On a visit to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) offices in Wapping this Thursday, Cardinal Vincent Nichols spent time listening to the stories of asylum seekers accompanied by JRS UK. Reflecting on the conversations he shared with many of our refugee friends, Cardinal Vincent said, “I heard heart-rending, terrible stories of the way some people have been treated … we seem to have a system in place that obviously has to deal with some very difficult cases, some hard cases, but it seems to deal with all cases in a very hard manner. And it can’t be right, it cannot be right, that a person is left in this limbo, this no-man’s land, for 10 or more years in a country as sophisticated and as affluent as ours.”
Every Thursday JRS UK has a Day Centre where those seeking asylum are welcomed, and are able to have a hot meal and catch up with friends. On arriving this Thursday, the Cardinal was greeted as any of our friends would be. He chatted with volunteers at the welcome desk and was offered a hot drink. His eminence was then taken on a tour around the Day Centre, meeting many different refugee friends and volunteers who offer their time every Thursday. A long time was spent in the kitchen talking to our chef who had prepared a wonderful meal for all, including the Cardinal, to enjoy.
Many of the refugees accompanied by JRS had come specially to see Cardinal Nichols and every person was able to spend some time with him, chatting and sharing their stories. One friend of JRS UK said “It’s so kind for him to come and visit us here, this doesn’t happen at other centres.”
After sharing lunch with some of our refugee friends, the Cardinal spent some time talking more in depth about the process of seeking asylum in the UK, listening to the stories of individuals who are forced to deal with the cruel impacts of an unfair asylum system, enforced destitution, and the hostile environment agenda every day. Taking the time to sit and truly hear the stories of those seeking asylum allowed the Cardinal the opportunity to truly understand how people are treated within the immigration system. “I met another woman who for ten years now, ten years, has been moved from place to place as the system deals with asylum applications refuses to respond, or responds negatively and then she tries again and she’s moved somewhere else.”
“the Jesuit Refugee centre just shines a light into this twilight land, this land of being a non-person, where people are not allowed to work, they’re not allowed to have a residence, they’re not allowed to study, they receive no money and this goes on year after year after year.“
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Before leaving, the Cardinal shared a few words of reflection on his day and to offer his thanks to everyone who had been kind enough to talk to him and welcome him to the Day Centre before leading everyone in the Our Father.
It had been a day full of excitement and many of our refugee friends were extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to meet the Cardinal. But his eminence also left having taken a lot from the day, struck by the stories he had heard. It was the words of one woman that particularly touched him: “Perhaps the most moving thing for me was to hear a very elderly, French-speaking women, who has been in this no-man’s land for over 10 years, when I thanked her for telling me her story she simply said: ‘But you are my father’.”