LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A new report says Britain needs a more humane asylum system, giving asylum seekers opportunities to work and participate in the community.
The report is called “For our welfare and not for our harm” and was issued by the Jesuit Refugee Service UK on Thursday.
The document was written by Dr. Anna Rowlands, the St Hilda Associate Professor of Catholic Social Thought & Practice in the Department of Theology and Religion at England’s Durham University.
In 2010, the ruling Conservative party pledged to cut immigration to the UK to “the tens of thousands,” a target many experts saw as impractical.
Since that time, the government has made it more difficult for all sorts of immigrants to come to the country, including spouses of British citizens, students, and academic appointments.
They have also tightened up on the procedures for asylum seekers to prove their refugee status.
Asylum seekers in the UK are generally not allowed to work, although if they are still in the system for over a year, some may seek jobs on a “shortage occupation list” provided by the government, no matter what qualifications they may have.
The government has also implemented a “hostile environment” policy, which aims to make it difficult to live in the UK if you are an illegal immigrant, but often affects asylum seekers, too.
The report highlights the importance of faith for asylum seekers and explores the faith-basis of the Jesuit Refugee Service.
“Again and again, refugees I interviewed told me about the importance of faith as a source of meaning, story, identity and resilience. But critically, refugees were makers of religious meaning and leaders of faith communities, not merely beneficiaries of well-meaning faith-based care and social action,” Rowlands said.
The report said asylum seekers often feel dehumanized by the process, with individuals telling Rowlands the system made them “feel worthless” and “like rubbish,” and that the process “wastes time, skill, capacity and promise.”
Sarah Teather is the Director of JRS UK, and served as a member of the UK Parliament from 2003-2015. She was Minister of State for Children and Families from 2010-2012 and chaired a parliamentary group focused on support for refugees, including the issue of detention.
“This report lays bare an asylum system which erodes human dignity and wastes lives. It demonstrates the urgent need to end the hostile environment agenda and invest in a more humane approach, enabling people to work and participate in community. This requires deep, systemic transformation,” she said.
The report spoke about the importance of human interaction for the refugees, and how they appreciated even simple things like sharing meals, and people using their names.
“This research has deepened our understanding of refugees’ experience of the asylum process, exposing the pain of prolonged destitution in the asylum system, but has also given voice to the highly perceptive analysis of refugees themselves,” Teather said.
“We are particularly grateful for the insights this research has provided about the factors that give refugees strength and sense of agency,” she added.
“There were some surprises. We didn’t expect to find that eating together at the same table was so valued. This habit of shared meals each day has grown unselfconsciously out of our ethos of community and mutuality over many years. The research has enabled us to reflect on our own practice as a small faith-based organization, deepen our commitment to our mission to accompany refugees,” Teather said.
The UK asylum policy has come under increasing scrutiny, and in March of this year the Home Affairs Committee of the British parliament issued a report saying asylum seekers and other immigrants in the UK have been wrongfully detained, held in detention when they are vulnerable, and detained for too long.
The report said inefficiencies in the process – for example lengthy delays in asylum decisions, appeals and documentation – unnecessarily prolonged people’s detention.
The UK is the only European country that has no time limit on detaining asylum seekers, and JRS has argued asylum claims are assessed looking for reasons to refuse the application, as opposed to making a neutral assessment.
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