Faith leaders 'horrified' by refugee bill and urge PM to rethink
The Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain Ms Zara Mohammed, former Archbishop of Canterbury Revd Dr Rowan Williams, the Bishop of Dover, leading Rabbis and senior Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist representatives, are among more than 1000 faith leaders who have written to the Prime Minister urging him to reconsider the Nationality & Borders Bill.
The leaders, representing the six major faith groups in the UK, said they are ‘horrified and appalled about the potential repercussions’ of the Bill and called on the Prime Minister to make urgent changes ‘even at this late stage’.
The letter was coordinated by the ecumenical Joint Public Issues Team, made up of the Methodist Church in Britain, Baptist Union of Great Britain and United Reformed Church, working with the Church of Scotland. General Secretary Lynn Green was among the signatories, alongside more than 150 Baptists.
The letter, published on Monday 28 February, the day the Bill enters its final stages in the House of Lords - a crucial last opportunity to make changes - states: ‘While there is still conflict and injustice in the world, there will always be desperate people needing to seek sanctuary from war, persecution and suffering. We cannot close our door on them, but this Bill does just that.’
‘We assert that the values that bind UK citizens together, especially those concerning human dignity and life, will be fundamentally damaged by this Bill.’
In the context of rising global conflict, including this week in Ukraine, the way the bill undermines the UK’s ability to support all people fleeing conflict is even more prominent.
The letter calls on the Prime Minister to make substantial changes to the Bill. These include abandoning the government’s plans to criminalise and restrict the rights of all people arriving in the UK seeking refugee protection outside pre-arranged schemes, including those coming via irregular routes, such as by boats or lorries. The signatories say this policy was made ‘without a basis in evidence or morality’.
The signatories also assert that the government must urgently address the failure to establish safe routes through the Bill, which would help people seeking sanctuary reach the UK, saying that this failure fundamentally undermines its aims. They urge the Prime Minister to be ‘compassionate and ambitious ’ in opening schemes such as family reunion, routes for unaccompanied refugee children in Europe and resettlement.
Representatives from communities in every county in England have signed, as have a broad representation in Scotland and Wales. Many faith groups across the UK have witnessed first-hand the positive impact of safe routes on people in their communities, working in refugee integration initiatives, community sponsorship programmes and providing emergency support to refugees recently arrived from Afghanistan.
The letter calls on the Prime Minister to show ‘political leadership’ and promote ‘compassion, human life and dignity’. Faith leaders have asked the Prime Minister to meet to discuss their concerns.
Baptist minister Steve Tinning, our Public Issues Team Enabler, helped to write and organise the letter. He said, 'The horror of the war in Ukraine brings the reasons why the government must reconsider this bill into sharp focus.
'It would bring shame on the UK to criminalise refugees who make dangerous journeys from Ukraine to reach safety here in the UK.
'Schemes ready to resettle thousands of refugees from these situations are desperately needed – as are laws that enable, not prohibit, child refugees and vulnerable adults being reunited with their family here in the UK. As a nation we must uphold compassion, human life and dignity, not criminalise those who are already victims.'
Zara Mohammed, Secretary General of the Muslim Council in Britain, said, 'There are many provisions in the Nationality and Borders Bill that are deeply concerning for faith communities.
'We must, therefore, not abandon our moral obligation to ensure safe passage for those who need it, to have a fair and equitable asylum process and protect nationality as a right, not just a privilege. We have a duty to uphold the UK's proud tradition as a nation made all the richer by those who come here to build a better life, or seek sanctuary from persecution.'
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism, said, 'Both my parents were welcomed here as refugees. Their experiences taught me to host refugees in my house and work with my community in supporting many people forced to flee their homelands in fear of their lives.
'I’ve listened to heart-rending accounts of the journeys of young asylum seekers desperate to be reunited with relatives in this country. The Nationality and Borders Bill proposes that we close the door on them, cruelly leaving them without any opportunity for safety and a future. We cannot let this happen. I implore the government to open safe passages and not discriminate against those who, in vital need of sanctuary, find whatever way they can to reach a place of refuge.'
In Muswell Hill, London, the local Methodist Church, Mosque and Synagogue are working together, providing essential support to over 80 asylum seekers who were moved into a hotel in the area in 2021. They offer lunches, family cooking, drop-in, bread making and a clothes bank.
The Revd Matthew Lunn, Minister of Muswell Hill Methodist Church, said, 'When we heard that more than 60 Asylum Seekers were staying in a local hotel, we immediately recognised that we had to act. As people of faith, we can offer far more when we are united. We wanted to stand together to show that we welcome people seeking safety from persecution.
'It is devastating that this Bill will only foster division, when we have so much to bring us together. In the face of this hostility, we will do everything we can to continue offering welcome to those seeking sanctuary.'
In response, a Home Office spokesman said, 'The Government has a proud history of supporting people in need, including those in Ukraine, and that is not about to change.
'The Nationality and Borders Bill, which has already been backed by MPs, will deliver the most comprehensive reform in decades to protect the vulnerable and ensure fairness in our asylum system.
'For the for first time, we will be able to differentiate between those who arrive here through safe and legal routes and those who arrive here having had the opportunity to claim asylum already in a safe country.
'This Bill reduces the incentives for people to make dangerous and lethal crossings and introduces a maximum sentence of life behind bars for evil people smugglers. Our policy is aimed at preserving life.'
**Update 16 March**
Baptists are encouraged to support Lord Dub's amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill, calling for increased family reunion routes for refugees.
Since the closure of previous resettlement schemes, the UK has limited options for family reunion for those seeking asylum. Family reunion is an important way of enabling unaccompanied minors to reach their family, and ensuring that people can be reunited with those they love. As demonstrated by the widening of Visa schemes for those travelling from Ukraine, family reunion should be a priority in situations of conflicts.
Find out template letter here: http://ow.ly/VQCp50Ikw92
** Update 25 March**
Update from the House of Commons
- MPs overturned amendments tabled seeking to oblige compliance with the 1951 Refugee Convention, the right for asylum seekers to work and access to offshoring asylum accommodation and processing of applications. (JPIT)