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Bishops express solidarity with suffering of refugees

By Sarah Mac Donald - 02 October, 2015

refugeesGiven the magnitude of the crisis, refugees will be arriving in Europe and Ireland for months and years to come, and it will be some years before they can safely return to their country of origin, the country’s bishops have said.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Irish Bishops’ Conference warned that cooperation and clear sharing of responsibility across relevant government departments, to address different types of need, is a necessary foundation for strategic planning.

Expressing solidarity with the suffering of refugees and asylum seekers, they said the participation of local communities as partners in planning is vital to develop supports that will address the many needs of refugees and be sustainable for all involved.

They highlighted the grassroots response to the crisis, and how local communities across the island have reacted to the worsening refugee crisis by mobilising to demand greater solidarity from European political leaders.

“The swift and enthusiastic response to Pope Francis’ appeal to parishes shows a ready willingness to help and a recognition that our parishes need to be places of welcome to all. Bishops are working with clergy and other diocesan personnel, as well as faith-based organisations, to assess our capacity to contribute to the national and international response,” the bishops explained.

In a challenging statement, the IBC called on 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.”

They highlighted 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.

On the issue of those trapped in direct provision, the bishops said that an important first step must be to address existing barriers to integration for refugees and people seeking asylum who are already here.

“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,” they state.

Referring to the recommendations of the Working Group report on Direct Provision and the Protection Process, they say these need to be implemented without further delay by the Government.

A clear priority is the need to urgently address the situation of people who have been more than five years in the Direct Provision system.

They also highlight that 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.

“The integration of refugees needs to be adequately funded and resourced, with a long-term commitment,” the bishops underline and they also highlight how many NGOs supporting people seeking asylum have seen their funding cut in recent years and face uncertainty about the future.

“There has also been concern that funding may be diverted from other areas of critical need, notably the housing crisis. Clear and transparent strategies from government would enhance the contribution of local communities, supporting the integration of refugees as part of a wider strategy to address social exclusion and promote social cohesion,” they state.

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