PRETENDING that the refugee crisis is going to disappear is “futile, foolish”, and turning vulnerable people away from the UK “simply shifts the burden to those less able to bear it”, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams has warned.
He was speaking at a multifaith gathering at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London, on Monday, to mark the release of an open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by more than 200 religious leaders, some of whom were also in attendance (above). It calls on the Government to accommodate more refugees in the UK more quickly, and, in particular, to reunite families that have been separated by conflict.
“The pace in responding to the refugee crisis seems very slow,” Lord Williams said. “We have had months of discussion on the subject of reuniting children with parents, and as yet have remarkably little to show for it.”
The Government should take confidence that, despite an online world where “fantasy, anxiety, venom, and hatred are whipped up”, the overall response of the British public to the crisis remains generous and compassionate, he said. “Our habitual response to a problem of such a scale is paralysis. This proposal is an invitation to the UK to start somewhere.”
The open letter states: “All our faiths compel us to affirm the dignity of all human beings and to offer help to anyone in need. In the face of the unfolding human catastrophe . . . we call on you to create safe, legal routes of travel, for example by adopting fair and humane family reunion policies for refugees.”
It is one of several letters that have been published on the subject in the past year, including one from more than 350 judges, lawyers, and faith leaders, and another from 120 senior economists.
One of the signatories, the Bishop of Barking, the Rt Revd Peter Hill, who is also a spokesman for the campaigning group Citizens UK, said that the Home Office must establish a refugee policy that avoided bureaucratic delays. “The system is broken. . . At the current rate of reunification, it will take a year before all the children in Calais are reunited with their families.”
About 100 Syrians arrived in the UK on Wednesday, marking one year since the former Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 (News, 11 September 2015). The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said that the Government was “on track and delivering our commitment”.
Pressure is mounting, however, on Mrs May to allow the more than 380 refugee children who are currently stranded in Calais and have the right to come to the UK to do so with immediate effect (News, 9 September). The Archbishop of Canterbury questioned the delays in the House of Lords last week: “There is no reason why they should not be brought across within the day.”
Caritas Social Action Network has also expressed “deep concern” at proposals to build a wall near the camp in Calais. The charity said that it would “not provide a long-term solution to the growing problems”.
Welcome Summit MORE than 500 people joined Christian Aid and Citizens UK at a summit last Saturday, to reflect on the refugee crisis and push the Government and media in the UK “to build welcome, not walls” for those fleeing conflict abroad.
Faith leaders, members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, and the Labour spokeswoman for refugees, Yvette Cooper, were among those who participated in the discussion at the Saffron Centre in Birmingham.
A spokesman for Christian Aid, Alex Jones, said: “It was so encouraging to see how communities across the nation have been united in welcoming those seeking sanctuary. It showed in sharp contrast how the response from the Government has not matched the scale of the crisis.”
The nine richest nations in the world, which includes the UK, are hosting fewer than nine per cent of the total population of refugees, he said. The UNHCR estimates that around the world there are 21.3 million refugees, and 65.3 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homelands.
Christian Aid has secured a commitment from the Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, to address with the Prime Minister the future of the hundreds of children who are currently stranded in the refugee camp in Calais, to unite families, and to provide more safe and legal routes for refugees seeking sanctuary.
The charity is also holding an ecumenical service at St James’s RC church in Marylebone, London, tomorrow, at which the Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, will be speaking about its latest campaign, “Change the story”. It is inviting the public and the media to learn more about the people behind the crisis.