26 March 2020, The Tablet

Don't neglect refugees and migrants, pleads bishop

Don't neglect refugees and migrants, pleads bishop

An Italian performance artist playing with the refugee children in the buffer zone near the Turkey-Greece border.
Erhan Demirtas/NurPhoto/PA Images

A Catholic Bishop has urged the UK government and Catholic communities across the country not to neglect the welfare of vulnerable migrants and refugees amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bishop Paul McAleenan, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster and chair of the Catholic bishops' office for migration policy, also called for support to be extended to casual workers and precarious renters, two groups hard hit by the lockdown implemented by the UK government.

In a statement, Bishop McAleenan asked the government to suspend the requirement to report at immigration centres or police stations placed on some migrants and refugees.

Cecilia Taylor-Camara a senior adviser to the Catholic bishops of England and Wales on migration issues, said she backed Bishop McAleenan and added: “We are particularly concerned about the lack of emergency accommodation for people to self-isolate and socially distance themselves.”

She emphasised that the healthcare and accommodation struggles faced by migrants in the UK were shared concerns with migrants around the world, many of whom live in unstable or overcrowded conditions.

These concerns were echoed in a warning by Save the Children that migrants and refugees, many of them children, are at-risk as the coronavirus outbreak spreads around the world. Around the world, more than 12 million refugees are children, and as many as 70 million people are currently displaced from their country of origin. The reduced access to healthcare and sanitation experienced by many displaced persons means that potential coronavirus outbreaks could prove “catastrophic”, according to the charity.

Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than a quarter of the world’s refugee population, but with only 0.2 doctors per 1,000 people, it has the fewest number of medical professionals per capita of any world region. With an increasing number of cases of coronavirus in Africa, the coronavirus pandemic could have serious consequences for refugees and for all the residents of the region. By contrast, East Asia and the Pacific, where most of the confirmed cases of Covid-19 have occurred to date, contains 1.6 doctors per 1,000 people.

These reports chime with one of the key themes of Pope Francis’ papacy – care for migrants and refugees – something he emphasised in a recent statement, given on March 12 in Rome, where he urged Catholics to keep the plight of refugees in their minds despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re preoccupied for our own things, and we forget the children who are hungry, we forget the poor people at the borders who are seeking freedom, these forced migrants fleeing hunger and war who find only walls” Francis said. In spite of the anxieties of the coronavirus outbreak, he added that it remained the task of Christians to overcome “the abyss of indifference” that separates us from the poor and the needy.

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