Welcoming refugees as important as ‘ball park number’, says Cardinal

The Government should work with faith groups to welcome Afghan refugees to the UK, says Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

He told BBC R4’s Sunday programme this wasn’t just about “how many people officialdom allows to enter this country”. He said it was also about how they are welcomed.

He said: “We’ve seen over and over again the terrible conditions people face once they’ve been let in by officialdom.

“The response to refugees must be a welcome. And a welcome is not something that a government alone can create. It’s up to everybody.

“Government officials and ministers should not underestimate the willingness of people here to respond to this emergency and create places of welcome.”

Cardinal Nichols said the Christian moral obligation, was to welcome the stranger.

He said: “If the stranger is somebody who is in fear for their lives, and somebody who has worked with our soldiers then that sense of duty towards them is all the stronger.”

And he said this shouldn’t be about a “ball park number”.

The Cardinal said: “This last 15 months of the lockdown in the Covid pandemic have shown the Government how rich in resources and resilience and intention the faith communities are, and what they actually can deliver.”

Asked about the Government’s current cap on accepting 5,000 refugees in the next six months, he said: “I’m sure there are people around who’d be very willing to work with Government officials on expanding that capacity to welcome people in desperate circumstances.”

Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, welcomed the Government’s resettlement plans but questioned if it was enough.

Speaking on the same programme, she said: “They’re talking about resettling 5,000 in the first year.

“An awful lot of people won’t be able to access that scheme. And they will continue to travel under their own steam, arrive here and then seek asylum.”

Sarah explained that the Nationality and Borders Bill currently progressing through Parliament would penalise refugees arriving without visas.

She said: “I would question whether or not the Government are doing enough on safe and legal routes.

“There are practical things they could do now. They could make it, for example, much easier for people to reunite with family. That would set up a safe and managed route for people to get out and know that they have permission to travel.

“They could set up other forms of humanitarian visas so people could travel to the UK to seek asylum. There’s lots more the Government could do.

“I would really urge the Government to rethink this.”

Sunday is available on BBC Sounds.

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