A letter by senior faith leaders calls for two refugee resettlement programmes, which have been paused because of the pandemic, to reopen
The Archbishop of York has intervened in the migrant crisis in the Channel by demanding that the Government uphold Britain’s “proud tradition of offering sanctuary” by reopening refugee resettlement schemes.
The Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, the second most senior Anglican in the country, made the call in a letter to The Telegraph, signed by a string of senior faith leaders.
In it, the signatories call for the two refugee resettlement programmes launched by David Cameron in 2015, at the height of the migrant crisis, to be resumed.
Both the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme – which has seen about 20,000 Syrians fleeing the civil war rehomed via local authorities – and the Community Sponsorship scheme have been shut down since the coronavirus lockdown began.
“Since the First World War the United Kingdom’s refugee resettlement schemes have proved a vital lifeline to tens of thousands of people who have come to the UK escaping some of the world’s most brutal conflicts and regimes,” Archbishop Cottrell and the others write.
“We are calling on the Prime Minister and the Home Office to restart these safe and legal resettlement routes immediately.”
The leaders, who also include the Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster Paul McAleenan, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain Harun Khan, and the director of Liberal Judaism Rabbi Charley Baginsky, said there were dozens of local community groups and councils keen to “shoulder this responsibility and continue the UK’s proud tradition of offering sanctuary and a safe home to some of the most vulnerable people in the world”.
Community sponsorship of refugees began in 2016 when a Syrian family was rehomed by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace, and has since expanded across the country.
About 60 different church and charity groups are currently waiting to receive a Syrian refugee family, with many having already bought houses, raised tens of thousands of pounds and gathered dozens of volunteers when the scheme was abruptly paused in March.
One group in Staffordshire is being led by the former chief constable of Greater Manchester, Sir Peter Fahy, who said he could not understand why the Government was maintaining the embargo on bringing over UN-vetted refugees from camps in Jordan and Lebanon.
Led by Sir Peter’s church, a team including retired vets, nurses, small business-owners and teachers from the town of Rugeley have long since secured the funding, volunteers, Arabic translators, safeguarding training and Home Office approval to welcome a refugee family.
“No-one thinks the situation in the Channel is acceptable, but there is a safe and legal route where this country could make its commitment, and we can’t understand why the Government won’t give us an idea of a date when it would start,” he said.
“This is a Government scheme, we’re not a bunch of do-gooders setting it up ourselves. We have answered that call and would like to be allowed to proceed.”
Bekele Woyecha, the director of UK Welcomes Refugees, which organised the faith leaders’ letter, said the longer resettlement schemes were on hold, the more refugees would resort to “treacherous journeys” across the Channel.
“The UK is a country respected globally for offering sanctuary to those who need it, and we cannot step back,” he said.