UK has ‘moral responsibility’ to accept Syrian refugees, say church leaders

By agency reporter
February 15, 2014

Church leaders have urged David Cameron to rethink government policy on Britain accepting Syrian refugees.

Forty-eight Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic and United Reformed Church leaders from across Great Britain have written an open letter to the Prime Minister acknowledging the significant role that Britain has played in providing funds for refugees in countries around Syria. However, the letter also speaks of the "moral responsibility" to resettle a significant number of refugees in Britain.

The letter criticises the Government's initial commitment as falling a long way short of the contribution Britain should make given its size and resources. The leaders suggest that a proportionate figure well in excess of 1,000 would be far more appropriate and point out that following a major conflict most refugees are able and desire to return to their homes.

"We are proud of Britain's long heritage of welcoming refugees," said the Revd John Howard, Chair of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury Methodist District, who coordinated the response. "We have an ethical duty to honour this tradition and play our part in caring for those displaced by this terrible conflict."

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Sir,

The undersigned church leaders from the Baptist Union, Methodist, Roman Catholic and United Reformed Churches write to you out of concern for the stance being taken by the Government on the reception of refugees from the Syrian crisis to the United Kingdom. We understand that the Church of England bishops have already written to you on this matter.

We would like to begin by acknowledging the significant role that Britain has played in providing funds to meet the needs of the refugees presently in countries around Syria as a result of the conflict in that country. We are glad to be a part of a country which is willing to spend a significant resource in caring for refugees in this most terrible of crises.

However, it is our view that the extension of hospitality goes beyond financial and that there is a moral responsibility upon us as part of the international community to resettle a small but significant number of refugees fleeing Syria. We believe that it is an ethical duty for us as a responsible country to accept our part in the caring for these people.

As you are aware, following a major conflict it is usually the case that most refugees are able to return to their homes and most desire to do so. It is a small proportion who, as a result of experiences they have suffered or threats to their safety, are unable to return. It is out of concern for those individuals that we write to you, asking for a change in your government's policies on this matter.

We note that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has identified a figure of 30,000 refugees who are particularly vulnerable and require permanent residency in European countries. Different countries across Europe have varied in the contribution that they have made; examples include Norway accepting 1,000 and Germany 10,000. Figures such as these do make a significant contribution to the welcoming of these individuals.

We note also that the debate in this country is taking place and we would want to encourage your Government to think in terms of making a contribution appropriate to the size of our country, proportionate with these countries referred to above. The figure of up to 500 which appears to have been agreed by government with the United Nations recently seems to be a long way short of that. To be proportionate with these countries and some way above the Norway figure referred to above would seem to represent a responsible response to the present crisis, and one which would resonate with our historic tradition of welcoming refugees.

We remain yours faithfully,

Rev Geoffrey Colmer, Regional Minister Team Leader, Central Baptist Association

Rev Paul Hills, Regional Minister, Eastern Baptist Association

Rev Canon Keith Judson, Regional Minister Team Leader, Heart of England Baptist Association

Rev Adrian Argile, Regional Minister, Heart of England Baptist Association

Rev Barrie Smith, Regional Minister, Heart of England Baptist Association

Rev John Claydon, Regional Minister (Pastoral), Northern Baptist Association

Rev.Nigel Coles, Senior Regional Minister, West of England Baptist Association

Rev Ruth Gee, President of the Methodist Conference & Chair of the Darlington District

Rev Peter Barber, Chair of the Chester & Stoke District

Rev Jim Booth, Chair of the Liverpool District

Rev Anne Brown, Chair of the Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire District

Rev Stephen Burgess, Chair of the York and Hull District

Rev Keith Davies, Chair of the Manchester and Stockport District

Rev Paul Davis, Chair of the Lancashire District

Rev Dr. David Easton, Chair of the Synod of the Methodist Church in Scotland

Rev Richard Hall, Chair of the Isle of Man District

Rev Peter Hancock, Chair of the Northampton District

Rev John Hellyer, Chair of the South East District

Rev John Howard, Chair of the Wolverhampton & Shrewsbury District

Rev Ian Howarth, Chair of the Birmingham District

Rev Jennifer Hurd, Chair of Synod Cymru

Rev Jennifer Impey, Co-Chair of the London District

Rev Dr. Stuart Jordan,Co-Chair of the London District

Rev Paul Martin, Chair of the Bolton & Rochdale District

Rev Loraine Mellor, Chair of the Nottingham & Derby District

Rev Peter Pillinger, Chair of the Plymouth & Exeter District

Rev Dr. Elizabeth Smith, Chair of the Leeds District

Rev Richard Teal, Chair of the Cumbria District

Rev Bruce Thompson, Chair of the Lincolnshire District

Rev Graham Thompson, Chair of the East Anglia District

Rev Dr. Roger Walton, Chair of the West Yorkshire District

Rev Dr. Andrew Wood, Chair of the Southampton District

Bishop Patrick Lynch, Chair of the Office for Migration Policy for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

Mr John Ellis, Moderator of the General Assembly of the URC 2013-16

Rev Michael Jagessar, Moderator of the General Assembly of the URC 2012 - 2014

Rev Richard Church, Moderator of the North Western Synod of the URC

Rev Clare Downing, Moderator of the Wessex Synod of the URC

Rev Nicola Furley-Smith, Moderator of the Southern Synod of the URC

Rev John Humphreys, Moderator of the Scotland Synod of the URC

Rev Roy Lowes, Moderator of the West Midlands Synod of the URC

Rev Peter Meek, Moderator of the East Midlands Synod of the URC

Rev Lis Mullen, Moderator of the Northern Synod of the URC

Rev Dr Andrew Prasad, Moderator of the Thames North Synod of the URC

Rev Howard Sharp, Moderator of the Mersey Synod of the URC

Rev Simon Walkling, Moderator of the Wales Synod of the URC

Rev Kevin Watson, Moderator of the Yorkshire Synod of the URC

Rev Ruth Whitehead, Moderator of the South Western Synod of the URC

Rev Paul Whittle, Moderator of the Eastern Synod of the URC

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