Press Release – Monday 19 June 2023
Immediate: Newsdesks, Photodesks and Religious Affairs Correspondents
Bishops: “Leaving people to sleep in tents or on the streets is cruelty before our eyes … We can do so much better”
On this World Refugee Day– a day set aside by the United Nations to draw attention to the plight of people forced to flee – we are reminded of our responsibility to care for those who travel to Ireland seeking safety, shelter and dignity.
In recent times this issue has become a very sensitive one and it requires thought, consultation, planning and hard work to ensure that the best possible engagement is arrived at for refugees and local communities.
We pay tribute to the many initiatives that have been undertaken by government and at local parish level, in schools, in dioceses and by members of religious orders as well as by those across the whole community. We encourage parishes and churches to continue the great efforts to support our new residents with pastoral and charitable support. Even when it stretches resources and facilities, we are called to go the extra mile, despite the sacrifices involved. These efforts demonstrate time and time again that Ireland is a place of welcome for those who seek refuge here.
This Church’s response exemplifies the Gospel in action. The God-given dignity of every human person lies at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It informs the beautiful treasure that is Catholic social teaching, which is rooted in the dignity of the person, the common good, subsidiarity, the universal destination of goods and, crucially, solidarity with those who are oppressed.
Ireland has always presented itself as a place of welcome. Since 24 February last year we have received up to one hundred thousand refugees here, and our traditional welcome must be made real in practical ways to show solidarity and hospitality to those fleeing war and persecution. As a minimum we must support our new neighbours in integrating into local communities so that they can contribute to our society with their gifts and skills.
While the announcement by the government in recent days that it is now in a position to offer accommodation to all International Protection applicants is welcome, we all have a responsibility to hold those in authority to account. The apparatus of the State must be prepared to support new arrivals in terms of health and medical care as well as with their accommodation and education needs. In doing so the State must work with local communities to underpin solidarity and social cohesion by way of local dialogue and with an emphasis on safety. Leaving people to sleep in tents or on the streets is cruelty before our eyes, it is not an option in a country that is one of the richest in the world. We can do so much better.
There is a danger that extremist views and actions can come to the fore causing fear and racism undermining our culture of welcome. This is a challenge to all of us as a people.
Let us be very clear: Ireland is a place of welcome for those seeking refuge. As a people with a long history of emigration, we know better than most what it is like to have to seek shelter in a foreign land and how important it is to be welcomed, protected and integrated.
In summary, we say:
Racism is the opposite of encounter. It seeks to divide and to exploit anxieties by spreading fear, often through misinformation. There is no place for racism in Ireland. As a people with a long history of emigration, particularly in the light of the famine, we know deeply within ourselves what it is like to have to leave one’s homeland and seek shelter and a better life. May our response to people seeking refuge be: ‘welcome, protect, promote and integrate’ (cf Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti. 129).” (Statement of the Irish Episcopal Conference, Spring 2023)
Let us remind ourselves that behind the issue of immigration are individual human beings. People like all of us, with their own particular stories; families like ours with their hopes and dreams that tomorrow might be somewhat better than today.