Earlier this month, Pope Francis visited Cyprus and Greece in order to highlight the plight of migrants and refugees in Europe. The human cost of the perilous journeys many people make to seek safety was brought home to us recently by the tragic loss of life in the English Channel.
In his address on Sunday 5 December, the Pope reminded us that being Christian is about having a “heart that sees” – that sees as Jesus sees, that is present where Jesus is present, above all in those who are vulnerable. He encouraged us to see those seeking sanctuary as children of God “to be welcomed, protected, supported and integrated.”
The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, would overhaul our asylum system to make it much more difficult to seek asylum in the UK. The Bill would create a two-tier system which discriminated against refugees depending on method of entry to the country.
The Bill seeks to expand the use of detention-like out of town centres to accommodate those seeking asylum, where they would be cut off from community support. The Bill also seeks to raise the threshold of proof and deepen a culture of suspicion and disbelief which often greets asylum seekers. Finally, the Bill does not seek to create safe and managed routes for those seeking asylum, which plays into the hands of the criminal gangs who traffic and exploit vulnerable people seeking safety.
Two member organisations of the Caritas Social Action Network, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, have produced a campaign toolkit, 8 things you should know about the Nationality and Borders Bill and actions you can take to change it.
This resource examines the Bill in the light of sacred Scripture and Catholic Social Teaching and proposes practical ways in which the Catholic community can express its concerns. You can find the resource here
The toolkit suggests four ways you can advocate for refugees:
1. Write to your MP to express your concerns about the Bill and call for a just and person-centred asylum system which respects the dignity of the person. The toolkit includes a template letter. With the Bill currently at its third reading, there is a need for urgency.
2. Share the toolkit with others. Pope Francis, writing in Evangelii Gaudium, says that solidarity is more than acts of generosity, “it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor” (EG, 188). We are called to be agents of change, to develop our advocacy capacity at parish, diocesan and national level.
3. Welcome a refugee or asylum seeker. The Community Sponsorship Scheme, pioneered by Catholic parishes, has thus far enabled over 350 communities to resettle a refugee family.
4. Pray for refugees. In the season of Advent, the Cycle of Prayer includes Migrants and Refugees. As we prepare to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord, we remember that the Holy Family were themselves refugees, driven from their home by fear of persecution. This Advent let us pray for migrants and refugees and pray for ourselves, that our hearts will never be hardened in the face of their plea for sanctuary.