Catholic report shows that migration is about need not numbers

By staff writers
February 14, 2007

A university-based Catholic research institute at the University of Cambridge has published a report which illustrates the shocking conditions endured by many migrant workers contributing to the economic life of the UK.

The Von Hugel Institute’s survey of migrants who are regular worshippers in Catholic churches across London reveals that many receive less than the minimum wage, work excess hours, and face mistreatment at the hands of landlords, bosses and public agencies because of their illegal status.

The highly-regarded Cambridge research team ran a number of focus groups and interviewed over a thousand Mass-going migrants, a bishop and 20 clergy. They say they were astonished at what they discovered. Half their respondents were from European Union (EU) accession countries and half from Asia, Africa and South America. The team found 77 nationalities in all.

Among the key findings of the survey, called The Ground of Justice, are that:
• 40% of respondents were being paid less than £5 an hour with women, on average, being paid a £1 less than that.
• More than half were working more than 40 hours a week with 10% working more than 56 hours a week.
• Many respondents were undocumented, their papers had run out or they were “irregularly” in the country.
• At least three parishes have more than ¾ of their Catholic parishioners with illegal status
• These “irregular” migrant workers live a life of fear and are open to rich exploitation by employers, landlords and others.
• Homeless Poles report poor treatment at the hands of welfare agencies and homeless Poles under 18 that they experience a harshness of policing that is not handed out to other young homeless people. They call this “the new racism”.
• Most of those who responded hope and intend to stay in the UK.
• The poorer and more vulnerable the migrants were the more regular is their attendance in Church, the more that they look to the Church and its Bishops as the only British Institution which they trust.
• The Church’s clergy are struggling, feel under supported and experience varying degrees of welcome from the Church itself.
• The greatest fear of all respondents was that the research, and the bishops' strong expressions of “rhetorical solidarity”, would not lead to action.

The Von Hugel Institute’s research was directly commissioned by Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, spiritual leader of Catholics in England and Wales, Archbishop Kevin McDonald and Bishop Thomas Mcmahon. Its findings include recommendations for the further direct engagement with the Catholic community in supporting migrant workers.

Project Director Francis Davis said today: “We have met vibrant and enthusiastic congregations with a passionate faith. In their daily lives though they face needs which many of us would have thought Britain had done away with a hundred years ago. This is an historic moment in the life of the British Catholic Church.”

Speaking to the BBC, he faced questioning about whether the church has a duty to report so-called “illegals”. Those working with migrants in both religious and secular humanitarian agencies say that this is the wrong way to look at the issue.

Leading church figures from all denominations and from ecumenical bodies in Britain and Ireland have urged the government to consider an amnesty for unregistered workers. That possibility has been commended for consideration by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, among others.

“This survey shows that exploitation in an unequal world is the true story of economic migration – not scaremongering about scroungers, which is what the press and politicians often latch onto”, commented Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow. “These are people contributing to our wealth. They deserve fair shares, but instead they face discrimination.”

Ekklesia says that though the Catholic Church, because of its demography, is especially linked with workers from the EU accession countries and beyond, the human challenge migrants pose is one which humanitarian groups of all religious persuasions and none should face up to.

“The Von Hugel report should encourage politicians, journalists and policy makers to focus on needs rather than numbers in the debate about a just immigration policy”, said Simon Barrow.

Ekklesia is also commending the 'Strangers into Citizens ' campaign, which is calling for a one-off “earned amnesty” for migrants (whether asylum seekers or economic migrants) who have made new lives in the UK.

The campaign, initiated and backed by citizens groups and churches, argues that migrants who have been in the UK for four years or more should be admitted to a two-year "pathway to citizenship".

Ekklesia is currently researching alternative approaches to migration based on global mutuality rather than narrow national interests.

The The Ground of Justice report recommends:
• That existing but unused charitable funds from the Catholic Church should be ring- fenced for new work with migrants.
• That new bishops should be required to have experience of working with migrants and/or the international church before appointment.
• That new and co-ordinated policies for appointment, support, welcome and encouragement should be established across London.
• That churches should reflect on other concrete ways that it might make tangible its expressed support.

The Von Hugel Institute is based at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge University. Its The Ground of Justice survey is available free of charge at For more information on Strangers into Citizens, see this feature article.

[Also on Ekklesia: Migration is a matter of justice - Jonathan Bartley challenges our love affair with immigration controls; Are Immigration controls moral? - Vaughan Jones questions whether they are; Unions and churches combine to defend Polish migrants; Global churches focus on peace theology and migration; Bishop urges action from government over care for migrant workers; European and US churches offer fresh support to immigrants; Cardinal suggests UK amnesty for illegal immigrants; New international initiative on migrant's rights; Methodist church and trade unions team up against exploitation; Global migration needs pluralism not religious sectarianism; Cardinal deplores ‘extreme and shameful poverty’ in Britain; French resistance to unjust asylum laws; Churches express solidarity with migrants and asylum seekers Churches in the US pledge solidarity with migrants; Churches express solidarity with migrants and asylum seekers; Church group expresses concern over global recruitment of migrant workers; Methodists add warning over election treatment of asylum issue; Howard’s 'false' anti-immigrant claims defy UN and churches; Photo row highlights discrepancy between churches and politicians; Catholic bishops in US say they will break immigration law; Churches call for asylum justice as UK loses on Zimbabwe asylum case; Churches told how to offer protection to asylum seekers]

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