Ellen Teague writes about the upcoming Refugee Week and the Columbans' contribution to shed light on the plight of the refugees.

Refugee Week 2023 Poster
Refugee Week 2023 Poster

Refugee Week takes place every year in the week around World Refugee Day on the 20 June. In the UK, it is a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK and encourages a better understanding between communities. All are invited to take part. The theme of the 2023 week is ‘COMPASSION’ and it runs from 19-25 June.

On Monday 19 June, the Columbans are joining the monthly ecumenical Home Office Prayer Vigil in London to commemorate refugees who have died trying to reach a place of safety. A group has gathered at the Home Office on the third Monday of every month for nearly two years, in increasing horror at the UK government’s ever-harsher policies towards refugees. The Columban group on 19 June will include Director Fr. John Boles and Education Worker James Trewby.

As it is a special vigil during Refugee Week, the lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales will be speaking. Bishop Paul McAleenan has stressed that welcoming refugees and migrants is a duty for Christians. A critic of the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, Bishop Paul has said that “the purpose of the law is to uphold justice and mercy, and when the effect of law compounds trauma and increases the suffering, justice and mercy are not being served.” He has called for, “an asylum system which is designed for the welfare of refugees and not for their harm.”

The Columbans support his call for “extending safe routes for people to reach the UK, tackling the backlog of asylum claims so that they receive a fair and timely hearing, and cooperating with other nations to collectively fulfil our obligations under the Refugee Convention, which are all necessary steps towards a more humane and effective system.” We agree with his criticism of immigration detention and any return to the routine detention of children. Names of refugees who have lost their lives trying to reach England will be read out at the event.

Also, present at the Home Office on 19 June will be Ooberfuse, performing live their new song: ‘Show Me Love’, written for World Refugee Day. The song is a tribute to those who have been displaced.

These vigils run monthly and are open to all who are passionately concerned about the UK continuing to welcome refugees. Up and down the country, voluntary agencies reach out to offer food, shelter and help to those seeking safety from war, persecution and starvation. The Columbans highlight the push factors for migration and work to raise awareness of climate change and the impact of war. However, hostility to migrants is being fostered by some in the government.

The vigil will pray for decision-makers. The Illegal Migration Bill was drawn up by the government earlier this year and is currently making its way through the House of Lords after MPs voted it through the Commons with some minor concessions. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have repeatedly set out their desire to reduce illegal migration as a government priority. Peers in the House of Lords, including a former Tory immigration minister, have laid an amendment to the Illegal Migration Bill which if accepted, would prevent the government from breaching five international treaties signed since the Second World War. They also warn that Britain’s reputation on the world stage could be in jeopardy if the government breaks international treaties in their attempts to tackle small boat crossings.

The Home Office is the centre of policies that punish people for seeking safety from persecution, with shamefully long time being taken for decisions, use of indefinite detention and limits put on human dignity. So, it is right to hold our prayers at the Home Office, at the place where change for the better could so easily be brought about.

Columban Education worker James Trewby, who visits refugee camps in Calais regularly, says, “We need to do better at welcoming those in need, ending policies based on hostility.”

Join us for the Prayer Vigil

The Vigil on 19 June is organised by Westminster Justice & Peace, London Catholic Worker and the London Churches Refugee Fund to pray for migrants seeking safe passage to the UK. Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF.

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