[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Primus of Scotland, the Archbishop of Wales and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams have called on the British government “urgently to revise its policy towards refugees.” They are amongst a large number of Anglican bishops and clergy from the UK who have put their name to an open letter to British Prime Minister Theresa May. It has been signed by 224 faith leaders.
“The best of this country is represented by the generosity, kindness, solidarity and decency that Britain has at many times shown those fleeing persecution, even at times of far greater deprivation and difficulty than the present day,” they say in their letter. “We rejoice in the mosaic of different faiths and British communities that we now represent. We are proud that in May 2016, in a survey by Amnesty International, 83 per cent of Britons said they would welcome refugees into their neighbourhoods and households.
“In the face of the unfolding human catastrophe, there are immediate and viable steps that the Government can take to offer sanctuary to more refugees. We call on you to create safe, legal routes of travel, for example by adopting fair and humane family reunion policies for refugees.
“Under the present immigration rules, a British doctor of Syrian origin could not bring her parents from a refugee camp in Lebanon – even though they were refugees and she could support and house them. A Syrian child who arrived alone in the UK could not bring his parents from a refugee camp in Jordan – even if the child were recognised a refugee and even though his parents were themselves refugees.
“Families in these situations can currently be reunited only by resorting to desperately unsafe irregular journeys, sometimes ending in avoidable tragedies.”
In addition to the Primus of Scotland, David Chillingworth; and the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, the letter has been signed by more than 50 other Anglican bishops, clergy from of other Christian churches, and leaders of other faith groups including Jewish. Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Zoroastrian. They say they have produced the letter because “all our faiths compel us to affirm the dignity of all human beings and to offer help to anyone in need.”
They are calling, in particular, for the UK to accept “a fair and proportionate share of refugees, both those already within Europe and those still outside it”, as well as “safe and legal routes to the UK, as well as to the rest of Europe,” and also within Europe, as well as “access to fair and thorough procedures to determine eligibility for international protection wherever it is sought.”
Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, raised the issue in a speech in the House of Lords – the upper house of the British Parliament. He told MPs that his diocese had taken on a staff member to work in “the Jungle” – the make-shift refugee camp in Calais, France, which has become home to asylum seekers trying to reach the UK – alongside a staff member taken on by the Roman Catholic diocese of Arras.
“We are still having continual reports of delays for really quite young children who are not being brought across,” he said, he said that “where children – particularly young ones – have families in this country there is no reason why they should not be brought across within the day.”
In response, government minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said that “many of the children are coming here very quickly, but if any child has to stay over in the camp for any longer than it should that is one child too many.”
She said that the government’s position was that refugees in Calais “should first of all claim asylum in France and then come over here” through an international agreement known as the Dublin regulations. She said that 120 refugee children had been admitted to the UK under this system so far this year.