There was loud applause for the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, on day two of the General Synod in Belfast when he called on the UK government to “step up to the mark” in its response to the refugee crisis which has arisen as a result of the war in Ukraine.
During consideration of the Report of the Church of Ireland’s Standing Committee, the Bishop compared the responses of smaller countries like Ireland to that of the UK. Out of 66,000 visa applications [from Ukrainians], he said, only 11,000 had been settled in the UK. “Now, what’s happening with the visa applications is that you may have a mother with three children, and two of the children are getting an application and the mother doesn’t get it – and families [are] to be split up. I can’t understand whether that is incompetence or cynicism, to be honest with you.“
The fact that our response in the United Kingdom to this refugee issue with people has been huge – many people have signed up for ‘Homes for Ukraine’, and so on – and then [when] they get to the second part of the process, it is nothing but frustration. Smaller countries like the Republic of Ireland have led the way in saying for the moment we’ll forget about visas because this is a crisis that needs an immediate response.“
The UK government has supported in different ways, we know, in the conflict, but I think it has to be said that the response to the refugee crisis is found wanting and terribly wanting. And, for us as Christians, with open hearts for refugees – because we worship one who was a refugee – can I urge you to lobby your local MPs for this and on this issue. I have done, and I’ve had a very open response to that, but I think we need to be speaking out the cause of the oppressed within this. Bishop’s Appeal is helping us [to] do that but the government needs to really step up to the mark in its response to this refugee crisis.”