Churches attack global mistreatment of migrants and asylum seekers
As war, human rights abuse, conflict and terror displaces an ever increasing number of people across the world, the Global Ecumenical Network on Uprooted Peoples (GEN) has criticised 'the increasing use of detention to restrict and deter cross-border movement by asylum seekers and other migrants' at a meeting in Geneva this week of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees' (UNHCR) executive committee.
In a statement issued through the World Council of Churches, which brings together Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox communions in 120 countries, GEN declares: 'Churches are concerned that the global trend towards criminalizing refugees, asylum seekers and migrants through tightened borders and increased detention results in decreased security for uprooted people and heightened vulnerability to exploitation, by smugglers and human traffickers along their journeys and by unscrupulous employers in the host country.'
According to the internationally constituted network: 'Such a response does nothing to address the root causes of forced migration, which include regional conflicts, climate change and sea level rise, and loss of livelihood due to corporate globalization and free trade agreements that disadvantage countries of the South.'
The statement highlights the use of arbitrary detention to punish 'asylum seekers along with other migrants who make clandestine border crossing but present no real threat to public safety.' It says that this gravely undermines the legitimate freedom to seek refuge.
The Global Ecumenical Network on Uprooted Peoples gives many examples of abuses and infringements of rights drawn from members' knowledge and experience of what is happening in their own countries.
Affirming the important role played by churches in serving the needs and rights of migrants and asylum seekers, GEN calls on governments to 'facilitate the work of the churches with the uprootedÖ [and] grant access to detention centres by church and civil society groups so that they might more effectively offer assistance to a highly vulnerable population.'
'Faced with this situation,' the statement concludes, 'the World Council of Churches GEN participants reaffirm our belief in the God-given dignity of all human beings, our commitment to advocating for the rights of uprooted people, and our dream of a world of compassion and hospitality.'
The full text of the WCC-GEN statement is available on the WCC website.
The Global Ecumenical Network (GEN) brings together regional and national ecumenical networks on uprooted people in Africa, Asia, Australia, North America, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Pacific. Representatives of Roman Catholic organizations, some Christian world communions, and church-related agencies also participate.
It meets every year to review the global situation and future trends affecting uprooted people, to share information, and to determine church responses to the needs of the displaced.
In the UK, church leaders have consistently denounced prejudice, hostility, mistreatment and xenophobia directed towards displaced people by politicians and sections of the media.
This week facilities at a Hampshire immigration centre have been criticised in a report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Anne Owers says that present conditions inhibit the privacy of detainees, make it difficult for staff to supervise them and hamper efforts to combat bullying.
She notes that "a significant number of detainees had felt unsafe at some point".
Earlier this year The Rev Vaughan Jones, director of Praxis and an associate of the UK think-tank Ekklesia, called for a major rethink of migration issues. And Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, argued that Christian tradition requires a robust belief in asylum for all who need it.