Cardinal Vincent Nichols has asked churches to help welcome Syrian refugees, after the Government decided to end its scheme for resettling refugee children.
In a statement, the cardinal said it would be “truly shocking” if it turned out that the Government had abandoned its “moral duty” to protect unaccompanied refugees.
The “Dubs amendment” to the Immigration Act, which was passed last year, gave the Government a statutory duty to accept unaccompanied refugee children to the UK. Lord Dubs, who moved the amendment, suggested a figure of 3,000. But the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has said the final total will be 350.
Cardinal Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, noted that more than 900 unaccompanied children were accepted last year through the Dubs amendment and other schemes. “However,” he said, “the need is evidently far greater and I am informed that there are a number of local authorities willing and resourced to take many more of these children into their care.”
The cardinal also urged parishes to join the Community Sponsorship Scheme, in which local groups can take responsibility for finding a house for a refugee family, and offering training, basic goods, and other help.
He also contrasted the Government’s refugee policy with its work against modern slavery, saying: “Our Government is rightly proud of its initiatives against human trafficking, which are appreciated around the world. Yet to neglect these unaccompanied children is to leave them extremely vulnerable to human trafficking with all its terrible consequences.
“I ask the Home Secretary to review urgently the decision and to honour the original intention behind the Dubs Amendment.”
Other Catholics have spoken out against the Government’s decision. Lord Alton of Liverpool, one of the four peers who tabled the Dubs amendment, said that a country’s treatment of “the most vulnerable” was a mark of civilisation. He added: “I am dismayed and saddened that the Government has reneged on its promise to help these children. Europol have told me that 10,000 unaccompanied children have simply disappeared. What has been their fate and what does our indifference say about us and our priorities?”
Other bishops have spoken out, including Bishop Paul McAleenan, who has responsibility for migration within the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, who tweeted:
I know it's complex, but I'm praying earnestly that our great country will be open to receiving more of the unaccompanied child refugees.
— Bishop Philip Egan (@BishopEgan) February 13, 2017
Neil Thorns, director of advocacy for the Church’s development agency Cafod, said that 30,000 unaccompanied children had arrived in Greece and Italy last year. He said: “We urge the Government to ensure there are safe and legal routes to reach protection in the UK for vulnerable refugees.”
Dr Phil McCarthy, CEO of Caritas Social Action Network, said that one of the network’s members, the Cardinal Hume Centre, had been housing and supporting child refugees. “In their experience these children are extremely vulnerable,” McCarthy said. “The UK has a duty to play its full part in providing sanctuary for such children.”
The Government’s decision will face a legal challenge, currently scheduled for May, from the charity Help Refugees. They claim that the Government has settled on the figure of 350 without properly consulting local authorities.