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The UK’s immigration and asylum policy: further reflections

by
19 June 2015

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From the Very Revd Nicholas Coulton

Sir, - Your six pages on immigration detention (Features, 12 June) gather together much valuable information, as well as harrowing stories of terrible failures in UK justice. Your leader comment rightly says that it shames not only those who run the system, but equally those who turn a blind eye.

Even on the day that your issue was published, the High Court ruled unlawful the fast-track immigration appeals procedure under which thousands of asylum-seekers have been locked up each year. Mr Justice Nichol said that the process "looks uncomfortably akin to . . . sacrificing fairness on the altar of speed and convenience".

Detention is only one (arguably the worst) outcome of the immigration process, although many who are not detained also have troubling and shameful stories of their treatment in Britain. Inevitably, the system must be seen against the background of the enormous movements of population which are taking place in many parts of the world. The public has understandable concern not only over the fate of the people crossing the Mediterranean and other seas, but how the world is to cope with such movements.

The Government's rhetoric, scapegoating people-smugglers, diverts public attention from the main issue: why are so many fleeing countries across Africa and Asia? Among the reasons are climate change, tyrannical regimes, and conflicts - in all of which the policies and failures of Western governments have played some part. As well as those eligible for asylum because they are fleeing persecution are many who cannot sensibly be called "economic migrants"; rather, they are "survival migrants", desperate for somewhere secure for themselves and their families.

We need to think of such numbers alongside our experience of the 50 million people in Europe who were forced to leave their homes permanently before, during, and after the Second World War. Some who helped such people in their flight - for instance, over the Pyrenees - were "people-smugglers"; certainly, some took a financial reward, but most we would count as heroes rather than villains; and even people-smugglers have to survive when their world is in chaos.

Many who found a home in Britain at that time have made huge contributions to national and local life, and indeed to international life. Visa restrictions and other sanctions today make it almost impossible to get legally into Britain to claim asylum. Recourse to people-smugglers is often the only viable option.

Even in Europe today there is space for many refugees, and we know that many of them bring remarkable qualities of skill and energy to stimulate rather than drain local economies. But how can the UK Government expect other European governments to be open-hearted if it stands aside? We may be generous with our aid towards resettlement in the Middle Eastern countries that have received the vast bulk of those fleeing conflict, but there have been enough years of experience to know that many never get out of those refugee camps: they spend their lives there, and bring up their children in doomed conditions.

Local churches that are too late to respond to the call from the Conference of European Churches and the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe to use the annual day of commemoration on 21 June not only to pray for those who flee conflict, war, and destruction, but to remember those who have lost their lives on their way to Europe, can still use the prayer materials on other occasions. Such materials can be found online at ccme.be, and ceceurope.org.

 

NICHOLAS COULTON
Dean Emeritus of Newcastle
123 Merewood Avenue
Oxford OX3 8EQ

 

From the Revd Larry Wright

Sir, - Like many of the inner-city clergy, I am regularly asked to sign reference forms for those who qualify to stay in this country and are applying for citizenship. The application process is rigorous, as applicants are informed that UK citizenship is a privilege, not a right.

Most applicants have waited many years to apply for this privilege, are eager to finalise their status, and proudly attend their citizenship ceremony. The fees required for citizenship are, however, currently £1005 for each adult and £749 for each child. If applicants make a mistake on any of the forms, the fees are forfeited and they must begin the process again. To avoid this, they may pay an extra fee to a registrar, who will check and forward their forms.

The fees are increased each April using secondary legislation, and therefore are never brought before Parliament for comment or debate. By the nature of inner urban areas, most who are eligible to apply for citizenship are ethnically diverse, and working in the low-pay sectors of our economy. I know families who have given up saving enough money to pay for their applications, and others who go into long-term, high-interest debt to do so. Those who do not apply are caught in a sort of status limbo, where they have a right to reside, but are not citizens.

As non-citizens, they cannot vote in general elections, have limited travel options, and cannot take up their full citizenship responsibilities, though by this stage they are earning and paying tax. In contrast, the cost of applying for citizenship in the United States is £447, Germany £183, and Australia £130.

In the current febrile atmosphere surrounding immigration issues, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Home Office was charging increasingly higher fees for citizenship applications as a means of subsidising other aspects of its failing immigration policies. To some of us, this looks like government profiteering from those who have no voice and no alternative, and as such it is both a racial- and social-justice issue.

 

LARRY WRIGHT
100 Bridge Street West
Newtown
Birmingham B19 2YX

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