Columbans marked Refugee Week by keeping vigil outside the Home Office in London on 19th June with various organisations and faith leaders to advocate for refugees in the UK. Ellen Teague of the Columban Justice, Peace and Ecology Team writes about the importance of compassion and justice. 

Columban Missionaries at the Home Office Vigil
Columban Missionaries at the Home Office Vigil

Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees in the Bishops Conference, has again called for safe routes for refugees, saying this week that, “to advocate on behalf of migrants, refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers is not simply kindness but it is a plea for justice for the most vulnerable, it is to do what the law should do.”

He lamented the latest tragedy off the coast of Greece, where a boat carrying migrants sank, possibly killing hundreds. “Our concern is not simply the events and decisions which took place immediately before that tragedy but the decisions and the policies which have been in place for many, many years which make such tragedies almost inevitable,” he said; “we see again the consequences of policies which do not include compassion, the theme of this year’s Refugee Week.” He added that, “we oppose Immigration systems which threaten to destroy hope.”

Bishop McAleenan was giving a reflection at June’s monthly vigil outside the Home Office in London on Monday, which was World Refugee Day and the start of UK-wide Refugee Week 19-25 June. This year’s theme is ‘Grow your Compassion’. He told around 100 people attending, “I thank you for all you do.”

Participants included a Columban team led by director Fr. John Boles and Education Worker James Trewby. Also, there were CAFOD Director Christine Allen, Eileen Cole of the Jesuit Refugee Service and Fr. Dominic Robinson, Chair of Westminster Justice & Peace Commission. The Commission and the London Catholic Worker organised the liturgy at the vigil. It remembered those who have died trying to reach the UK, the victims of wars, and asylum seekers in detention centres. Electro-pop band Ooberfuse performed their new refugee song: ‘Show Me Love’ during the vigil.

Across the country, churches supported the Bristol Refugee Festival and the Migration Matters Festival in Sheffield. St. Chad’s Sanctuary in Birmingham is joining a ‘Get Together for Compassion‘ in Centenary Square, Birmingham, on 24 June. St Thomas More Catholic Primary School in Birmingham celebrated being a ‘School of Sanctuary’ and raised awareness of refugees around the world.

Catholic Social Action Network members hosted webinars and workshops throughout the week, as well as sharing resources, to support and celebrate “our refugee friends”. Caritas Westminster, for example, encouraged parishes to study the ‘Love the Stranger’ document from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales and supported a refugee workshop in St Albans.

Leaders from Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths joined forces to voice their opposition to the Illegal Migration Bill, currently making its way through parliament, in a video launched on Monday at the start of Refugee Week. Elizabeth Palmer, CEO of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, was a contributor. It was circulated by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, which also advertised resources available under the Church of Sanctuary project. “We believe in a fair and just asylum system that welcomes those who need protection and respects their dignity,” the leaders said; “as people of faith, we will stand together with refugees, because it’s who we are.” The Columbans fully support this stance.