It has been hugely encouraging to see the UK Church come together in the past few weeks to respond to the government’s New Plan for Immigration. Our Zoom room was full on Monday 29th March as we gathered Christians from across the UK to pray for this. We have also received emails from many of you asking what else can you do to respond as individuals, and as church communities. Thank you so much to all of you who have already sent letters to your MPs and have engaged in the government’s public consultation process. This is so important and we are so proud to be part of the Christian Church, which believes that welcoming the stranger is an integral part of the kingdom of God.
Welcome Churches is working with other Christian organisations and denominations to form a collective response as the UK Church to the government’s New Immigration Plan. We are seeking to collate information on what churches, Christians and Christian organisations are doing to welcome and support refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. We plan to present this information to the government, to show how important the values of welcome and hospitality are in the Christian faith. This audit is being done in collaboration with other Christian organisations in order to show a united Church response to the government’s New Plan for Immigration.
New Plan for Immigration: what is it?
On Wednesday 24th March, Home Secretary Priti Patel laid out proposed plans for the “biggest overhaul of the UK’s asylum system in decades”. The subsequently released ‘New Plan for Immigration Policy Statement’ confirmed numerous policy changes, including seeing people who arrive in the UK by what the government call illegal means as no longer having the same entitlements as those arriving through legal channels. The Government’s New Plan for Immigration has the following objectives:
- Firstly, increase the fairness and efficacy of our system so that we can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum.
- Secondly, deter illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger; and
- Thirdly, remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here.
What are the concerns?
The concerns that Welcome Churches has with the New Plan for Immigration, are echoed by other organisations – both Christian organisations and those in the refugee sector. We have outlined some of these in response to each of the objectives that the government has outlined:
Firstly, increase the fairness and efficacy of our system so that we can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum.
It is good, and should be applauded that the government wants to continue to help some of the most vulnerable refugees in the world through resettlement programmes to the UK. However, we are concerned that the plan lacks clarity on how the government will do this – where refugees will be able to register for protection by the UK and how many refugees the government is willing to commit to resettle via these routes. In order for this objective to be successful, there needs to be a lot more detail on who will be prioritised for resettlement and how the process will work. It is also worth acknowledging that those who will be eligible for a resettlement programme are likely to be a different group of people to those who would make their own way to the UK to claim asylum – therefore many will still be forced to take alternative routes.
Secondly, deter illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger.
The plan seeks to deter people making their own journey to the UK to claim asylum upon arrival. Under the government’s proposals, people will be criminalised if they pay a people smuggler to get to the UK – they will never be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and their claim will be re-examined every 30 months. The people who pay people smugglers don’t have many options available to them – to cross the channel on a boat involves risking your life, as does travelling on the back of a lorry. Many people we meet across the Welcome Churches network have a genuine need of asylum and this isn’t reduced just because a person has felt that they have no option but to make their own, often life-threatening journey to the UK. Whilst it seems reasonable to go after people smugglers who are profiting from this extremely dangerous activity with no concern for human life, there is a concern that this won’t actually stop people smugglers, and will only bring more harm to those seeking asylum in the UK.
Thirdly, remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here.
It is unclear as to how realistic this proposal is from the government. As the UK has now left the EU, this has brought an end to the Dublin agreement, which previously allowed the UK government to return asylum seekers to other European countries if they had already started to have their asylum claim processed in that country. With the end of the Dublin agreement, it is unlikely that the EU will want asylum seekers to return to other European countries (there is no alternative agreement currently in place). Therefore a backlog of cases is likely to happen very quickly and a realistic solution will be difficult to be found.
How should churches respond?
We are encouraging all churches to write to their MP outlining the concerns that they have with the New Plan for Immigration, and particularly to tell their MP how important the church thinks it is that refugees and asylum seekers are welcomed in the UK. This should include any experience the church has of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers and how the church has found that experience. You can find a draft letter to use here. You can submit an online letter to your MP via theyworkforyou.com.
We would like to invite churches and Christian organisations to complete the survey by Sunday 25th April, sharing your experience of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers to the UK. We will then use this information to show the UK government how important welcoming the stranger is to the UK Church. Click here to access this survey today.