The head of the Jesuit Order in Britain, Fr Dermot Preston SJ, has written to the Prime Minister to urge a change in policy towards refugees in the light of the current crisis in Europe and the Middle East.
Fr Preston urges the Prime Minister to have the courage and ambition to use his leadership to set a tone of welcome and hospitality to those seeking our help at this desperate time. He believes the Prime Minister has a unique opportunity to lead Britain in a way that can awaken Gospel values of compassion, decency, responsibility and charity, and that to do so would lay the foundations for a lasting legacy that would outlive any election cycle. His letter calls for Government action on three key needs:
• To work for peace in the Middle East.
• To work together with other European countries to respond humanely to those who seek sanctuary.
• To lead collaboration on long-term planning for the region.
Fr Preston strongly advises against damaging isolationism in Europe. He notes with regret that the many attempts at tightening border controls in the UK and in Europe have had the effect of forcing people to seek dangerous routes for sanctuary with tragic consequences.
While Fr Preston welcomes the new Government commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees over 5 years from camps in region, he urges a more generous response more in keeping with Britain’s values and traditions as a beacon of freedom, openness and sanctuary. He asks Mr Cameron to be a better neighbour to the poorer European countries, which are shouldering the burden of caring for huge numbers of vulnerable people, by cooperating with others to relocate refugees within Europe, by adopting humanitarian visas to allow people to enter the UK safely and seek asylum, and by making the rules on family reunification more flexible. Fr Preston believes such changes would reduce the number of people relying on people smugglers and therefore would save lives.
Through Jesuit Refugee Service UK the Jesuits in Britain support destitute asylum seekers and those in detention in London. Jesuit Refugee Service International operates in 50 countries and is working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia and Hungary, supporting families in camps in region, and offering humanitarian relief to those in transit in Europe. Jesuit Missions UK supports a food kitchen in Damascus, and family support teams for displaced people in Iraq. Through our 20 communities and 45 pastoral, educational and social justice ministries we are lobbying local authorities, mobilizing our constituencies and collaborating with Caritas Social Action Network to map the time, talents and resources (including accommodation) which we could put at the service of refugees arriving among us in order to make them feel welcome.
Fr Preston’s letter responds to the appeal of Fr John Dardis SJ, President of the Conference of European Provincials, to all European Superiors to take action in solidarity with refugees, and to Pope Francis’ appeal to all dioceses and religious orders in Europe.