Catholic church in England and Wales join government on Syrian refugee project

Syrian refugees arrive at a refugee camp in early May at the Jordan border with Syria. The Catholic Church in England and Wales has joined a government project to resettle an estimated 20,000 refugees from the Syrian war. (CNS photo/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has joined a government project to resettle an estimated 20,000 refugees from the Syrian war.

A parish in the Diocese of Salford will be the first to welcome a family from a refugee camp in the Middle East as part of a sponsorship plan, which involves welcoming and helping to rehabilitate families of Syrian refugees.

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Organizers said they are confident that the refugees, who are drawn from predominantly Muslim camps, will not include members of the Islamic State terror group.

Philip McCarthy, chief executive of Caritas Social Action Network, the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales agency coordinating the project among the parishes, said all the refugees would be rigorously screened by the British government and the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR.

"People will be coming through the government scheme, so they will part of the same 20,000, and they will have already been screened by the United Nations and by others," McCarthy told Catholic News Service in a July 20 telephone interview.

"These are not people we are taking over and above (the 20,000) or independently," he added.

Fears of terrorists infiltrating refugee groups have grown since French Prime Minister Manuel Valls revealed that several of those who murdered 147 people in attacks in Paris in November slipped into Europe undetected during the mass migration earlier that year.

On July 18, police in Germany shot dead Afghan migrant Riaz Khan, a member of Islamic State, after he attacked passengers on a train in Wurzburg with an axe and a knife.

The English bishops are nevertheless very supportive of attempts to relocate Muslim families who have fled fighting in Syria.

In a July 19 statement, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the bishops' conference, said, "Last year, Pope Francis invited every parish, religious house and monastery in Europe to respond to the growing refugee crisis by offering a place of sanctuary to families fleeing from war and persecution in their home countries.

"The pope called on our generosity and solidarity to recognize and act upon our common humanity. Now we are all able to take up that call with the launch of the community sponsorship scheme for Syrian refugees," he said.

"Catholics have been keen to get involved in helping to resettle refugees in the U.K., responding to the situation with kindness and compassion as we are called to when confronted by those in need," the cardinal added.

The first families of refugees to be resettled by the church will arrive at St. Monica's Parish in Flixton, outside of Manchester, in late summer. The project will be overseen by Caritas Salford, the diocesan social care agency, before it is extended to other parishes and other dioceses.

Bishop John Arnold of Salford said: "I am delighted that St. Monica's parish in Flixton is now able to welcome a Syrian refugee family.

"We are always called to respond to hatred with love, to be dedicated to justice and to respond to need with generosity," he said in a July 19 statement.

"It is a source of pride that the parish of St. Monica's has worked so hard to get everything ready to be part of this pilot scheme," Bishop Arnold added. "There is tremendous generosity throughout the parishes and St. Monica's, as host for the Syrian family, has shown how this generosity can be channeled into care for those people who have lost everything.

"Our hope is that through this pilot scheme other parishes and groups can be encouraged and inspired so that the terrible suffering of many Syrian families can be alleviated."

The government intends to resettle all of the refugees into the U.K. from camps in the Syria region by 2020. Each refugee will receive a five-year humanitarian visa before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship.

The families will be entitled to claim unemployment and housing benefits and free schooling and health care.

They will also be assisted in adapting to British life and culture by their sponsors, which include local community groups, businesses and universities as well as faith groups.

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