Diocesan News

A parish with a heart open to the world

Paul Bodenham shares the latest news, ideas and updates from CARITAS Nottingham

Saturday, February 18, 2023
Caritas, Justice and Peace
Paul Bodenham

By Paul Bodenham, Caritas Diocese of Nottingham

When we read in the media about the controversies over immigration, it is easy to forget where the story starts. In too many cases it starts with traumatised people who face near-impossible choices.

There has been much debate about how to ‘stop the small boats’. Most of those crossing the Channel by such desperate and dangerous means come from modern-day Iran, Syria or Afghanistan and Eritrea, all nations riven by conflict, oppression and poverty. Almost all of them claim asylum. Four-fifths of all asylum claims are upheld.

Pope Francis says: ‘Our response to the arrival of migrating persons can be summarized by four words: welcome, protect, promote and integrate’ (Fratelli Tutti, 129). Bishops of England and Wales recognise the need for immigration control, but criticised last year's new Nationality and Borders Act for failing to 'treat asylum seekers justly and honour their dignity as human persons'. The recent scheme to send some to Rwanda - and leave them there even if granted asylum – has inflicted incalculable distress. Now the government has announced plans to criminalise those who arrive by boat, and any other means except the few official 'safe routes'. The Jesuit Refugee Service has described the policy as 'performative cruelty'. Claiming asylum is not illegal.

It is possible that at least one hotel in your parish is now being used to house asylum seekers. Five such hotels are reported to be in one Lincolnshire parish alone. Here's a story of how the good folk of SS Peter & Paul’s parish in Earl Shilton, Leicestershire have been responding.

In November parishioners heard on social media that 45 asylum seekers had been allocated to a hotel in the town. They had been hastily moved there when their accommodation at the notoriously-overcrowded Manston processing centre in Kent was found to be unfit for habitation. Local councils and health services had not even been notified when rumours of the influx broke. A parliamentary question from the local MP revealed that the Home Office had previously ruled the hotel in question a fire risk, making it a tempting far-right terrorist target. Thankfully it has since been upgraded by new owners.

Cathy Underwood, a parishioner at SS Peter & Paul’s, tells us how the parish rallied round:

"The Asylum Seekers had been provided with two sets of tracksuits and flip flops. This was all the clothes most of them had, but made them stand out in our town. We presented ourselves as members of our local Catholic Church but also wore our Street Pastors uniforms. These we felt facilitated our entry into the hotel and the trust of the Asylum Seekers.

"We asked what we could do to help. They asked for clothes, especially underwear, shoes and coats. We then shared their needs with the local churches using our Churches Together network, as well as our own. A lead group, of which we are a part, was then set up to disseminate information to our local churches, Town Council, community leaders and our MP’s office. It was important that accurate information was shared to counter local rumours and misunderstandings!

"They are now fully clothed and other concerns are now being addressed, for instance with health, boredom and education. They have accepted our church’s invitation to our Home from Home days [the parish's 'warm hub'] and a social evening. Other churches have also extended welcome to their services. We tried to make Christmas special by providing a tree, lights and presents. English lessons will start next week!!"

That was in January. A month later the Home Office placed more guests at the hotel, from North Africa, Afghanistan, Syria and Egypt. Once again, parishioners swung into action to provide clothes and other essentials, only to discover that all 49 guests were moved out as suddenly as they had arrived, leaving local helpers bewildered. Cathy reports:

“Our new friends were as upset as we were. They were given only a few hours notice of their move and not much information about where they were to be placed and were then taxied to their new accommodation. They have been scattered around the Midlands! No account was taken of the relationships and friendships they had made while at the hotel! The time of farewells was painful for all of us!”

At least we can be sure that, thanks to the efforts of parishioners and their friends, they will remember their time there for the humanity of its people. In Earl Shilton Christ in the merciful met Christ in the poor.

There are many ways in which your parish can respond to the needs of those who come to our shores. Here are some possibilities:

  • If your parish runs a ‘warm hub' or drop-in, invite people from overseas
  • Host English conversation sessions to aid integration and language-learning
  • Write to your MP, and perhaps meet them to express your concern
  • Help to develop a Community Sponsorship scheme in your neighbourhood
  • Develop a partnership between your parish and a local refugee support charity.

Not everyone comes to the diocese to seek asylum. Most have arrived through official mechanisms for economic reasons. Often they, too, experience exclusion and racism in the UK. Many of them are Catholics who bring vibrancy and colour to our parishes and help to enrich our economy.

In Caritas we would like to bring people together who wish to support asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. Let’s build a hospitable Church. Whether you are experienced in volunteering with refugees, a migrant yourself, or just want to help, join us on 28 February.

We are hosting a conversation at 7:00PM for anyone who would like to make a difference, so that Caritas can offer the support you need. Book at bit.ly/CaritasOpenHearts or email me at caritas@dioceseofnottingham.uk.

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