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English bishops urge greater UK response to refugee crisis

Posted on: October 19, 2015 10:02 AM
The Za'atari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan
Photo Credit: J Kohler / UNHCR

[ACNS] Church of England bishops have called on the British government to more-than double the number of refugees it will resettle in the UK over the next five years.

In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, some 84 C of E bishops have called on the government to increase the number of Syrian refugees being resettled to this country from the previously announced 20,000 "to a minimum of 50,000" over the next five years.

The bishops have not received a response to their letter which was sent to the Prime Minister in early September and published at the weekend.

They describe the situation in Syria as “one of the largest refugee crises ever recorded” and say that “a moral crisis of this magnitude calls each and all of us to play our parts.”

“We believe such is this country's great tradition of sanctuary and generosity of spirit that we could feasibly resettle at least 10,000 people a year for the next two years, rising to a minimum of 50,000 in total over the five year period you foresaw in your announcement,” the bishops say in their letter. “Such a number would bring us into line with comparable commitments made by other countries. It would be a meaningful and substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily.”

The bishops tell Mr Cameron that they will help the resettlement by encouraging their churches to provide welcome, housing and foster care to refugees.

In their letter they also called for the creation of a National Welcome and Resettlement Board, similar to those established by the Government in response to past refugee crises in the 1950s and 1970s.

Such a board has now been established by civil society groups Citizens UK and Caritas. It has drawn together a wide group of people including the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who chairs the group. Other members include the Rt Revd Pat Lynch, of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, the Revd Lynn Green, general secretary of the Baptist Union, Rabbis Danny Rich and Laura Janner-Klausner, representing liberal and reform Judaism, Jehangir Malik, of the Islamic Relief charity, and members of the Syrian community within the UK.

“The Archbishop of York recently said that the current situation has rightly been described as a refugee crisis but it is also a time of opportunity for us as a country and for our wider continent,” Bishop Butler said. “The opportunity before us is to rise above narrow self-interest, however defined, and to embrace the highest parts of our humanity.

“We recognise that both the Prime Minister and his Government responded to calls from the country for there to be a programme of resettlement and we are grateful to him for responding to those calls.

“However, there is a real urgency to this issue with those increasingly being forced from their land as their homes are literally bombed into the ground. As the fighting intensifies, as the sheer scale of human misery becomes greater, the Government’s response seems increasingly inadequate to meet the scale and severity of the problem.

“It is disheartening that we have not received any substantive reply despite an assurance from the Prime Minister that one would be received. There is an urgent and compelling moral duty to act which we as bishops are offering to facilitate alongside others from across civil society.”

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, Mr Cameron told MPs: "No one has more respect for the bishops than me, but on this occasion I think they are wrong."

He said that it was right for the British government to take 20,000 people from the refugee camps rather than take asylum seekers that have already made their way to European countries; saying that this approach would encourage more people to make the dangerous journey.

And he challenged the bishops to "make a very clear statement" on the Millenium Development Goal commitment for countries to commit to spending 0.7 per cent of GDP to development aid. "We have done this, how many other countries have?" Mr Cameron said; as he called on the bishops to speak out to other countries.

And the Prime Minister said that he wanted to "work with the bishops to make sure we provide the warmest possible welcome" to those refugees that are resettled in the UK

  • Click here to read the full text of the bishops’ letter and a list of signatories.