I commend to you all the following article from the Hallam Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission about the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Crisis. It tries to describe the extent of this most appalling crisis, which has worsened even since the document was written, as we have all read in the Press over the last few weeks. It is estimated by the United Nations Refugee Agency that more than 55 million people worldwide are refugees, asylum-seekers or internally displaced people. Surely it is our Christian duty to help at this time? How might we help as a diocese, parish and individual is the challenging question we face.
When pictures of Alan Kurdi, the child drowned in the Mediterranean, were spread over the Press in September 2015, people were greatly touched. But memories fade and the problems of daily living take over.
The following article offers guidelines to help us support refugees, asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers as a diocese, parish and individual. Our intention was to provide a clear and concise view of what is a complex and ever-changing picture. It also helps meet the statement from the Bishops’ Conference that the response of the Church will be handled through the dioceses.
I invite you to meet as a group of parishioners to discuss how you can help asylum seekers and refugees at this most difficult time.
This time of Easter gives us a wonderful opportunity for parishes to pray, work and donate to help those driven from their homes by conflict.
‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Mt 25:40)
In September 2015 Pope Francis invited every parish, religious house and monastery in Europe to do their part to stem the refugee crisis and offer sanctuary to migrant families. In front of a crowd of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said it was not enough to simply encourage the refugees with calls for courage and patience. Instead, he suggested, tangible demonstrations of help were required. In response to this call the Bishop’s Conference for England and Wales has urged us all to respond to the refugee crisis with prayer, practical action and advocacy.
Recent news reports and pictures caused by the flow of refugees from Syria have prompted a desire from people across the United Kingdom to help. Many parishes and individuals in Hallam want to help but are not sure of the best way. We have also been asked, “What is the Church doing to lead and guide?” Therefore, the Hallam Justice and Peace Commission has investigated what is happening in the Hallam Diocese and has prepared this guide for parishes to help them to support refugees and asylum seekers. The document is a picture at a point in time as this is an area where there is constant change. For example, there is likely to be a new Immigration Bill shortly. We will add this information to the Diocesan website and will try to keep it up-to-date as far as we are able. It covers only the four main areas of South Yorkshire – Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. This is because we have been able to find little or no information in the other parts of the Diocese.
We have described the situation as we currently understand it and have tried to make it as easy to understand as possible, but this is a complex and complicated subject. The annex to this document is a list of organisations that help refugees and asylum seekers in Hallam. It is far from complete and if you have more or different data please let us know and we will update on the website.
The Major Issues
The Humanitarian Crisis
In 2015 it was estimated by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 55 million people. Most refugees (approximately 85%) are in the countries that border their home. For example, reports from major charities suggest that 13.5 million people (more than half the country’s pre-war population) in Syria need humanitarian assistance and 8.1 million are children. Approximately 6.6 million are displaced within Syria and 4.6 million Syrians are refugees. Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East – in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Nearly a million people claimed asylum in the EU in 2015. The UK has opted out of any plans for a quota system but, according to Home Office figures, 1,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme (see below). The Government has said the UK will accept up to 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years. There are millions of people desperately in need of help.
The UK government says it has allocated over £1.1 billion from its foreign aid budget since 2012 to over 30 implementing partners to help refugees who have fled Syria since the war began. The vast majority of them are in refugee camps in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and the need for humanitarian aid is constant. The UK government is the second highest contributor of humanitarian aid behind only the United States and its policy is to support refugees in the area, but in Lebanon, for instance, one in every 4 people is a refugee. Families need homes, the right to work and a settled, safe place to live.
There are refugees trapped in Greece, who cannot get out as increasingly borders are closed. The Greece economy is in economic trouble and cannot afford to help them. There are refugees trapped in Calais and Dunkirk trying desperately to claim asylum in England. There are the millions trapped in UN camps and every one of them is a life being wasted.
What’s in a Name?
We talk about migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as if they have the same meaning, which is far from the truth and it has a major impact on a person’s life what their actual status is. Some definitions follow.
