Cardinal welcomes Britain's U-turn on resettling child refugees

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sedat Suna, EPA

By Simon Caldwell

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster has welcomed a U-turn by the British
government over the resettlement of child refugees.

He said he was “very happy”
with a May 4 announcement by Prime Minister David Cameron that the U.K. will
accept an unspecified number of unaccompanied children who arrived in the European
Union from Syria.

Under pressure from Parliament,
Cameron said the U.K. would not only take in 3,000 children from refugee camps
in the Middle East, but that children registered in Greece, Italy or France
before March 20, the date when an EU deal with Turkey to return migrants took
effect, would also be eligible for resettlement in Britain.

The government will not take in
migrant children who arrive after that date because it does not want to
encourage human trafficking, the prime minister said.

In a May 4 statement, Cardinal
Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, expressed
satisfaction that the government had struck the right balance.

“I am very happy that the
government is extending an offer of sanctuary to a greater number of children
fleeing conflict, while continuing to combat the evils of human trafficking,”
said the cardinal.

“The U.K.’s response to the
refugee crisis is improving the lives of thousands,” he added. “I
encourage the Catholic community to keep on playing its part through working
with local authorities, being generous with time and resources, and extending
the hand of welcome to refugees arriving here.”

Days earlier, Cardinal Nichols
had used a homily at an annual diocesan Mass for migrants to tell Catholics
that they should protest against immigration policies that could put the lives
of children at risk.

“While it is right to keep
silent when children are asleep, it is never right to stay silent when they are
perishing at sea or at risk in hostile camps,” Cardinal Nichols said at
the May 2 Mass.

“From those who deal in
creating fear of migrant people and who seek to profit from that fear, whether
financially or politically, we ask for a more responsible leadership, a
leadership that looks at all that we gain as well as the problems we
confront,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Nichols told the
congregation that London “would not function” without the “great
contribution” of its migrant communities. However, he suggested that new
policies aimed at restricting immigration meant that the United Kingdom could
not show greater hospitality to refugees even if its citizens wanted to.

In an allusion to the EU deal
with Turkey to expel migrants, he criticized “international plans that
often seem to treat people purely as problems or even as packages to be sent
from place to place.”

“We hope that the way in
which governments respond to the immense challenge which faces us will take
more seriously the personal generosity of so many, in this country, too, who
are willing to welcome refugees and desperate migrants and yet are hindered
from doing so by policies shaped more by caution and fear,” he said.

“We hear reports of
sadness, dismay, frustration, anger, rejection and humiliation: from Iraq and
Jordan, to Libya and Calais,” he continued.

“Yes, this is ‘a vale of
tears’ as both the Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas become, in the Holy
Father’s words, graveyards for children, the elderly and their families,”
he said.

Last year, migration from
Africa, the Middle East and South Asia resulted in more than a million people
arriving in Germany alone.

At the Vatican, top officials of
the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, known by the acronym CCEE, met
with Pope Francis May 2 and heads of various dicasteries during their May 2-4
visit to Rome. The presidency members — a president and two vice presidents —
were ending their five-year term this year.

Speaking to reporters May 3 at
the Vatican, Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, CCEE
president, said individual countries are facing the challenge of the
immigration and refugee crisis. While the European continent as a whole must
also come together to respond to the dilemma, each nation is in its own unique
situation, which requires localized responses, he said.

“Therefore it’s necessary
to patiently and perceptively examine the situation of each region in order to
find a concrete Christian-Catholic response to the situations,” Cardinal
Erdo said.

A blanket or mandatory solution
is impossible, he said, not only because national laws are different, but
because each nation faces a different challenge depending on whether it is a
country of origin, transit or destination for refugees and forced migrants. So,
for example, he said, a mandatory policy of integrating newcomers does not work
if migrants do not want to stay in the so-called country of transit and to do
so “would be a restriction on their freedom” to move.

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Contributing to this story was
Carol Glatz in Vatican City.

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