Our response to the refugee crisis - an update

By Steve Atherton

Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker, offers a progress report focusing on six main developments:

1) Work with local authorities
As the Archdiocesan response to the vast movements of people into Europe has been slowly developing, it has become increasingly clear that any action must involve partnerships between churches and local authorities. Neither group can manage on its own. The government is liaising with local authorities and asking them to specify how many families or individuals they can offer places to under the VPRS (Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme), while the churches have groups of compassionate people who are looking for ways to get involved. The local authorities are delighted to find that the churches are eager to help. There is still an almost total lack of information about who is coming, when they are arriving, how they will be placed, how they will be matched with local hosts, and what 'vulnerable' means in practice. The same lack of clarity applies to the Private Sponsorship model that allows groups to invite individuals or families into the country.

2) Work ecumenically
Liverpool has a great tradition of working ecumenically and the Archdiocese, the diocese and the Free Churches are learning all over again that we are 'Better Together'. The Liverpool response is being framed as a project of CTMR (Churches Together in the Merseyside Region).

3) Work locally
So far we are working together with local authorities in Sefton, Liverpool, St Helens, Southport, West Lancashire and Knowsley; we have begun in Warrington, Widnes, Leyland and Ashton-in-Makerfield, and expect to start soon in Widnes and Wigan. There is much to do before we reach the goal of a series of local organisations responding to local situations while staying in touch with each other and learning from each other’s experiences. 

4) Don’t overlook the longstanding problems
Pope Francis’s appeal for the Church to show compassion was in the context of refugees crossing the Mediterranean or seeking safety on the streets of continental Europe. In the United Kingdom we have a separate set of circumstances that demand our compassion. In Liverpool, Wigan and Leigh there are well-established organisations that have been helping asylum seekers and refugees for 15 years. This has become an increasingly important focus of our Archdiocesan approach and the organisations are delighted that the churches are increasing their response to the terrible problems that already existed here before the current exodus from the Middle East. 

5) Don’t forget our local people
Amid this welcome increase in compassion for refugees, we have tried to keep a clear focus on the needs of our local people, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet in the face of the economic situation in the UK. To this end both the Archdiocese and the diocese have maintained their involvement in anti-poverty work, specifically with heavy involvement in the Feeding Liverpool initiative.

6) Keep in touch with what's happening nationally
There is no sense in reinventing the wheel so we are trying to speak to people who are doing similar work across the country, including JRS (Jesuit Refugee Services), Citizens UK, and the dioceses of Plymouth, Southwark, and Arundel and Brighton.

If you wish to become more involved in the response in your local area, please ring 0151 522 1080 or send your contact details to s.atherton@rcaol.co.uk.

In the light of the terrible events in Paris, it is important to remember that IS has a deliberate policy of using terror to spread fear and confusion. They believe that the West is corrupt and inferior to the ideology they offer. IS will only be reduced to silence by the counter model that we can offer of unfailing kindness and Christian charity. Bombs will make things worse.