Scots may take in migrants rejected by England - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
April 13, 2005

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Scots may take in migrants rejected by England

-13/04/05

In a dramatic twist to the current political debate, ministers in Scotland are challenging the anti-immigration stance of Labour and the Tories by asking the UK home secretary to allow migrants to come to Scotland if they fail criteria for entering England.

Welcoming this move, the religious think tank Ekklesia is also challenging politicians to turn from scaremongering to truth in the overall migration argument, and is highlighting the crucial role of Britainís churches in promoting a sensible and humane approach to asylum seekers and refugees.

First minister Jack McConnell told the Guardian newspaper today that the Scottish parliament was prepared to take the political initiative in changing the terms of the immigration debate north of the border.

The Scottish executive has plans to bring 8,000 newcomers to Scotland annually in order to address a falling population and skills gaps in the economy.

But the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalitionís positive plans are threatened by tough and inflexible UK laws, and they are now lobbying home secretary Charles Clarke to modify these.

A relocation advisory service has already been established in Glasgow in order to promote visa permits in Scotland. This summer a new system will allow graduates from around the world two extra years to stay in Scotland to pave the way for the introduction of longer work permits.

The Labour governmentís policy in the UK, where migrants make up a small percentage of the population, is to curb immigration by unskilled workers from outside the European Union ñ even though figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development show that a significant majority of new arrivals in Britain are professional or managerial people.

The policy of the main political parties appears to be being set by tabloid scare stories and selective data assembled by anti-immigration lobby groups, rather than sensible debate, claims leading Christian think-tank Ekklesia.

ìThe Scottish executiveís initiative is a very welcome development,î says Ekklesia research associate Simon Barrow. ìIn a world of huge economic inequality where capital has almost complete freedom of movement, it is irrational, inhumane and impractical to impose draconian restrictions on people movements.î

Says Barrow: ìThe current debate on migration is being driven by scaremongering, hatred and fear ñ and leading politicians seem scandalously willing to peddle half truths if there are votes in it. We need new thinking about people movements in a troubled world, but it certainly canít start from the false assumptions dominating this general election campaign.î

Ekklesia points out that it is dangerous and wrong to blame asylum-seekers and refugees fleeing from life-threatening situations for the overall confusions about immigration.

ìThe Christian Gospel is a message of hope and dignity for people marginalised, victimised and excluded,î says Simon Barrow. ìBritainís churches have rightly been strong in defending the interests of those seeking refuge. The media should be paying more attention to the voices of the victims than the shrill cries of the scaremongers.î

The ecumenical body Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has recently published guidelines for churches offering sanctuary to those seeking protection in Britain. Last year they published some harrowing accounts of the experiences of asylum seekers in a book called ëAsylum Voicesí, which also contains biblical injunctions about care for the stranger.

Yesterday the Herald newspaper in Scotland hit out against what it called ìdepressingî and ìpredictableî posturing about immigration by the political parties, especially the Conservative leader Michael Howard.

The leader of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Philips, has also joined church, human rights and union leaders in calling on politicians to tome down their rhetoric and stick to the facts.

Ekklesia is co-sponsoring a conversation about immigration policy on 27 April 2005 as the first event organised by the newly-formed Westminster Forum.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.