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The Church in England and Wales: seeking to eliminate prejudice towards migrants and refugees.

The Church in England and Wales: seeking to eliminate prejudice towards migrants and refugees.

(Vatican Radio) With the British General Election looming, the question of immigration is one of the main points being debated in the public arena as the various parties vie for votes, writes Phil Andrews.

At the beginning of March, Bishop Patrick Lynch, Chair of the Office for Migration Policy for the Bishops of England Wales, challenged the British coalition government over its detention policy for migrants. He welcomed the publication of a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, which recommended that the next British Government should introduce a maximum time limit of 28 days on the duration anyone can be detained in UK immigration detention. Noting that many seeking asylum had already suffered great trauma prior to arriving in the UK, he hoped the findings would “be translated into humane immigration policies for those who need protection and support from the State.”

Bishop Lynch also responded to comments made by the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, when he suggested that the children of immigrants should wait before accessing the state education system. The Bishop was “appalled by any suggestion of discriminating against immigrants” and reminded Mr Farage that “The UK has a long, proud and humane tradition of responding to the needs of immigrants’ children”, continuing, “It is proven that education is a key element in integrating diverse communities. I recognise that in some places there are strains on resource but as a society we need to respond to this need rather than scapegoating any one group.”

You can watch Bishop Lynch’s pre-Election Address concerning Immigration, here.

One charitable organisation, located in the bishop’s own diocese of Southwark, which seeks to help newly-arrived immigrants is The Baytree Centre. Housed in a converted warehouse in the multicultural community of Brixton, The Baytree Centre was founded after the Brixton riots of the 1980s, at a time when social cohesion was at an all-time low.

Over thirty years later, the centre now supports hundreds of women and girls every year, primarily recent immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Often victims of marginalisation and isolation, the women and girls who rely on Baytree already endure many difficulties caused by an existing lack of access to services; thus the changes proposed by some of the political parties would hit them even harder, whilst adding pressure to charities such as Baytree, which are already severely underfunded.

Writing in The Pilgrim, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Sounthwark, Saskia Goldman explains her experiences as a volunteer at The Baytree Centre, and how they have ranged from taking young women to the island of Jersey for short respite holidays, through to teaching English to women and girls who have escaped perilous conditions and persecution, never expecting to find themselves so far from the country they once called home.

Indeed, the need to provide English classes is an important part of what the charity does. As Saskia notes, “London can be an alienating place even if you do speak English. Without services like the ones offered, these women might become increasingly isolated, meaning their families and children would too.” By helping both children and parents learn English, and develop skills, charities such as Baytree support the entire family to become self-sufficient as they integrate into the wider community, and build a new life for themselves, and their families.

As Pope Francis reminded the world in his 2014 Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Church must help existing communities in “moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization… towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world”.

With Britain going to the polls next month, Pope Francis asks all people of good will to respond to the issue of migration with charity, and cooperation, “… in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane… Solidarity with migrants and refugees must be accompanied by the courage and creativity necessary to develop… a more just and equitable financial and economic order, as well as an increasing commitment to peace, the indispensable condition for all authentic progress”. (2015 Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees)

(from Vatican Radio)