- Refugee – “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality.” The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
- In the UK, a person is officially a refugee when they have their claim for asylum accepted by the government. When accepted, they have by and large the same rights and benefits as a UK citizen.
- Asylum Seeker – A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded. Currently there are around 750 asylum seekers accommodated in Sheffield waiting for a decision on their application, which can take months or years. There are many others in the other three asylum centres in Hallam – Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham. While they wait they receive about £5 a day for food and clothes and are not allowed to work.
- Refused asylum seeker – A person whose asylum application has been unsuccessful and who has no other claim for protection awaiting a decision. Some refused asylum seekers voluntarily return home, others are forcibly returned and for some it is not safe or practical for them to return until conditions in their country change. Many are homeless and destitute. It is estimated that are also around 750 destitute refused asylum seekers in Sheffield.
- ‘Illegal’ immigrant – Someone whose entry into or presence in a country contravenes immigration laws.
- Economic migrant – Someone who has moved to another country to work. Refugees are not economic migrants.
All of them are people – someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, brother and sister.
The UK Asylum Process
There are three routes to refugee status in the UK. These are:
- Asylum – There are various journeys, some of them dangerous, but you must physically be in the UK to claim asylum. The process is slow and complex and you have no right to work until you are accepted as a refugee.
- Resettlement – The Gateway Protection Programme is a system whereby the UK will accept 750 refugees per year from the United Nations camps in other parts of the world. The refugees arrive in the UK with all paper work complete and are accommodated in 18 towns and cities in the UK. Sheffield accepts refugees under this programme. They have by and large the same rights to work, health and benefits as UK citizens.
- Relocation – As an extension to the Gateway Programme (Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme) the UK government has offered to take up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over 5 years from camps on the Syrian border. Some of these refugees will come to South Yorkshire, but the government has guaranteed to support them for the first 12 months and they are entitled to work and claim benefits in the UK.
The process to acceptance into the UK for asylum seekers under method 1 can be slow, complex and very difficult. This causes the following problems:
- Families living at 50% below the poverty line
- Insufficient benefits to maintain contact with a solicitor
- Shared, no choice accommodation, in hard to let properties managed by external contractors
- Periods of destitution between refusal and appeal and on gaining refugee status or refusal with no chance of returning to country of origin
- Detention at any time – indefinite, no judicial oversight
- Possible deportation after many years building a family life
- Above all, young lives being wasted because they cannot work and help themselves and the community in which they live
It is not easy to prove your case for asylum. At the moment around 40% only are successful at the first attempt. Most go on to appeal and nearly 30% of those are successful. Others may spend years trying to gather the evidence to prove their claim of persecution. Many cannot go home even if they want to because they have no passport or their country refuses to take them. Despite this, there is currently a new immigration bill going through parliament. Some of its conditions are to create a “hostile environment”, which the Government insists will encourage illegal immigrants to leave and deter others from arriving. It is difficult to understand why anyone would live in destitution in the UK unless it is more dangerous and more soul-destroying to go home.
The UK received 31,300 new applications for asylum by the end of 2014, which is considerably less than Germany with an estimated 173,100 asylum applications and the United States of America with 121,200 asylum applications, followed by Turkey (87,800), Sweden (75,100), and Italy (63,700). At the end of 2014 in the UK, the population of refugees, pending asylum cases and stateless persons made up just 0.24% of the population. That’s 117,161 refugees, 36,383 pending asylum cases and 16 stateless persons.
What Can We Do to Help?
Speak up in support of refugees and asylum seekers
If we believe we should take in and welcome those seeking safety in our country, we need to stand up and be counted. So it is necessary to make sure we know the facts; tell our family, friends and neighbours; be prepared to put right those making false assumptions; write to our newspapers when we disagree; write to and lobby our MPs; join a campaigning organisation. You will find some in our annex. You can keep informed about what’s going on in the world’s major forced displacement crises at http://www.unhcr.org.uk/news-and-views.html or you can check locally at some of the websites we have listed in an annex to the paper, which can be found at the J&P section of the Hallam Website.
