The Church has celebrated the World Day of Migrants and Refugees since 1914, using it as an occasion to express concern for vulnerable people on the move, to pray for them and to raise awareness about the opportunities migration offers.
This year, it will be celebrated on 27th September and Pope Francis has chosen “Forced like Jesus Christ to flee” as the title of his message. His message can be downloaded here
In his message, Pope Francis focuses specifically on internally displaced people, who have been forced to leave their homes. At the end of 2019, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes and that of these, 45.7 million were internally displaced – i.e. still living in their own countries.
Here in the UK, we don’t come across internally displaced people, so perhaps the best that we can do is remember them in our prayers. But we do have opportunities to work with refugees and asylum seekers who have been forced out of not only their homes, but their own countries. Many of the refugees who fled as a result of the war in Syria, for example, may have tried to stay in Syria, but have since had to move further afield.
The COVID pandemic has caused difficulties, but most Refugee Support agencies continue to offer food and clothing, as well as organising computers, mobile phones and data. Many drop-ins remain closed while others are considering how to re-open. Donations of food and clothing are needed as well as direct funding. English lessons are provided on Zoom which can be difficult for some and others offer conversation and essential support.
Whilst the UNHCR has restarted resettlement activities which were put on hold because of the pandemic, the Home Office has still to start accepting vulnerable people as part of its commitment to resettlement. Caritas Europa and its partners have issued a statement calling on EU governments to honour commitments made in 2019 – the departures of 10,000 refugees waiting for resettlement were cancelled as a result of travel restrictions.
One initiative which has continued despite lockdown is Community Sponsorship. In addition to the group in Settle where they celebrated the first anniversary of the family’s arrival and a new addition to the family, there are now three groups across the diocese who are working towards completing their application to the Home Office and welcoming a vulnerable family as soon as they can. Community Sponsorship is a great way of responding to Pope Francis’ call that every community should welcome a refugee family. For more information, contact Sue Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org