The Autumn 2015 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference discussed the issue of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, and issued the following statement:
Bishops are grateful to, and wish to strongly affirm the work of, faith-based organisations in showing leadership, collecting donations and providing vital humanitarian assistance in our dioceses – with the Saint Vincent de Paul Society standing out as an exemplary charity whose work with refugees has been both swift and sensitive. Its Christian outreach within and without Ireland is an example to all of us.
Even before the present crisis Trócaire has been providing support to 158,000 refugees and displaced people in Syria, Iraq and surrounding countries since 2011 through local partners in the global Caritas network, as well as the Jesuit Refugee Service, religious congregations and other local organisations. In the case of Syria, Trócaire has provided more than €3 million in humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people within Syria and in Lebanon and Jordan. This money has been directed towards the distribution of essential food and shelter, and the provision of essential services including education, health and psychosocial support. Trócaire has provided €50,000 to Caritas Serbia to support refugees passing through that country who require tents, clothing and food and will allocate an additional €50,000 for additional needs of refugees as the situation unfolds and refugees face winter. We urge everyone to contribute to Trócaire’s special online appeal on http://www.trocaire.org/refugee-crisis
Our own parishes have been expressing their spiritual solidarity with refugees and displaced people through prayer and reflection. We encourage all members of our parish communities to explore how they might offer their services, talents, time and commitment to supporting the resettlement of refugees through practical parish actions such as friendship and welcome schemes, English language classes, trauma counselling and medical services, as well as legal advice services. Even those who make it safely here will have experienced great loss. We pray for all the families divided and shattered by conflict. We remember especially those unable to make the journey who have been left behind and all those who have tragically lost their lives. As Christians we commit ourselves to play our part in bringing hope and healing to our brothers and sisters in need.
Local communities across the island of Ireland have reacted to the worsening refugee crisis by mobilising to demand greater solidarity from European political leaders. The swift and enthusiastic response to Pope Francis’ appeal to parishes shows a ready willingness to help and a recognition that our parishes need to be places of welcome to all. Bishops are working with clergy and other diocesan personnel, as well as faith-based organisations, to assess our capacity to contribute to the national and international response.
In undertaking this work we are conscious that the resettlement of refugees is a complex process. The participation of local communities as partners in planning is vital to develop supports that will address the many needs of refugees and be sustainable for all involved. Given the magnitude of the current crisis, refugees will be arriving for months and years to come, and it will be some years before they can safely return to their country of origin. Cooperation and clear sharing of responsibility across relevant government departments, to address different types of need, is a necessary foundation for strategic planning.
We call on our political leaders to use their influence at EU level to minimise delays in getting vulnerable people to safety. We need clear leadership in the form of a renewed international commitment to the right to asylum, which places the dignity and human rights of refugees at the heart of policy decisions. Safe and legal pathways to protection in Europe would reduce the numbers of people risking, and losing, their lives through perilous routes. The importance of family reunification to the integration process, and the responsibility to respect and protect family life, need to be highlighted in the discussions and negotiations.
Here in Ireland, an important first step must be to address existing barriers to integration for refugees and people seeking asylum who are already here. Urgent reform is required to avoid the creation of an unjust two-tier system in which the needs of those who have been waiting for status for many years are overlooked. The recommendations of the Working Group report on Direct Provision and the Protection Process need to be implemented without further delay by the Government of Ireland. A clear priority that emerged in this work is the need to urgently address the situation of people who have been more than five years in the Direct Provision system. In Northern Ireland charities supporting refugees are calling for a Refugee Integration Strategy, including measures to prevent refugees living in poverty without social welfare support.
The integration of refugees needs to be adequately funded and resourced, with a long-term commitment. Many NGOs supporting people seeking asylum have seen their funding cut in recent years and face uncertainty about the future. There has also been concern that funding may be diverted from other areas of critical need, notably the housing crisis. Clear and transparent strategies from government would enhance the contribution of local communities, supporting the integration of refugees as part of a wider strategy to address social exclusion and promote social cohesion.
A Prayer for Refugees
Almighty and merciful God,
Whose Son became a refugee
And had no place to call his own;
Look with mercy on those who today
Are fleeing from danger,
Homeless and hungry.
Bless those who work to bring them relief;
Inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts;
And guide the nations of Europe towards that day
When all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and peace.
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord, Amen.