Bishops call for change in asylum law
Two Catholic bishops have called for the repeal of Section 55 of the Nationality and Immigration Act which deniew welfare support to asylum seekers.
The call followed a meeting bewteen Bishop Patrick OíDonoghue, Chair of the Office for Refugee Policy of the Catholic Bishopsí Conference of England and Wales, and Bishop John Mone, Chair of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishopsí Conference of Scotland, have met to discuss the urgent matter.
Against the background of increasing destitution among asylum seekers and the "constant media vilification" of them, the Bishop's issued a statement calling for action to remove the section, using a bill currently before Parliament.
On 8 January 2003, Section 55 of the Nationality and Immigration Act 2002 came into force removing welfare support from asylum seekers who fail to make a claim ëimmediately on arrivalí.
Those asylum seekers denied welfare support will not be allowed to work or be self-employed. The right-to-work concession has already been removed.
In a statement they said; "In the absence of resources for basic survival, it is clear that destitution will be an immediate and direct consequence of Section 55.
ìDespite legal rulings for greater flexibility in interpreting support-eligibility rules, and the recent government concession allowing asylum seekers up to three days after arrival to make a claim, the impact of Section 55 should not be underestimated."
According to the Home Office, more than 7,500 people are already destitute, many of whom are sleeping rough, lack food and suffer severe physical and mental health problems.
"It has also placed an intolerable and unsustainable burden on church groups, refugee communities and charities" said the bishops.
ìIn the light of the Christian message of justice and peace for all, especially the persecuted - the poor and vulnerable ñ it is right that the Government should remove Section 55. We understand that in the House of Lords the Earl of Sandwich has proposed an amendment to the current Bill to repeal Section 55. We support this measure.
ìThe Government should ensure that our asylum system recognizes that seeking asylum is a fundamental human right, guaranteed in international law. It is therefore incumbent on the Government to make certain that no-one is left destitute, homeless or detained arbitrarily at any point during the process of an asylum application.î