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On 11 March 2022, Catholic organisations joined an online meeting convened by CSAN to consider the organised response of the Catholic Church in England and Wales to the impact of a new wave of refugees from the war in Ukraine.
Raymond Friel, Chief Executive of CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network), chaired the meeting, with 39 representatives of Catholic organisations tackling poverty in England and Wales. Some of the organisations also work directly in the war region through wider Catholic networks, such as the Caritas federation, Depaul International, the Jesuit Refugee Service, and Society of St Vincent de Paul. Bishops Terry Drainey (Chair of CSAN) and Paul McAleenan (Lead Bishop for Migration in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales) were in attendance, with Bishop McAleenan leading prayers.
Participants described some of their emerging practical responses, and the need for coherent national representation of Catholic concerns to the UK Government. Feedback from those in the meeting suggested areas of common focus for guidance, coordination and support across many Catholic organisations, including:
- Uses of church-owned properties for accommodation, training, improving social connections and understanding of life in this country, and space for groups of refugees to worship together in their own language.
- Effective support for Catholic households looking to welcome one or more refugees in their own residence and investment/rental properties, with attention to safeguarding, the potential for exploitation and domestic abuse.
- Trauma informed support and counselling. Several Catholic direct service providers offer relevant services in parts of the country, but there is a need to consider how other areas might benefit from this.
- Translation services.
CSAN is concerned that the war in Ukraine comes on top of a rapidly growing ‘cost of living crisis’, likely to push hundreds of thousands of existing households into severe poverty this Spring. Many of the potential local responses to refugees should be considered for existing households falling into deep poverty too.
CSAN recognises that the UK Government faces challenges in policy and Departmental readiness to support refugees and others in poverty, including:
- A backlog of asylum claims unprocessed by the Home Office
- Adequate fulfilment of the UK’s international obligations in law and practice
- Investing greater trust and management of welfare spending in local public bodies and community organisations, where this can realise a more humane welfare system.
The UK Government has so far announced two schemes to support Ukrainian refugees – a family unification route, and a scheme for individual households to host refugees in return for a monthly cash payment. A further announcement is expected on plans for churches and other charities to resettle refugees over a longer term, through a new Humanitarian Sponsorship scheme, which will be different from the current Community Sponsorship Scheme for Syrian refugees.
Raymond Friel said:
‘The Humanitarian Sponsorship Scheme offers the opportunity for the generosity of UK citizens to express itself. We look forward to working with all partners to ensure the scheme works as effectively as possible. Ukrainian refugees need homes, work and education opportunities until they are able to return to their own beloved nation. We welcome this development and hope it will gain wide support.’
Picture: Installation of refugees’ shoes at Westminster Cathedral. Credit: CAFOD staff photographer.