Bishop of Durham calls for immediate action to help desperate refugees in Europe

Bishop Paul Butler(Photo: Keith Blundy)

Britain must do more to help and protect the hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving in Europe, the Bishop of Durham has said.

Speaking to Christian Today, Bishop Paul Butler praised the UK's support of camps in Lebanon and Jordan, but said greater attention must be paid to those suffering on Britain's doorstep.

"I think what we've done in regions in terms of support of camps in Lebanon and Jordan has been exemplary, and we've led the way. My concern is our response to those who have arrived in Europe," he said.

"I am particularly concerned at this point for unaccompanied minors. The government has said it will take more, but we seem to be struggling to do it at any pace, really."

According to Help Refugees, a grassroots organisation working in the Calais Jungle, 129 unaccompanied children went missing following the demolition of the southern part of the camp last month. It has led to widespread fears regarding their safety, and what's being done to ensure children arriving in Europe are receiving the support they need.

Butler attributed the slow pace to "a genuine desire to make sure we get it right", and ensuring adequate housing and support for refugees arriving in the UK, but insisted that "crafting safer routes [to the UK] needs much greater attention".

The bishop was speaking after a report released yesterday accused the British government of falling short of its "moral responsibility to provide safe routes to protection for people seeking refuge in the UK".

A third of around 420 unaccompanied minors went missing from the 'Jungle' refugee camp outside Calais last month.Reuters

The report, A Safe Haven?, from a coalition of 13 agencies including Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam, Islamic Relief and World Vision, also said the UK has "failed to advocate for an approach that protects the rights of all people on the move."

The UK government has pledged to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, but so far just 1,194 have been resettled under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme. A group of 84 Church of England bishops – including Butler – last year urged Prime Minister David Cameron to increase the number to at least 50,000.

"The UK is trying to pretend that this is someone else's problem, and that refugees and migrants could and should be dealt with elsewhere. But people who are desperate will take huge risks to reach safety," said Maya Mailer, Oxfam's head of humanitarian policy.

"The UK needs to accept its moral responsibility to offer a safe haven to the world's poorest and most vulnerable – men, women and children who have been made homeless by war, violence and disasters."

Butler urged Britons, especially Christians, to be ready to welcome refugees in their villages, towns and cities when they do arrive.

"As a nation we have a history of welcoming asylum seekers and being a hospitable nation, and also engaging with the wider world and seeking to encourage other nations to play their part too. This has to be an international collaborative thing; no one country can handle the situation we're facing," he said.

"Our calling as followers of Jesus has always been to welcome the stranger, to offer hospitality to those who need it, to show compassion to those who find themselves in desperate straits. These people do not take their journeys lightly; they are fleeing persecution, fleeing violence, fleeing war. They've seen their homes destroyed, and we need to recognise just how desperate the situation is for them."

Butler is currently co-chair of the National Refugee Welcome Board, and encouraged Christians to get involved with local organisations who are working to help refugees.

"It's partly the church working with other local community groups, welcoming people when they arrive and helping them settle in, helping them to learn the language if they need it, helping them find doctors and schooling for their children," he said.

"It's about being good, human, neighbours."