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Archbishops unite to press UK government on visas for Ukrainian refugees

(David Young/PA)
(David Young/PA)

Senior church leaders on the island of Ireland have called on the UK Government to do more to help Ukrainian refugees.

The all-Ireland primates of the Catholic Church and Church of Ireland came together to urge London to follow the lead of EU nations and waive visas for those fleeing the conflict.

Delivering a joint message in Armagh ahead of St Patrick’s Day, Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin and Church of Ireland Archbishop John McDowell encouraged people across the island to consider welcoming Ukrainians into their homes.

While the Republic of Ireland as an EU member state has waived visa requirements for Ukrainians, with no limit on arrivals, the UK has taken a different approach, setting up a visa sponsorship scheme where people can offer to accommodate refugees.

The number of Ukrainians entering the UK will depend on the response to the scheme, which saw 100,000 sponsors sign up on the first day alone.

Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin raised concern about issues that might emerge from having different approaches on both sides of the Irish border.

“We were very pleased to note how quickly many of the European governments immediately pledged their support for refugees and indeed in Ireland the waiving of the visas and we have called upon the UK Government to be equally generous,” he said.

“I think, personally, that more could be done at government level in the United Kingdom. I also think we need to look at the cross-border situation. There will be people arriving south of the border who may wish to travel north. I think these are complex issues and I would really be encouraging our elected leaders to take a look at these situations and do what we can.

“It would be terrible if bureaucracy was another barrier in front of these people who must be awfully traumatised at the moment.”

Asked by reporters if he thought the UK Government was not doing enough, Archbishop McDowell said:

“I think rather than saying it should have done more, it’s to urge it to do more now.

“The Home Office is not a notoriously sympathetic department and has maybe difficulty processing these matters. But we would certainly urge them to do at least as much as other countries in the European Union and others all around the world and to do that with good grace and a good heart and quickly so that people who are already extraordinarily anxious don’t have a further anxiety added when they’re coming to the borders.”

Archbishop Martin added: “I think at the end of the day, governments will be moved by the will of the people. I have noticed over the last few weeks, people are deeply disturbed by what they’re seeing (in Ukraine), they instinctively want to reach out to help and they will look to their elected representatives to make that possible.

“So I certainly would join with Archbishop John and others in the many Christian churches on these islands who have been calling for more action from the United Kingdom government.”

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