemic poverty in Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. Three out of every four are waiting for housing in France. The main problem for the others is there is no safe or legal means of entry into the United Kingdom.
• Those in the UK who have registered as asylum seekers – probably around 20,000 each year for the last ten years. Once registered (in Croydon), they are dispersed to areas where housing is cheaper, especially the north-west.
• Those whose applications have failed. Each time their claim is denied they lose all benefits and become destitute. After a refusal they can make another appeal (maximum of three permitted). The final appeal has to be heard in Liverpool, by which time they have no money to pay for their travel here. (Children are currently still entitled to support but there is a bill before Parliament to remove support from the children of failed asylum seekers.)
Judge: what would help?
• Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme: Tell the local authorities that our parishes are willing to welcome refugees and will help them integrate into the local community.
• Private sponsorship: Endorse the scheme, raise money to support it and look for pilot parishes.
• In camps: It is not helpful to send clothes, but we can offer to send money directly via Cafod or CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network).
• In UK: Encourage more support for local organisations e.g. Asylum Link Merseyside (ALM), Support Wigan Arrivals Project (SWAP), Leigh Asylum Seekers and Refugees (LASAR). These organisations have been looking after the poorest people in our Archdiocese for at least 15 years. They need money and volunteers.
Act: what will we decide to do?
Two letters were sent by the chancellor of the Archdiocese, Father Aidan Prescott, to all clergy to inform them that the diocese was beginning to get organised and to set out the thinking behind the response. Comments from the pulpit and in newsletters have produced offers from many parishioners, including local councillors and members of housing associations, and these have helped us to begin conversations with the local authorities.
Parishes across the Archdiocese, moreover, have been meeting to discuss how to offer practical help, with many of us are realising there is much we can do to help the refugees and asylum seekers who are already here.