The Department of International Affairs at the Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales (CBCEW) has published a new document, Love the Stranger, presenting a Catholic response to refugees and migrants. Love the Stranger looks behind the headlines and statistics to the individual person, each of whom has a name, a face and a story. The document offers 24 guiding principles and is endorsed by CSAN, who together with members has produced the following call-to-action.
Today there are over 280 million migrants and refugees worldwide, more than at any point in history. The UNHCR estimates 103 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide, made up of those internally displaced, those seeking asylum and those granted refugee status, as well as those requiring other forms of international protection.
In recent years, we have seen the UK and European media refer to a refugee ‘crisis’, employing terms such as ‘invasion’ and ‘swarms’, however, 36% of those forcibly displaced are hosted in 5 countries, with Turkey hosting the largest number of refugees – Germany is the only European nation in the top 5. The majority of countries hosting large refugee populations are in the Global South. It is widely acknowledged that the vast number of refugees stay in their region of displacement and are hosted by neighbouring countries, with a low percentage travelling onwards to Europe and the UK.
The UK has welcomed 231,597 refugees as of November 2022, with 127,421 pending asylum cases which is nowhere near being the top recipient of refugees in Europe. Quoting the Gospel of St. Matthew, Pope Francis calls on us to respond by welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating people, with the reminder that: “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age(Matthew 25:35-43).”
However, recent policy in the UK has been far from welcoming, with constant negative media rhetoric regarding the channel crossings, which increased in vitriol as we saw the introduction of the Nationality and Borders Act in 2022, which was deemed ‘cruel’ and ‘harmful’ by organisations across civil society. The Act created a two-tier system for refugees and restricts access to family reunion for some refugees, essentially criminalising those fleeing danger and seeking asylum in the UK. Further, proposals for offshore processing resulted in the Rwanda plan as the government has tried to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda, without any consideration of their case. The plan was condemned by civil society organisations and human rights groups, with Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead Bishop for migration issues at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW), noting it as ‘shamefully illustrative’ of what Pope Francis has called the loss of that sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters on which every civil society is based’. SVP and JRS worked together to publish a campaign toolkit on the Nationality and Borders Bill before it became an Act. CSAN member organisations campaigned against the plan and unfair policies and continue to do so as we await the Court of Appeal hearing on the Rwanda plan.
In a further attack on the rights of migrants and refugees, the Government published the Illegal Migration Bill on 08 March 2023. The Bill has received widespread criticism from civil society organisations and lawyers, with the UNHCR noting that the Bill is effectively an ‘asylum ban’. Further, both Conservative and Labour MPs have raised concerns about the lack of protections for victims of trafficking and in particular at the prospect of detaining children.
Catholic communities and organisations are aware of the tension these policies have created across the UK, dividing some communities. Refugee and migrant issues are also contested within the Catholic community. As we recognise the concerns of our community, we recall Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2021, in which he explored the theme ‘towards an ever wider we’, warning that it is increasingly under threat from nationalist or individualist tendencies, with the highest price being paid by those viewed as ‘the other’. Reinforcing the message of Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis calls on us to counter this prevailing trend by working towards the establishment of a single ‘we’, encompassing the whole of humanity.
In light of the challenges we face in the UK, advocating for the dignity of refugees and migrants amidst a hostile environment, CSAN welcomes the teaching document Love the Stranger from the Department of International Affairs at CBCEW. The document speaks into the contested space and reinforces Catholic social teaching, offering guidance on our response to refugees and migrants. The document outlines several principles, calling to action both the Catholic community and the Government in welcoming those who come to our country, as is our Christian duty. We encourage all Catholics to reflect upon Love the Stranger and have compiled this call-to-action as a toolkit to inform and assist the community as we aim to fulfil our obligation to love the stranger in the way that God intends.
Below you will find links to pages where you can learn more about refugees and migrants and ways you can get involved.
The call to action is also available to download and we encourage you to share it within your communities.
Image: Migration, Shutterstock