21 April 2016, The Tablet

Christian compassion in Europe's secular liberal democracy


There is no sign that the British Government is softening its attitude towards refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in the Middle East. It has repeatedly been criticised for tardiness and lack of generosity by religious leaders of all denominations, but it still seems to be doing as little as possible. Last year it met criticism of its inaction by offering to take 20,000 refugees out of the camps on the Syrian border over five years. But even this meagre effort – in comparison with the immense scale of the problem - is now seen to be faltering. Cardinal Vincent Nichols told BBC Radio 4 last week: “At the moment it’s going very slowly and it’s a great disappointment.” The Government should have seen how many it could absorb in the first year and then multiply that by five, he said.

Similar frustration with responses to the crisis across Europe was what led Pope Francis to make his dramatic visit to the Greek island of Lesbos last week, and then to take back to Rome 12 refugees chosen from those waiting on the island, half of them children. Apart from gestures designed to draw attention to their plight in the world’s media, he could do little more to help them.

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