More than 1,000 faith leaders have urged the UK Government to “substantially” change the terms of the controversial Nationality and Borders Bill. The leaders, representing the six major faith groups in the UK, said they are ‘horrified and appalled about the potential repercussions’ of the Bill and called on the Prime Minister to make urgent changes ‘even at this late stage’.
The letter, published today (Monday 28 February 2022), the day the Bill enters its final stages in the House of Lords – a crucial last opportunity to make changes – states: ‘While there is still conflict and injustice in the world, there will always be desperate people needing to seek sanctuary from war, persecution and suffering. We cannot close our door on them, but this Bill does just that.’
‘We assert that the values that bind UK citizens together, especially those concerning human dignity and life, will be fundamentally damaged by this Bill.’
In the context of rising global conflict, including this week in Ukraine, the way the bill undermines the UK’s ability to support all people fleeing conflict is even more prominent.
The letter calls on the Prime Minister to make substantial changes to the Bill. These include abandoning the government’s plans to criminalise and restrict the rights of all people arriving in the UK seeking refugee protection outside pre-arranged schemes, including those coming via irregular routes, such as by boats or lorries. The signatories say this policy was made ‘without a basis in evidence or morality’.
The signatories also assert that the government must urgently address the failure to establish safe routes through the Bill, which would help people seeking sanctuary reach the UK, saying that this failure fundamentally undermines its aims. They urge the Prime Minister to be ‘compassionate and ambitious ’ in opening schemes such as family reunion, routes for unaccompanied refugee children in Europe and resettlement. More than 80 of the signatories are from Scotland.
Many faith groups across the UK have witnessed first-hand the positive impact of safe routes on people in their communities, working in refugee integration initiatives, community sponsorship programmes and providing emergency support to recently arrived refugees.
Rev Raheel Arif, minister for Denny Old linked with Haggs Church of Scotland, has first-hand experience of the immigration system having first come to the UK as an asylum seeker.
Mr Arif said: “Around the world, millions of people live in poverty and in vulnerable situations due to war, persecution, violence and abuse.
“Sometimes people are forced to flee their homes to preserve their lives as we are seeing now in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We are called to act with compassion and to urge our government to stand up for refugees and asylum seekers, as it says in the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention.
“However, the new Nationality and Borders, Bill which our government is proposing will affect the vulnerable people on our borders and may prevent them reaching a place of safety.
“The introduction of this Bill may allow the smugglers and the trafficking gangs to thrive and will increase the reliance of people upon them putting more peoples’ lives in danger.
“It will further increase the barriers to refugees and asylum seekers.”
Senior Scottish faith leaders are amongst the signatories. They include:
- Elizabeth Allen, Clerk to the General Meeting for Scotland, Quakers in Scotland
- Most Revd. Mark Strange Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness and Primus, Scottish Episcopal Church
- Rt Revd William Nolan, Archbishop of Glasgow
- Rev. Dr. David Miller, Moderator of the General Assembly, United Free Church of Scotland
- Imam Sayed Razawi, Chief Imam and Director General, Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society
- Venerable Abbot Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, Abbot of the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre, Scotland
- Revd Laurent Vernet, Methodist Church in Scotland
- Lord Jim Wallace, Moderator of the General Assembly, Church of Scotland
- Revd Paul Whittle, Synod Moderator, United Reformed Church National Synod of Scotland
The letter was coordinated by the ecumenical Joint Public Issues Team, made up of the Methodist Church in Britain, Baptist Union of Great Britain and United Reformed Church, working with the Church of Scotland.
Read the letter in full here.