Diocese of Leeds Refugee Support Group
“At the heart of the Gospel of mercy the encounter and acceptance by others are intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself. Welcoming others means welcoming God in person!”
Message of his holiness Pope Francis for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2016.
The Diocese of Leeds Refugee Support Group was formed in response to the refugee crisis that was highlighted so urgently by Pope Francis back in September 2015. As thousands were forced to leave their homes in Syria in search of safety he called for the Catholic Church to recognise and act upon our common humanity. As part of the UK’s asylum process a significant number of refugees and asylum seekers were being accommodated in the Leeds and Bradford area. Four existing charities within the Diocese of Leeds decided to work together to enable a more co-ordinated and effective response: the St Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Care, Leeds Justice and Peace Commission and St Monica’s Housing. These formed the Diocesan Refugee Support Group. In September 2017 they were joined by, the newly formed, Caritas Leeds.
Members of the group meet regularly and their work is assisted by the facilitator, Lucy Irven, who works part-time. This work is funded by Diocesan Collections, the first of which was taken in November 2016 and more recently in February 2019.
News about the Refugee Response from across the Diocese is communicated through a biannual newsletter. This has been much appreciated as a way to share news about some of the amazing work being done by individuals, Parishes, SVP groups as well as the larger organisations. Larger volunteer information meetings have been held in Leeds in January 2018 and Bradford in February 2019.
As Facilitator, Lucy is available to respond to enquiries, to assist parishioners in finding volunteer opportunities and to organise awareness raising events for Parishes or Deaneries.
What is being done within the Diocese to support Refugees and Asylum Seekers?
The St Vincent’s Community projects in Leeds and Bradford offer a wide range of support services that are available to anyone in need. They hold a weekly migrant drop-in and working in partnership with Manuel Bravo they provide immigration advice and guidance for settlement and citizenship.
They also provide guidance for employment, housing and welfare as well as information about access to the education system including English as a second language (ESOL), and further education and training opportunities. With the help of local SVP groups, they are able to help in a practical way with food, clothing, furniture and befriending.
Catholic Care runs the ‘Gianna project’ which supports pregnant women to prepare for the birth of their child and continues to support them for up to a year after birth. A large proportion of the mothers that they help are refugees and asylum seekers. Without this support these vulnerable women might have no one else to help them and they would not have enough resources to look after themselves or their newly born baby.
St Monica’s Housing provides accommodation for destitute asylum seeker women. Currently they run a house which can accommodate 6 women who stay for 6 months as respite from destitution. During this time they can concentrate on preparing an appeal to their claim for asylum or getting themselves back to health. A second house for a further 4 women has recently opened.
Other areas of interest include:
‘Community Sponsorship’ – The government scheme to welcome a Syrian refugee family into a community. A group in Settle has applied to host a family, hopefully by the summer of 2019.
‘West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Seekers Network’ (WYDAN) Night Shelter – Two parishes in Leeds, John Henry Newman and Our Mother of Unfailing Help, have now hosted the night shelter for destitute asylum seeker men, now aiming to run all year round.
‘Schools of Sanctuary’ – We are looking to promote the City of Sanctuary Schools scheme across the Diocesan schools. This will be done in conjunction with the Diocesan Education service.
For further information contact Lucy Irven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07739 975 020