Our duty to protect refugees - especially children

The Catholic agencies have called for political action and prayer
The Catholic agencies have called for political action and prayer

The Jesuits in Britain have added their voice to criticism of the UK Government’s decision to cancel plans to bring 3,000 refugee children to the UK as part of the Dubs Amendment scheme. As members of Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), they are reiterating the statement by Bishop Paul McAleenan, who has responsibility for migration within the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, in which he said that it was the duty of the entire international community to protect refugees, especially unaccompanied children who are often most vulnerable to exploitation or trafficking.

The Jesuits in Britain are members of CSAN not only as the British Province of the Society of Jesus, but also through the Hurtado Jesuit Centre and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK), which offers emotional and practical support to refugees through its day centre at the Hurtado Centre. JRS UK Director, Sarah Teather, said last week that she longs for a day when those seeking sanctuary here are treated with more dignity as a matter of course.

"In addition to its aid and resettlement programmes in the region, I hope that our government will continue working with other European countries to identify and support unaccompanied children on their journey to safety,” Bishop McAleenan said, as CSAN and CAFOD issued the statement. “The Catholic community also has a role to play by praying for all those who have been forced to flee their homes and by supporting action to relieve this crisis."

We cannot stand by idlyMigrants on the border between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece, September 2015. Public Domain

CAFOD pointed out that while more than 30,000 unaccompanied children arrived by sea in Greece and Italy - the majority fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere - only eight of these children were transferred directly to their family in the UK. “We urge the Government to ensure there are safe and legal routes to reach protection in the UK for vulnerable refugees,” said their Director of Advocacy, Neil Thorns. “It must also take steps to improve the humanitarian response in Europe including in Greece, where over 60,000 refugees are still living in limbo."

Last year, Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, Superior of the Mount Street Jesuit Community, joined a delegation of 22 people which included six rabbis, an Anglican bishop, three Baptist ministers and one chair of a mosque, on a visit to ‘The Jungle’, the temporary refugee city in Calais. At that time, around 10,000 people were living there, including 700 children under the age of 18. On his return from 'The Jungle', he said: "We cannot stand idly by as unaccompanied children or children separated from their families are put at risk just for political capital.  That’s our common human responsibility and it was a great consolation to join with people of faith from across religious divides in a common cause for which we all feel responsible.”

This week, JRS UK also responded to a report from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants on the UK Government's Right to Rent scheme, which it warned could lead to homelessness and destitution among asylum seekers.

Members of Parliament from all political parties will be debating the Government’s response to child refugees currently in Greece and Italy on 23 February 2017.