The Government’s response to the refugee crisis has come under fire from the Church of England, after it emerged the Prime Minister ignored an offer from 84 bishops to lead a national movement to house and support thousands of needy people.
In a private letter sent to David Cameron last month, the bishops urged the Prime Minister to increase the number of refugees the UK is prepared to take over five years from 20,000 to 50,000. The bishops offered to bring together “churches, congregations and individuals” to respond to the crisis.
However, Paul Butler, the bishop of Durham, said they had not received “a substantive reply” and said the Government’s refugee strategy appeared “increasingly inadequate”. The letter was made public on Sunday.
It follows criticisms last week from senior judges, who branded the UK’s response “slow and narrow”.
Responding to the publication of the bishops’ letter, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon claimed the UK was doing more than any European country to support Syrian refugees in the country itself.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that 20,000 refugees was “a number we think we can reasonably accommodate, make sure they feel welcome, that they are given housing and the chance of getting a job.”
“The real issue is out in Syria, getting other countries in Europe to contribute more to the feeding of refugees in the camps,” he said.
Calling the dramatic increase in refugees fleeing the Middle East and North Africa a “moral crisis”, the bishops’ letter pledges to mobilise congregations “to make rental properties and spare housing available for use by resettled refugees” and to “pray for, act and stand alongside” the Government.
Archbishop Butler said: “It is disheartening that we have not received any substantive reply despite an assurance from the Prime Minister that one would be received. There is an urgent and compelling moral duty to act, which we as bishops are offering to facilitate alongside others from across civil society.”
The Government minister in charge of the UK’s response to the refugee crisis, Richard Harrington, told MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee last week that the Government did not view offers of spare rooms in people’s homes as a major part of their resettlement plans. “We don’t think people staying in other people’s homes is the best way of dealing with it,” he said.
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