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Church leaders say asylum system endangers lives
Leaders from across Britainís denominations have condemned the current handling of asylum applications as 'unjust' and said that the asylum system endangers the lives of genuine refugees.
A letter signed by a wide range of church figures including the Bishop of Oxford, the Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, and the leaders of Baptist, Methodist and URC denominations, appears in today's Times newspaper.
It was also trailed in a press release from the United Reformed Church last night which said their letter "accused the present system of endangering the lives of genuine refugees".
The letter draws attention to serious questions about the handling of asylum claims in immigration interviews and on appeal.
Reports from local churches suggest that many applicants who are labelled as ëfailed asylum-seekersí have been treated unjustly and wrongly refused refugee status.
Local churches frequently come to know asylum-seekers, the letter says, both as fellow-worshippers and through agencies providing friendship and practical support. But reports from all over the country raise serious questions about the quality of decision making on asylum matters at every stage.
The quality of initial interviews, it is claimed in the letter, remains poor, with 9 out of 10 applications being initially refused, while 20% of appeals against refusal are successful.
At the appeal stage adjudicators frequently question the credibility of applicants the church leaders state, often in the process betraying an appalling ignorance of the culture and religion of asylum seekers.
The church leaders suggest that there is a climate of pervasive incredulity that people might genuinely wish to become Christians. In many cases scant attention is paid to the up-to-date evidence of independent ëcountry expertsí as to the situation which appellants could expect to face on return to their country of origin. Instead adjudicators rely on out of date and inaccurate country evidence.
The risk of injustice is increased by recent attempts to reduce the cost of the adjudication system by restricting rights of appeal and cutting legal aid, the church representatives suggest, with many good immigration lawyers being forced to leave this area of work.
The church leaders call on the countryís elected representatives and the judiciary to ensure that values of humanity are upheld and justice is seen to be applied fairly and without bias.
The full text of the letter is as follows:
Church members frequently meet people seeking asylum, as fellow worshippers and through agencies providing friendship and practical help.
We have received recent reports from churches across the country which raise serious questions about the handling of asylum claims. The quality of initial interviews remains poor, with nine out of ten applications initially refused and 20 per cent of appeals against refusal being successful (Tell it like it is: The truth about asylum, Refugee Council). At the appeal stage we have received many reports of adjudicators whose questions betray a lack of knowledge and understanding of the applicantsí culture or religion.
We have also heard of cases where scant attention has been paid to up-to-date evidence about the appellantsí countries of origin, and of out-of-date and inaccurate evidence being relied upon by adjudicators.
Recent attempts to reduce the costs of the adjudication system by restricting rights of appeal and cutting legal aid will inevitably increase the risk of injustice.
We hope that in this election all people of good will, whether or not they have a religious faith, will challenge candidates to give priority to ensuring just and compassionate treatment for those who have come to this country seeking asylum and believing it to practise such values.
(Moderator, Free Churches),
(Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth),
(Moderator, General Assembly of the United Reformed Church),
(President, Methodist Conference),
Christ Church Cathedral,
St Aldates, Oxford OX1 1DP.