Source: Caritas Westminster
One of the principles of Catholic Teaching is the “Preferential Option for the Poor”. This means going beyond treating people equally, but rather working to bring people out of their desperate situations, enabling them to live full and dignified lives. It means we can judge our decisions, and the decisions of policy makers on their impact on those who have the least. It also means, as Pope Francis says, to put the poor at the centre of our thinking
On 6 July the Nationality and Borders Bill entered parliament. The government has said this Bill will produce a fair and just asylum system. But many Catholic charities have said that the proposals are unfair, unjust and will not work. They also do nothing to address the root causes of forced migration and trafficking.
Bishop Paul McAleenan spoke at the latest Diocese of Westminster network meeting for those working with migrants and refugees, saying, “one can look at what is immediately before us, refugees seeking shelter, and address that question, which we should do. We can also be bolder and ask, ‘How did this happen?’ Are we somehow responsible for creating this situation?” For example, when people flee from conflict, we could ask “who supplied the weapons for that war?” And if someone needs to leave their home because it has become uninhabitable due to the changing climate, we know that wealthier countries like the UK have contributed more to climate breakdown.
The Nationality and Borders Bill treats people who have been forced to flee their home, as a problem to be solved, rather than as a product of an unjust global situation. Its aim is national self-preservation and self-interest, rather than compassion, and care for humanity.
Those working in foodbanks, homeless drop-ins and other projects supported by Caritas Westminster, witness first hand how our asylum system forces people into destitution.
The new Bill will make this worse by deliberately dividing refugees into two groups – those who came here under a government resettlement scheme, and those who had to make their own way using unsafe and so-called “illegal” routes. This in itself is discriminatory.
As Bishop Paul said: “Catholic Social Teaching states that each person must be treated with equal care, equal compassion and equal dignity, all are made in the image of God. They are all refugees, all fleeing for whatever reason.”
The Government also claims that penalising those who have been forced to pay traffickers for unsafe boat crossings will put those traffickers out of business. But as Bishop William Kenney, a member of the Santa Marta Group, said of these proposals: ‘Across the world it has been consistently demonstrated that policies criminalising those seeking sanctuary and introducing new border security measures do not save lives but are simply a charter for trafficking’
The Bill includes plans to expand the use of asylum accommodation centres. Centres like the Napier Barracks have been housing asylum seekers in prison like conditions, effectively punishing people who have arrived using “illegal” routes. This could be against article 31 of the 1951 Convention on Refugees. The use of such centres is not only inhumane, but provides little support for people to navigate their way through the complex asylum claim system. It also prevents refugees integrating into British community life, creating more division and suspicion in our population.
Caritas Westminster, along with other Catholic Charities sees three main issues that the Government needs to address:
The asylum system should never penalise people for arriving spontaneously or without documents, or differentiate asylum claims on the basis of how people got here. Most refugees have no choice of how they travel.
Asylum claimants should have safe and dignified accommodation within British communities.
Secure safe routes to the UK and prevent dangerous Channel crossings. We need ambitious, compassionate and detailed plans that will meaningfully expand safe routes to the UK for refugees – until then, people will continue to risk dangerous journeys to reach protection and loved ones.
What can you do?
- Write to your MP – you might like to use the Write To Them website.
- Join our network – come to the online Caritas Westminster Quarterly Network Meeting for Those Who Welcome Refugees and Migrants on 9th September which will be an awareness-raising event open to all.
- Take time to have a friendly conversation with a migrant or refugee, and if they want to tell you, find out why they came to the UK.
- Volunteer at a project working with refugees – use our Caritas Westminster Volunteer Service website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire.
Responses from Catholic charities with expert knowledge of refugees and the asylum system:
The SVP says: “In a nutshell, only those who have travelled directly to the UK from a country where their life or freedom was at risk will be able to claim asylum on arrival. Those who arrive via a third country will have no opportunity to claim asylum on arrival and will be at risk of being sent offshore, leaving them vulnerable and stripped of their human rights. This approach abandons the principle of international protection and ignores the reality of forced migration. This proposal is unlikely to deter people making dangerous journeys to the UK to find safety.”
“The Refugee Convention does not state that a person must claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. We believe that by penalising asylum seekers based on their mode of transport to the UK and the route they took to arrive on our shores the Government is creating an asylum system lacking any kind of empathy or compassion for human beings in need.”
On the publication of the Bill, Sarah Teather the Director of JRS UK said: “Today is a dark day in British history. Punishing people seeking safety for how they travelled to the UK is a shameful violation of our commitment to international law & puts many more lives at risk. Those seeking refuge on our shores deserve to be welcomed with humanity, and fair process – not a barbaric culture of hostility.”
Nationalities and Borders Bill – https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3023
JRS report published earlier this year: Being Human in the Asylum System – www.jrsuk.net/publications/
Message of Pope Francis for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2021 – www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20210503_world-migrants-day-2021.html
Response to the Bill from Safe Passage – www.safepassage.org.uk/news/2021/7/7/our-response-to-the-borders-bill