The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has challenged the government to allow more refugees to come to the UK in light of the crisis in Afghanistan.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said the government’s cap on 20,000 refugees over the next several years didn’t make sense to him.
He told the programme that the “moral obligation” from a Christian perspective was “always to try and welcome the stranger, and if the stranger is, first of all, somebody who is in fear for their lives and in addition somebody who has worked with us – who has worked with our soldiers – then I think that sense of duty towards them is all the stronger.”
Speaking about the cap on refugees, the Cardinal said: “It doesn’t make sense to me because I think this is not simply about how many people officialdom allows to enter this country. that is not enough. We’ve seen over and over again the terrible conditions that people face once they have been let in by officialdom.”
He added: “The response to refugees must be a welcome and a welcome is not something that a government alone can create. It is up to everybody.”
He urged government officials and ministers not to “underestimate the willingness of people here to respond to this emergency and to create places of welcome”.
He said: “We’ve seen it with the refugees coming out of the Syrian camps with the community sponsorship programme, which in my view was not developed sufficiently. That at least created a pathway towards a genuine welcome. That’s what we have to do.”
The last 15 months of lockdown and the Covid pandemic had shown the Government “how rich in resources and resilience and intention the faith communities are and what they actually can deliver” he said and added that the faith communities must be built into any refugee effort.
Asked if he believed the Government should expand the number of refugees or remove the cap, Cardinal Nichols suggested that while a figure was helpful for planning purposes, it would help if the Government could say they would take 5,000 in the next six months or over the rest of this year or that they would take as many as they receive and give a welcome to.
“I am sure there are people who would be very willing to work with government officials on expanding that capacity to welcome people in desperate circumstances – who have been our allies – who have been our close co-operators – in these next 18 months or two years.”
In his BBC Sunday interview, Cardinal Nichols was asked if the international community should give recognition to the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. The cardinal said he would assume, at this point, that the “Taliban will exercise brutal power in the way that they have done in the past”.
Urging caution and a wait-and-see approach, he said: “A key point to begin with is to see if the achievements of the last 20 years of making Afghanistan no longer a launch pad for international terrorism, if that is still maintained. A second one is a recognition of the dignity of all their citizens with women and children to the forefront because of their past record.”
Separately, a war crimes investigator for Amnesty International’s crisis team has warned that the Taliban may already be carrying out massacres with total impunity across the country while the focus of the world is on the evacuation at Kabul airport.
Brian Castner told the Irish Times that targeted killings are taking place in other parts of Afghanistan and that Taliban members have drawn up lists of names and gone “from house to house knocking on the doors of journalists and women activists”.
In Ireland, Bishop Alan McGuckian, chair of the Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, has said more must be done by the Irish government for forcibly displaced people.
While welcoming the Government’s commitment to accept 150 refugees under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, Bishop Alan McGuckian called for the processes to be accelerated and said that the acceptance of additional refugees must be considered a policy priority.
“I ask people to pray for the safe protection of the people of Afghanistan and other war-torn regions of the world. In the interest of justice and peace, refugees should be welcomed and integrated in our communities.”
He said that Ireland, as one of the wealthier nations of the world, must do more for forcibly displaced people in terms of welcome and integration through State and community supports.
“Yes, our hearts are deeply moved by the panicked scenes of people fleeing, but it should not take such scenes and circumstances to force governments to act,” Bishop McGuckian said.
He also noted that according to the UNHCR, at the end of 2020 there were 82.4m forcibly displaced people worldwide.
Some 85 per cent of these are being looked after in the least wealthy nations, with only 15 per cent being accommodated in the wealthier countries of the world, including Ireland.
“What does this say to us about solidarity and fraternity in our world today?” Bishop McGuckian asked.