Targeting of refugees and asylum seekers ‘unacceptable’ and risks ‘damaging social fabric’ - Churches

Joint statement from 16 Irish churches, including main churches, criticises ‘scapegoating’ of people seeking international protection

The targeting of people seeking protection in Ireland “is unacceptable and wrong” 16 of Ireland’s churches, including all the main churches, have said. In a joint statement to mark World Refugee Day on Tuesday, they said “the intimidation witnessed in recent weeks is damaging the social fabric of our communities”.

The statement noted that targeting of refugees and asylum seekers arose from fears over issues such as the housing and cost of living crises. “These are valid matters for protest,” they said, but were “the result of political decisions over many years, for example in the underprovision of social housing since the 1990s. As a wealthy country we have the means to provide for the fundamental needs of the population. Government policies need to give greater priority to the common good.”

But the “scapegoating of people seeking international protection is both unfair and distracts attention from the real causes.” They appealed to political leaders “to intervene constructively, acknowledging legitimate concerns but recognising that people seeking protection are not at fault.”

The churches pointed out that “as Christians we are called to love our neighbour. The scriptures again and again specifically command us to care for the stranger in our land.” They believed “in the dignity of every person, made in the image of God. As followers of the refugee Christ, we express our solidarity with those who have had to leave their home in order to seek a life of safety and peace.”


In an accompanying statement the Catholic bishops said that “leaving people to sleep in tents or on the streets is cruelty before our eyes, it is not an option in a country that is one of the richest in the world. We can do so much better.”

They warned of “a danger that extremist views and actions can come to the fore causing fear and racism undermining our culture of welcome. This is a challenge to all of us as a people. Let us be very clear: Ireland is a place of welcome for those seeking refuge. As a people with a long history of emigration, we know better than most what it is like to have to seek shelter in a foreign land and how important it is to be welcomed, protected and integrated.”

There was “no place for racism in Ireland. As a people with a long history of emigration, particularly in the light of the famine, we know deeply within ourselves what it is like to have to leave one’s homeland and seek shelter and a better life,” they said. “Let us remind ourselves that behind the issue of immigration are individual human beings,” they said.

Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop John McDowell recalled how his church, “alongside others, can trace its spiritual roots back to one migrant who brought with him the hope of Jesus Christ and left a legacy which positively shaped the story of this land and Europe through the following centuries”.

As communities across Ireland faced “daily pressures from housing shortages and the slow erosion of living standards, there is room for everyone to be part of making progress in meeting those challenges,” he said. Last month the Church’s General Synod in Wexford passes a motion expressing “support for countering hatred against refugees and other migrants and for communicating a strong message of Christian welcome to all”.

Presbyterian Moderator Dr John Kirkpatrick recalled how “people have fled to Ireland north and south to make their home, leaving friends and family behind for all kinds of reasons. We have to dig deep into our souls to welcome the stranger, showing grace and love to those who have escaped circumstances we’d truly have difficulty imagining. Yet we still need to put ourselves in their shoes and that involves sacrifice, and many across this island, individuals, churches and other organisations are doing just that, and I pay tribute to them.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times