Northern Ireland’s top Catholic and Anglican prelates are calling on the UK government to do more to help Ukrainian refugees.
“I think perhaps the United Kingdom has said let’s think about the bureaucracy and see how many doors we can open. That’s the wrong way round,” said Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Catholic primate of All Ireland.
“I really feel that where there is a humanitarian disaster of this scale in Europe then it behooves all of us to respond generously and urgently to the need,” he said.
His Anglican counterpart, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, John McDowell, called on the UK government to replicate the European Union in opening its doors to Ukrainian refugees.
“The Home Office is not a notoriously sympathetic department and has maybe difficulty processing these matters, but we would certainly urge them to do as much as other countries in the European Union have done and to do that with a good grace and a good heart and to do it quickly, so that people who are already extraordinarily anxious don’t have a further anxiety added when they’re coming to the borders,” McDowell said.
The Home Office is the UK government department that deals with immigration and security.
“I certainly would join with Archbishop John and others in the many Christian churches on these islands who have been calling for more action from the United Kingdom government,” Martin added.
The two archbishops were speaking to journalists at an event publishing their annual joint St. Patrick’s Day message.
The UK government on Monday announced a scheme where people and institutions could host Ukrainian refugees, who still need to apply for visas to enter the country. The EU – which includes the Republic of Ireland – has waived visa requirements for those fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We need to get real. There are going to be a lot of people who are in need of our help, so by appealing to the UK government in Westminster we’re also indirectly appealing to our own [Northern Ireland] Assembly and to the [Northern Ireland] Executive here to look at ways there might be a free flow of people that wish to receive refuge in Northern Ireland,” he added.
The archbishops also called for cross-border cooperation which would allow resources and refugees to move freely between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“We were very pleased to note how quickly many of the European governments immediately pledged their support for refugees and indeed in Ireland the waiving of the visas and we have called upon the UK Government to be equally generous,” Martin said.
“I think, personally, that more could be done at government level in the United Kingdom. I also think we need to look at the cross-border situation. There will be people arriving south of the border who may wish to travel north. I think these are complex issues and I would really be encouraging our elected leaders to take a look at these situations and do what we can,” the Catholic prelate said.
“It would be terrible if bureaucracy was another barrier in front of these people who must be awfully traumatized at the moment,” he added.
“I think at the end of the day, governments will be moved by the will of the people. I have noticed over the last few weeks; people are deeply disturbed by what they’re seeing. They instinctively want to reach out to help and they will look to their elected representatives to make that possible,” Martin said.
Both archbishops said their respective churches were looking at properties that could host refugees.
“In all our parishes, we have invited our parish, pastoral councils and finance councils and the priests to consider if there are properties that we could make available for Ukrainian families,” Martin said.
“And I think that in the coming days and weeks there’ll be a lot of activity on the ground. I think our parishes would like to be at the forefront of this,” he said. “I think this really will be an effort of the whole community here, both north and south, to open our hearts and open our doors in welcome for these refugees who have been through such horrors that we’re seeing on our screens.”