LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Bishops in the UK are speaking out against the British government’s New Plan for Immigration, which they claim will create a “two-tier” system for asylum seekers.
The New Plan for Immigration was launched earlier this year by the UK government to lay out their plans for a post-Brexit immigration policy.
Bishop Paul McAleenan, in charge of the Migrants and Refugees desk at the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, and Bishop William Nolan, Chair of the Scottish Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace, have written to Home Secretary Priti Patel, the UK official in charge of immigration and security matters.
In their letter released on May 10, the bishops call on the British government to provide “a generous response to those driven from their homes by the many challenges facing our world today, such as poverty, conflict, or the climate emergency.”
“We cannot ignore our own role in this displacement, particularly through making significant cuts to the aid budget, which are falling upon the world’s poorest people, and our status as one of the largest exporters of arms, which fuel conflicts around the world. As Pope Francis reminds us, all of humanity is interconnected,” they write.
In their letter, McAleenan and Nolan point to three areas of the New Plan for Immigration which are of particular concern: The creation of a two-tier asylum system, community sponsorship and resettlement, and human trafficking.
Refugee advocacy groups have criticized the plan for penalizing asylum seekers who arrive in the country outside the “humanitarian corridors” established to receive refugees in the UK.
“Creating arbitrary divisions based on people’s method of entry will have profound implications for those who need our support most. We know that many families and individuals have no choice in the route that they take and to penalise them on this basis dangerously undermines the principle of asylum,” the bishops write.
“We oppose any move to treat differently those forced to risk their lives or make difficult journeys to reach safety and those who are selected for organised resettlement routes,” the letter continues.
As for community sponsorship, the bishops noted that Pope Francis has called on Catholic communities to host refugee families and in response parishes across the UK have been at the forefront of welcoming people through community sponsorship.
“We are encouraged by the government’s commitment to a new UK Resettlement Scheme and ensuring that more people can enter through the Community Sponsorship route. However, we also recognise that the impact will be limited without ambitious targets or proper support for civil society groups and urge you to incorporate these into resettlement policy as it is developed,” the letter says.
Finally, the bishops note there are “many shortcomings in our society’s response the evils of human trafficking, not least in identifying victims, providing them with the right support, and prosecuting those responsible for exploitation.”
“However, these will not be solved by tougher border security and a less generous asylum system, measures which risk driving more people into the hands of criminals. We believe in tackling trafficking through combining a strong response to organised crime, with the opening of more safe and legal routes to sanctuary, while ensuring that victims are never criminalised,” the letter says.
McAleenan and Nolan said, “how we respond to those in need has profound implications for our society.”
“We must keep in mind that welcoming successive generations of refugees has greatly enriched our communities. It is therefore imperative that we continue to make room for people who seek safety and a home among us in the UK,” the letter concludes.
The joint letter was released the same day several Catholic groups joined over 100 other organizations in launching Together With Refugees, a coalition dedicated to helping asylum seekers in the UK.
“Together, we are calling for a better approach to supporting refugees that is more effective, fair and humane. This means standing up for people’s ability to seek safety in the UK no matter how they came here and ensuring people can live in dignity while they wait for a decision on their asylum application. It means empowering refugees to rebuild their lives and make valuable contributions to our communities. And it means the UK working with other countries to do our bit to help people who are forced to flee their homes,” the organization said in a statement.
Jesuit Refugee Service UK said it was excited to join the coalition.
“The campaign carries a simple message, of showing compassion to people fleeing war, persecution or violence,” JRS UK said in a May 10 statement.
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