Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees reflects on Refugee Week 2024

To mark Refugee Week, that runs from 17 – 23 June, Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees for the Bishops’ Conference, offers a reflection on three themes – his recent visit to the Bibby Stockholm, the impact of the Rwanda Bill, and societal attitudes towards refugees and migrants.

In late April, Bishop McAleenan was invited by the Home Office to visit Bibby Stockholm. The vessel is a large floating barge moored off Portland Harbour in Dorset that accommodates asylum seekers – many who have fled torture and persecution. The visit offered a chance to meet with residents, reflect on their plight and consider the pastoral care we could offer. At the time of the visit, Bibby Stockholm housed over three hundred asylum seekers, but numbers fluctuate depending on departures and arrivals.

“The most memorable part of the visit was undoubtedly meeting the residents and hearing their stories,” said Bishop McAleenan. “I was deeply moved by their resilience, the commonality of their aspirations and their willingness to share their experiences, which are, sadly, often traumatic. Despite the hardships they had endured, their desire to find a home here and belong to a society to which they can contribute to, is a testament to our shared humanity.

“Indeed, I heard many positive stories from the local community – many going out of their way to provide support and a welcome for the residents. It was edifying to see staff on the vessel genuinely engaging with residents, providing advice and helpful information to assist them to integrate more effectively.”

Bishop McAleenan was also pleased to reflect on the wider welcome extended by many Catholics in our countries to asylum seekers:

“In the last few years, we have witnessed the wonderful work of Catholic communities across England and Wales who have welcomed migrants from Ukraine, Hong Kong and elsewhere with acts of solidarity and practical help.”

However, Bishop McAleenan’s visit coincided with the recent passing of the Rwanda Bill. He remarked on the distressing impact the legislation was having on Bibby Stockholm residents:

“The result of the passing of the bill was certainly felt onboard. A number of residents had received letters from the Home Office, mentioning the possibility of deportation to Rwanda. It is an unjustifiable policy and has created an unnecessary sense of fear and anxiety.”

“The UK Government has a responsibility to ensure that we have an immigration system that upholds the dignity of human life. The Rwanda scheme does not do that.”

Bishop McAleenan concluded his reflection by calling for Catholics to use Refugee Week as an opportunity to pray for refugees and asylum seekers:

“During Refugee Week, I invite everyone to join in prayer and reflect on our understanding and belief that every person is made in the image and likeness of God. Let us remember that we all seek the same fundamental needs – safety, acceptance, and a place to call home.”

“Let us be thankful for the work of so many people in England and Wales to welcome migrants, but not be afraid to ask ourselves what else can we do to assist migrants and refugees.”

Source CBCEW