Don’t lose sight of the person in the refugee debate, says Archbishop

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Many column inches and broadcast minutes have been devoted to the issues surrounding migrants and refugees in recent times – not least as the government’s Illegal Migration Bill passes through parliament. 

The Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees for the Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Paul McAleenan, has made it clear that although we want to see an end to dangerous sea crossings, key factors like establishing more safe routes, and genuinely understanding people’s individual circumstances should be paramount in a humane response. “As Christians we call for the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, to be put at the heart of public policy,” he said shortly after the Bill’s first reading. 

Looking at the human being should always be our standpoint, something echoed by Archbishop John Wilson, who spoke to us shortly after launching his local CARITAS Southwark social action charity. 

The Archdiocese of Southwark not only has South London in its catchment area but also Kent and hence its coastal areas, like Dover. 

“At the heart of any issue is a person. And if we lose sight of the person, then we begin to work in a way that is inhuman and that is intolerable,” he said. “We must always, at the heart, see the person and value and love the person.” 

“It’s really, really important that when we think about the needs of the other, that other has a face and that other has a name and that other has a family – that other could be me one day, it could be you one day.”


Archbishop Wilson also paid tribute to the work of those working at the lifeboat station in Dover. 

“We have people before us who are in desperate need. And if we lose sight of the desperate need of the people, we lose sight of our conscience as a country. So it was incredible to hear the testimonies of those who work on the lifeboats in Dover. They simply said, ‘Our mission has always been and will always be to save people in danger at sea. We don’t ask who they are or where they’re from.’ I was really, really impressed by that.” 

Pointing to a fundamental truth of the Gospel, Archbishop Wilson stressed that the Christian response is to reach out in love: 

“There are issues that need humane resolution, not simply isolating people or cutting them off or rejecting them or transporting them elsewhere. That doesn’t help anybody. Global solutions need countries to speak to each other and they need partnership and they need a compassion that puts into practise real solutions, not simply knee-jerk reactions that seemingly solve a problem at the expense of the dignity of human life.” 

You can listen to our full Catholic News podcast on the launch of CARITAS Southwark here.