by Sisters Patricia Cassidy, SNDdeN
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25: 26)
The city of Glasgow, Scotland has welcomed more dispersed asylum seekers than any other city in Britain. Since the year 2000, the Government in the United Kingdom (UK) has been dispersing asylum seekers throughout the country to ease pressure on London and surroundings. Many Glasgow-based organisations are rising to the challenge.
In collaboration with an organisation in Britain, called Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), three Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are making a difference today in the lives of refugees and migrants in Glasgow. PAIH supports and highlights the plight of destitute asylum seekers, i.e. those whose cases are rejected. This organisation provides some financial support through a Destitution Fund, raised by public donation, and tries to find overnight accommodation for the most vulnerable, either in hostels or with accommodation volunteers. Three Sisters assist these asylum seekers who lose all support entitlements, including their homes, and who find themselves evicted onto the streets. Sisters Patricia Cassidy and Maureen Coyle, SNDdeN are among those volunteers who open their home in Glasgow to asylum seekers. Living next door to them, Sr. Eileen Cassidy, SNDdeN also offers “on hand” support in this ministry.
Teaching Leads to Multi-Faceted Ministry
Involvement in PAIH by the Sisters happened when Sr. Patricia Cassidy retired from school, and volunteered as a language teacher with a local project for the many asylum seekers housed in nearby council flats. In a drop-in centre, with clinic, thrift shop, cafe, Asian and African students speaking in so many languages attended Sr. Patricia’s English classes, which offered both a challenge and a delight for this experienced teacher. Then, language-teaching opened the door to a wider ministry which became the core of a multi-faceted role. In this new ministry, Sr. Patricia discovered the complications asylum seekers met in their dealings with the National Asylum Support Scheme (NASS). She experienced the multiple difficulties for asylum seekers in interactions with many dismissive, disinterested and disrespectful lawyers, often opting to accompany them to appointments. She assisted refugees who received letters from the Government and lawyers when their appeals were rejected and reached out to some faced with deportation
or removal to the British Government’s Detention Centre, Dungavel. Visits to those sent for detention deepened Sr. Patricia’s commitment and that of her local SNDdeN community to this vulnerable population.
In their spare room, Sisters Maureen and Patricia have hosted several Chinese girls, staying with them from one night to several weeks. These guests, all in the last trimester of pregnancy, were awaiting accommodation from the British Home Office because it was deemed unsafe to repatriate these young women for health reasons. Their small parish in the east end of Glasgow welcomes and supports these guests. The parish priest, Fr. Alan Cameron, hosted male asylum seekers. At this time, the Sisters still volunteer to accommodate asylum seekers, but do not have any guests at present. The three Sisters work with the parish Justice and Peace Group which continues to support PAIH with donations of food and goods for babies and with contributions to the Emergency Hardship fund. As the refugee crisis intensifies, the work of PAIH increases. There are now over 3000 hosts throughout the UK with an increasing number of destitute and homeless individuals and families. PAIH has sent around 200 volunteer medics to Lesvos, Greece to provide medical aid and humanitarian support for the 500,000 plus refugees there.
Standing with People Made Poor
Ministering to asylum seekers brings new experiences for the Sisters and parishioners as they visit friends held at Dungavel or join demonstrations there, and spend an overnight ‘sleep-out’ in Glasgow’s City Chambers’ Square to highlight the plight of the homeless and destitute!
The welcome extended by the parish to strangers from many countries opens daily the doors of the Catholic Church. At times, the Sisters celebrate with the parish the gift of new members coming into the Church, their marriages and the baptisms of their children. In Glasgow, there is a vibrant ministry with and among asylum seekers and for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who “stand with those made poor in a world marked by increasing divisions and inequality.”