Given the current refugee crisis, there is a temptation to join the fearmongers in calling for iron gates to ‘keep out the masses’. As an organisation which holds the belief that each person is created in the image of God, and is therefore valuable and precious with the right to the fullness of life, what should our response be?
Our CEO Cathy Corcoran OBE has commented on this issue in an article titled ‘Precious in the eyes of God’. The article was recently published in the Catholic Times.
Precious in the eyes of God
When I worked for CAFOD before I came to the Cardinal Hume Centre, one of my roles was to coordinate our response to emergencies across the world. The paramount rule from day one was always to remember the long term strategy within the immediate response. In other words, respond to the humanitarian crisis as quickly and effectively as possible, but make sure at the same time you work to address the root causes of the crisis.
As I watch with horror, shame and embarrassment the unfolding scenes in the Mediterranean, and specifically the situation in Calais, I’m trying to see any signs of our effective response to the human tragedy. There seems no sign at all of any concerted effort to stem such desperate and distressing migration at source.
I am sure there are many examples of human beings reaching out to other human beings which have not been captured on camera. Two which have are the Greek fisherman putting his own life at risk to save people from drowning and the young Turkish couple who spent their wedding day feeding 4000 refugees from Syria.
I know we must understand and work with people’s fears about what will happen if the ‘swarm’, as our Prime Minister has described them, somehow break free from Calais, get across the Channel, and descend on our cities and towns. But can we take it a little further and genuinely ask what would happen?
I would like to think that alongside the fears, a natural sense of compassion would also surface and many of us would simply respond because those men, women and children are here in front of us and in desperate need.
As with all charities who are working with people facing poverty, the need for our services here at the Centre is increasing month-on-month, week-on-week, day-by-day. We are just about managing to maintain our ability to respond, with one exception: the demand for our immigration advice service. Not least it is because we are one of the very, very few organisations who provide advice free at the point of entry, and up to tribunal level.
Some people have questioned why we give our work with refugees and stateless people such a priority, alongside our work with homeless young people and families in need. It is for two reasons. Firstly, it is because these are some of the most vulnerable and desperate people in our society today. Secondly, because we are successful in getting peoples’ status regularised.
Whilst we are neutral on immigration policies, the people we help are already here. Given the fact that many are destitute as they cannot claim any help from the state and it’s difficult to find work or a home, we feel we must help.
I am in no doubt that this is what our founder would want us to do, just as he read the signs of the times back in the 1980s and hence we came into existence to respond to the people then in most need. It is what he would expect us to do today, as this reflection of Cardinal Hume about people without a place to call home continues to challenge us:
‘Behind each face is a personal story, the circumstances that brought that individual to this state. These people are precious in the eyes of God, and thus must be precious in ours.’
Cathy Corcoran OBE
Cardinal Hume Centre CEO
Our Patron, Cardinal Nichols, has also echoed these sentiments telling ITV News that Britain must be more generous to desperate migrants: