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British parishes told to help EU citizens stay in UK after Brexit

By Cian Molloy - 16 December, 2018

Catholic parishes and schools have been put on alert by the English and Welsh hierarchy to be on the lookout for vulnerable people who might find themselves at risk of deportation because of tough new immigration laws coming into force in the wake of Brexit.

In a statement issued on behalf of the Bishops of England and Wales, Bishop Paul McAleenan, auxiliary in Westminster, expressed deep concerns about how the British government plans to treat EU citizens once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

Because the majority of EU citizens in Britain are Catholics, they are of special concern to the English and Welsh hierarchy, said Bishop McAleenan, confirming that the Church is standing in solidarity with all EU citizens who have made their home in Britain.

Many EU citizens living in Britain are facing “profound uncertainty and insecurity about their future”, said the Irish-born bishop. “People have been given far too little information or binding commitments about their right to stay. For some this has been worsened by the appalling rise in hate crime, which has left them feeling unwelcome or even threatened in the country that has become their home.”

From the end of March next year until July 2021, the UK will operate a settlement scheme that will provide EU citizens living in Britain a legal route to be allowed to remain in the country. The requirement to register with the settlement scheme or face deportation applies to all EU citizens, with the exception of Irish people who will continue to benefit from the common travel area arrangement made between the British and Irish governments in 1923.

Bishop McAleenan said it was understandable that people who have contributed to UK society for many years may feel that it is unjust and divisive that they are now required to apply for permission to stay.

“We also expect that some people, particularly those who are already vulnerable, may face difficulties in practically accessing the scheme, leaving their immigration status at risk,” he said.

“We strongly oppose the decision to charge people for securing the rights they already have. This is not only unprincipled but will also create a barrier for larger families or people facing financial difficulties.

“Notwithstanding our concerns, it remains a fact that EU citizens must apply if they are to protect their place in our society. We therefore ask Catholic parishes, schools and organisations to bring the settlement scheme to the attention of all who need to avail of it and to be aware of vulnerable people who may face barriers to applying or not realise that they need to apply.”

If Catholic organisations come across EU citizens who are unaware of the new requirements, Bishop McAleenan said they should be directed to the official settlement scheme website. They might also make use of the relevant information resources. These resources include leaflets, fact sheets and posters that the UK government is asking community organisations to distribute among their clients and members.

The Bishop concluded his statement by urging Britain’s Catholic community to take up Pope Francis’s call to “welcome, protect and help to integrate everyone who has made their home here”, with particular concern at present for our European brothers and sisters.

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