Three of Britain's leading Free Church denominations have called for justice and compassion for asylum seekers, following a statement from Immigration Minister Phil Woolas criticising human rights groups and lawyers for assisting the vulnerable.
Speaking on behalf of The Baptist Church, The Methodist Church and The URC, the Rev Dr Rosemary Kidd said: “Genuine asylum seekers are frequently escaping from persecution and torture. They often arrive in the UK, speaking no English and with no identifying documents. They are vulnerable, deeply traumatised people, seeking sanctuary and human kindness.
“There are inevitably some ‘false’ claimants who should, of course, be efficiently identified through proper legal processes, and then deported to their country of origin. The view of the Joint Public Issues Team, however, is twofold – and quite the reverse of the concerns of Mr Woolas.
“Firstly, the asylum appeals system places these already abused people under further intense suspicion, and the onus is on the individual to explain his or her circumstances under repeated investigation. Secondly, the recent introduction of the Immigration Points System is likely to make it increasingly hard for genuine asylum seekers to enter the UK legally, and thus to claim sanctuary within these shores at all.
“The Joint Public Issues Team calls on the minister to ensure that all claimants are treated with dignity at every stage of the asylum process, and to ensure that people who have already suffered greatly in their country of origin are not further damaged by unsympathetic treatment or rejection by the UK.”
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think tank Ekklesia, which says that Mr Woolas should investigate his own government's bias against asylum seekers rather than attack those who give claimants access to basic legal justice, said today that the stance of the churches and civic groups points to the direction policy should be moving in.
"Too much of the government's agenda is driven by tabloid panic, not enough by attention to real human need," he commented. "The language of 'false' and 'failed' asylum seekers also needs questioning. While criminal activities should be dealt with by the law, it is not the case that all applicants who are refused have 'unfounded claims'. Many are simply not given the kind of justice that they deserve."
Likewise, Ekklesia is calling for a re-assessment of assumptions about 'economic migration'. Barrow added: "If people are forced to move because of extreme poverty, then it is the poverty that needs addressing. Blaming the victim is morally wrong and politically naive. The real migration crisis is in parts of the world that are poorest, and it is the by-product of an inequitable global system that produces dire consequences for all concerned. Trying to lock the door on this reality will not work in the long run."