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Govts urged to agree coordinated refugee action plan

By Sarah Mac Donald - 09 September, 2015

Archbishop Eamonn Martin, Primate of All Ireland

Archbishop Eamonn Martin, Primate of All Ireland

The Primate of All Ireland has called on the Governments, north and south of the border, to do what they can to agree a coordinated action plan in response to the refugee crisis at national and EU level.

Addressing parishioners on Tuesday evening in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh at the launch of the Armagh Diocesan Plan, Share the Good News, Archbishop Eamon Martin said the absence of such a plan would only cause greater suffering, confusion and distress.

He said, “All of us can play our part in making such a plan work on the ground here in Ireland,” and he acknowledged that various Irish bishops have already been addressing the issue in their dioceses and parishes.

Archbishop Martin said that the bishops would be meeting at the end of the month to bring together their efforts and ideas to help streamline the Church’s response across the country.

In the meantime, “Parish communities stand ready to offer welcome, support and friendship to these suffering people when they come into our country and to provide food, clothing and other supports,” he stated.

According to Archbishop Martin, some parishes have already been able to identify what might be appropriate spaces to support the efforts of the two Governments in accommodating people.

Commending the work of Trócaire, Dr Martin said that the Church’s overseas development agency through its partner organisations in Caritas, has been working in Syria and the wider region since 2012 to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable families, especially women and children.

Last August, when thousands of people were displaced following the fall of Mosul in Iraq, Trócaire had helped to provide practical assistance by way of blankets, mattresses, clothes and heaters.

He also highlighted that Trócaire’s refugee appeal is still ongoing for those individuals and parishes who wish to contribute.

Praising the sterling work done by the Irish Naval Service in the Mediterranean which has saved the lives of thousands of people in recent months. But he said that efforts such as the rescuing of 329 men, women and children from the seas off Libya at the weekend on their own, are inadequate.

“Harrowing pictures, like those last week of the lifeless body of little three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, shockingly bring home to us just how perilous a journey these desperate people are prepared to make in search of a secure future for their families.”

Referring to the launch of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan, ‘Share the Joy of the Gospel’, which he launched on Tuesday evening, the Archbishop of Armagh said it is vital that our pastoral commitment finds practical expression in the face of such an enormous flood of human suffering that we have seen in recent weeks.

“To that end I ask all the Parish Pastoral Councils of the Archdiocese of Armagh to make contact with their local councillors and with local charities like the Saint Vincent de Paul Society to examine what can be done immediately to respond to Pope Francis’ appeal and to the Gospel imperative “in so far as you did it to the least of these you did it to me.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick expressed his admiration for the incredible humanity and decency of Limerick people in their response to the refugee crisis.

Hundreds of people across Limerick city and county have expressed their willingness to take refugees into their homes.

“Locally many people and organisations, such as Doras Luimní, were already deeply engaged in this crisis before last week’s tragic images from Turkey. But now there is striking evidence of a really heartfelt, widespread response across Ireland, Europe and, indeed, much further.

“Here in Limerick, the response has been wonderful, with literally hundreds if not thousands of putting their hands and volunteering to take families in.

However, Bishop Leahy warned that it is “essential” that the Government and all the state agencies, in taking up on the generosity of the public, put the necessary resources behind it.

“Putting a roof over refugee heads and food on the table is a noble and hugely generous start but it is only a start. These people have been through unimaginable travails and trauma in their homeland, have probably exhausted every last grain of energy and emotion in escaping that and getting here. And with all that behind them, they now find themselves in a country that is utterly unfamiliar in every way.”

“They will have immediate and ongoing healthcare requirements, both physical and emotional. They will have educational needs for their children, they will want to work and pay their way, put food on their table, etc.”

“They will also need reassurance that their new home is only stage one of their settlement in Ireland. They will need to know that they can aspire to being self-sustainable and not dependent on hand-outs from others, albeit the most generous of others. Recipient families, too, simply cannot have all of this laid on their shoulders, regardless of their levels of generosity.”

“We need both immediate and long-term solutions, Dr Leahy said as he called for some kind of contractual commitment for those who offer hospitality to migrants.

“There needs to be a binding commitment that, within six or twelve months of being taken in by householders, the refugees will be provided with a more long-term solution,” he suggested.

Meanwhile, Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor on Tuesday issued a statement on the refugee crisis and said that he had put in place a team comprising of representatives of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Diocesan Curia, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Trócaire to assess available space and other resources in the diocese that could be made available to support a compassionate Christian and humanitarian response to the current crisis.

He said the team would liaise with him and with the priests, religious and lay faithful of the diocese and would also endeavour to explore with fellow Christians in other denominations and leaders of other faiths, as well as with relevant Departments of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the most effective response and contribution that the diocese, its parishes and organisations can make in response to the decision by the Westminster government to extend the outreach being offered to the thousands of families in urgent need of welcome and refuge.

“Alongside the more immediate needs of food and clothing, this will include assessing the capacity to accommodate refugees within parishes and the Diocese as part of a first stage response to longer-term settlement and integration, which are integral parts of a cohesive and enduring Government response to the current crisis,” he said.

Bishop Treanor said the ground-swell of compassion across Ireland and Britain manifests a civic and public sense of responsibility for those in need.

“This deserves to be met by increased determination on the part of national governments and the international community to address the underlying causes of the conflict in the regions giving rise to the current refugee crisis.”

He concluded by stating, “We pray that courage and generosity will prevail at the meeting of EU ministers of the interior on Monday next week, September 14th, and for new initiatives by the international community to bring peace and stability to the peoples and countries involved.”

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