The Autumn 2015 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference discussed the issue of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. In a statement, the Bishops affirmed and expressed gratitude to “faith-based organisations in showing leadership, collecting donations and providing vital humanitarian assistance in our dioceses – with the Saint Vincent de Paul Society standing out as an exemplary charity whose work with refugees has been both swift and sensitive”.
Even before the present crisis Trócaire has been providing support to 158,000 refugees and displaced people in Syria, Iraq and surrounding countries since 2011 through local partners in the global Caritas network, as well as the Jesuit Refugee Service, religious congregations and other local organisations.
The statement went on to urge the expression of “spiritual solidarity with refugees and displaced people through prayer and reflection”.
We encourage all members of our parish communities to explore how they might offer their services, talents, time and commitment to supporting the resettlement of refugees through practical parish actions such as friendship and welcome schemes, English language classes, trauma counselling and medical services, as well as legal advice services. Even those who make it safely here will have experienced great loss. We pray for all the families divided and shattered by conflict. We remember especially those unable to make the journey who have been left behind and all those who have tragically lost their lives. As Christians we commit ourselves to play our part in bringing hope and healing to our brothers and sisters in need.
The bishops acknowledged that “the resettlement of refugees is a complex process” and noted that “the participation of local communities as partners in planning is vital” to sustainably address the needs of refugees.
We call on our political leaders to use their influence at EU level to minimise delays in getting vulnerable people to safety. We need clear leadership in the form of a renewed international commitment to the right to asylum, which places the dignity and human rights of refugees at the heart of policy decisions. Safe and legal pathways to protection in Europe would reduce the numbers of people risking, and losing, their lives through perilous routes. The importance of family reunification to the integration process, and the responsibility to respect and protect family life, need to be highlighted in the discussions and negotiations.
The bishops also called for “existing barriers to integration for refugees and people seeking asylum who are already here” to be overcome.
Urgent reform is required to avoid the creation of an unjust two-tier system in which the needs of those who have been waiting for status for many years are overlooked. The recommendations of the Working Group report on Direct Provision and the Protection Process need to be implemented without further delay by the Government of Ireland. A clear priority that emerged in this work is the need to urgently address the situation of people who have been more than five years in the Direct Provision system. In Northern Ireland charities supporting refugees are calling for a Refugee Integration Strategy, including measures to prevent refugees living in poverty without social welfare support.