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
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
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
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.
100 Bridge Street West
Birmingham B19 2YX