EU should be more open to Syrian refugees - bishop

A Syrian refugee woman carries a bundle of greens at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan, Wednesday, August 28, 2013(AP)

Bishop Patrick Lynch is calling on the UK and other European governments to "find a way in which countries within the EU can receive at least some of the refugees" who have fled Syria as a result of the escalating violence.

Over two million people have fled the Middle Eastern nation to escape ongoing conflict since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011.

The violence has intensified over recent months, leading Foreign Secretary William Hague to warn this week of a growing threat to regional and international security "as the conflict increasingly cannot be contained within the Syrian border".

As of yet, the UK has closed its borders to Syrian refugees despite the call from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for Western nations to accept 30,000 vulnerable Syrians for resettlement.

Eighteen countries have so far accepted an influx of those seeking safety, including the US, Canada and Australia, but the UK has denied access - choosing instead to send £500 million in aid to help those living in border camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.

However, these countries are struggling to cope with the sheer volume of refugees who are crossing their borders each day. The Guardian reports that in Lebanon, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, one fifth of the population is now Syrian, and the UNHCR has predicted that a further 1.5 million could flee Syria in search of safety in 2014.

In parliament yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg defended the Government's stance, asserting that the UK has offered asylum to 1,500 Syrians in the last 12 months. This minimal number has so far been deemed unsatisfactory by aid organisations and charities, however, who note that those Syrians who have been admitted have had to make their own way to the UK – an opportunity which is not available for the majority of the most vulnerable.

Bishop Lynch, who is the Catholic Church's Bishop for Migrants, is therefore calling upon the Government to receive "parents and children in Syria, Southern Sudan and throughout the world who are forced to leave their homes and their country because of violence, war or persecution".

He will make his statement in a homily to mark the World Day for Migrants and Refugees which falls upon the same day as the Feast of Santo Niño this Sunday 19 January, an important day for the Filipino community. The bishop will therefore also remember those who are still suffering from grief and the loss of their homes following the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that wreaked havoc on the Philippines last November.

He is to highlight the "wonderful" contribution that migrants make to both the Church and society as a whole in the UK, noting that their presence is welcomed in "parishes and schools, our hospitals and care homes and our local communities up and down the country".

The bishop will also pray that our cultural attitude towards migrants will shift, calling for a "conversion of attitudes" that recognise the "honesty, the rectitude, the diligence and the goodness of the majority".

He will celebrate Mass for the Feast of Santo Niño at St George's Cathedral, Southwark this Sunday at 3pm.

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