There are numerous organisations, local, national and international that need support for refugees and asylum seekers. Some of them are listed in our annex, which is not comprehensive nor can we endorse the organisations concerned.
Many charities have been inundated with generous offers of donated goods from members of the public. Because of the logistical challenges in storing and transporting donated items, some can’t accept any donations currently, so check with your local refugee organisations to see what they need. Many organisations also ask that if you want to deliver goods, please be prepared to volunteer to help sort them and perform other tasks rather than just deliver the goods and leave. It is also reported that some countries are taxing donated goods because a large influx of goods
and refugees has caused economic issues destabilising local economies. So in many cases it is better to donate cash. The British Red Cross has launched #ShopDrop for Refugee Crisis, where they’ll accept quality clothing, books and unwanted gifts. Money raised from goods donated to the Europe Refugee Crisis will go towards the British Red Cross Europe Refugee Crisis Appeal. You can donate items to British Red Cross charity shops, throughout the diocese. St Vincent”s Furniture Store and ASSIST Sheffield both need good quality furniture to support those coming out of homelessness, which includes refugees.
Many of the national and international charities are looking for local volunteers and it is probably best to look for such opportunities on their websites. We have listed some of the main charities in an annex to this document.
In addition there are many local charities who support asylum seekers and refugees who are already living in our area. In Sheffield some of these charities are inundated with calls at present so it may be better to volunteer through Sheffield Volunteer Centre rather than contact them directly. The names of some local charities that need volunteers in Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham are also listed in the annex to this document. Some charities are looking for knowledgeable individuals to talk to schools and local groups. Influencing the next generation to welcome refugees and asylum seekers is vital, so be a role model to the next generation.
Refugees will be coming to the Diocese from the refugee camps on the border of Syria but volunteer hosts are not needed for this programme. They will be supported and accommodated through the joint local authorities/Refugee Council Gateway Protection Programme.
ASSIST Sheffield runs a hosting scheme for destitute asylum seekers from all nations and they are looking for medium-term, long-term and weekend hosts. They would also like to talk to anyone who could be interested in loaning them property to use for housing refused asylum seekers. There are other names of hosting charities in the annex to this document.
In our Parishes
There are many things we can do in our parishes.
- Why not join an established group in your parish like CAFOD, Justice and Peace or St Vincent de Paul? Being part of these groups will help you learn more about what’s going on and can help you get involved in practical help.
- How about organising a “befriending” dinner or lunch for people new to your community especially refugees and asylum seekers. A simple meal, eg pie and peas or fish and chips, could be sponsored by the parish.
- How about a Friday fast club where you could collect the money saved and donate it to your favourite refugee charity.
Please share any ideas that your parish has developed.
Prayer and Liturgy
Praying is a wonderful way of reaching out to other people. Why not say the rosary or in Lent devise your own stations of the cross, which reflect the current refugee situation? Pope St John Paul II wrote a prayer for peace that can be used to pray for an end to the war in Syria and for peace for the Syrian refugees fleeing violence. It can be found here http://www.catholicnews.org.uk/Home/Featured/Refugee-Crisis-Open-Your-Hearts/Prayer-for-Peace.
A paper was prepared in 2009 for the Hallam Justice and Peace Commission’s autumn conference on the theme, The Changing Face of Britain. Its purpose is to help remind us why we should support the stranger in need and that by welcoming one we are also loving our neighbour. The paper is in two parts:
- Scriptural Background and
- Catholic Social Teaching.
The paper is available for those wishing to prepare liturgies and workshops. It too is on the Diocesan website.
There are a large number of organisations campaigning for refugees and asylum seekers. There are many around at the moment – some to convince the Government that we should take in more refugees; some for individual asylum seekers; and some to appeal for more just treatment when they are in our country. There is a moving tool for illustrating the plight of refugees this winter on CAFOD’s website. Their partner, Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre, supports refugee families living in tent settlements in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, only nine kilometres from the Syrian border. Studio-style portraits were made of families whose lives were shattered as they fled the conflict, with empty chairs and empty arms symbolising the loved ones they had to leave behind. See at http://cafod.org.uk/lostfamilyportraits.