I’m proud today to have had a part in the letter from many leaders of many faiths, encouraging the government to adopt a more generous and inclusive policy towards those who seek asylum in this country. You can find the letter here, and coverage of it here and here – and these are my reflections:

Our government is committed to offering asylum to those who come to this country and who have a genuine claim. It is even more committed to preventing them from doing so. Successive governments have made it more and difficult for anyone to get here in order to make a claim: the ‘wall of Calais’ is just the latest attempt. We levy heavy fines on those who transport people to this country without passports and visas – and those genuinely in need of asylum are exactly the ones who can’t get documents to allow them to travel. We take advantage of the fact that few asylum seekers can get here direct, to insist they should have made their claim somewhere else.

The result? We drive asylum seekers into the hands of people traffickers. Those who only have to spend all their resources are the lucky ones – they didn’t die along the way. We increase the profits from organised crime. I hope that very few people, as individuals, would treat another human being that way. And it’s still wrong when it’s done by the government on our behalf.

There are simple things the government could do which would have a huge impact. To issue humanitarian visas so that people could come here to have their claim assessed, so that refugees don’t have to risk their lives to reach their families. To reduce the many restrictive rules that prevent families from being re-united, by preventing lone refugee children from bringing their parents to the UK, and making it extremely difficult even for adult British citizens to do so.

These changes would be neither expensive nor impossibly complex. In Italy, the government is working in alliance with churches and charities to issue visas in the Middle East and North Africa which allow those seeking asylum to avoid the traffickers. On arrival, the sponsoring churches look after the new arrivals, teaching them the language and helping them become integrated into the community. In this country likewise, there are thousands who have family members still in areas of conflict, there are hundreds of churches, mosques and charities who would be glad to offer sponsorship or support. But the UK government isn’t interested.

These moves should not be controversial. The wonder to me is that we have ever put in place measures which divide families in this way. The leaders of many faiths who have written today to the Prime Minister have done so in the conviction that the proposals we make are in the best interests of our country as well as those we should be reaching out to help. All our faiths compel us to affirm the dignity of all human beings, and to offer help to anyone in need. We rejoice in the mosaic of different faiths and British communities that we now represent. Some of us came to this country from other countries of birth; others, like myself, have been British for many generations. But we all recognize that the best of this country is represented by the generosity, kindness, solidarity and decency that Britain has at many times shown those fleeing persecution, even at times of far greater deprivation and difficulty than the present day. The U.K. should be proud to take its fair share of refugees, as we have done in the past, to exhibit to those in most need the very best of Britain.

 

This response from the Churches’ Refugee Network, which I am proud to chair

The CRN thanks the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration for the thorough and substantial work they have done in their joint inquiry into the use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom, and for the report published this week.  “The report is a searing indictment of the UK practice.   As the report makes clear, in detaining people for indefinite periods of time, and for administrative purposes alone, the UK goes well beyond the practice in other European countries” said Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon and chair of CRN.

Although the Government’s stated policy is that detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest possible time, the evidence received by the Commission in its six months inquiry is that the guidance is not adhered to, and that detainees are held indefinitely for long periods, with significant mental health costs to those detained and with huge and unnecessary costs to the public purse.

The Churches’ Refugee Network supports the Inquiry’s recommendations that indefinite detention should be abandoned and that, within a maximum time limit of 28 days, detention should be very rare and only for the shortest possible time in order to effect removal. The Inquiry examined a wide range of far less costly alternatives to detention used in other countries, and recommends that the Government should learn from international best practice.

It is not criminal to seek asylum.  It is a basic, and long acknowledged, human right for those fleeing desperate conditions in their homeland.  All people who seek sanctuary should be treated with dignity and respect.  It is shocking that the Inquiry has found so many instances of this not being so in Britain.  The Churches’ Refugee Network draws attention to the Inquiry’s finding that UK Detention Centres make use of conditions tantamount to high security prison settings, and its call for suitable accommodation conducive to an open and relaxed regime.

The Churches’ Refugee Network urges voters at the coming General Election to seek candidates’ commitments to bring about the changes called for by this cross-party Inquiry, especially the setting of 28-days as a maximum time limit to Detention.

If you think our system for dealing with immigration is just and fair, read this – if it doesn’t change your mind I’ll be surprised

Inquiry into the use of Immigration Detention

A cross-party group of MPs and Peers has recommended that the next government should introduce a maximum time limit of 28 days on the length of time anyone can be detained in immigration detention. The call comes in a report published today following a joint inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK by the APPG on Refugees and the APPG on Migration.

The panel, which included a former Cabinet Minister, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, and a former law lord, considered evidence over 8 months, and three panel members visited the Swedish Migration Board to discuss with officials and parliamentarians the role detention plays in the Swedish immigration system.

The inquiry panel conclude that the enforcement-focused culture of the Home Office means that official guidance, which states that detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest possible time, is not being followed, resulting in too…

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