Senior religious leaders gather to call for new refugee policy
12 September 2016
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The Vice President of the Methodist Church, Rachel Lampard, has
chaired the launch of a letter from over 200 faith leaders to the
Prime Minister calling for more help to be given to refugees
fleeing Syria, Iraq and other areas of conflict. The launch took
place at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London on the 12 September
Religious leaders, including Methodist President the Revd Dr
Roger Walton, and 17 Methodist District Chairs have added their
names to a growing roll-call of prominent voices criticising the
Government's response to the refugee crisis as too slow and too
narrow, including former judges, eminent lawyers and senior
In an unprecedented joint initiative, senior faith leaders have
asked Theresa May to unblock rules currently preventing families
from being reunited.
In her speech as chair of the launch, Rachel Lampard said: "At the
centre of our call today is support for families. Whatever shape
they are, families are a necessary part what it is to be human. As
faith leaders, we are deeply concerned that current Government
policy undermines the chance that many refugees have to a family
"Under current British immigration rules, it is almost impossible
for a British citizen to bring to this country some categories of
their family, even if the family members are living in refugee
Also present was the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Dr
Rowan Williams, who commented: "We make (the proposal) because the
pace seems very slow at the moment in responding to this crisis. We
have had several months of discussion about the reuniting of
children with parents. We have, as yet, very little to show for
Referring to society's response to the crisis, he added: "The
refugee issue is not going to go away, however much we put our
fingers in our ears and screw our eyes tight shut - that is not
going to change. Turning people away does not solve the problem, it
shifts the burden very often in the world we currently live in on
to those less able to bear it than we are.
"The issue is not going to disappear, and so it's futile and
foolish to pretend that it will if we ignore it for long
In their open letter, senior Christian, Muslim and Jewish clerics
and leading representatives of other faiths have pointed to serious
defects in family reunion policy for refugees, leading to
The letter says:
"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
"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
"Families in these situations can currently be reunited only by
resorting to desperately unsafe irregular journeys, sometimes
ending in avoidable tragedies."
One of the signatories of the letter, Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBE
said: "Being the son of refugees from Hitler, who lost over 100 of
their close family members because of the lack of compassion and
vision with regard to family reunification by the authorities at
that time, I feel especially obliged to help ensure that we don't
repeat those mistakes."
Qari Muhammad Asim MBE, Chief Imam, Makkah Masjid said: "Many
refugees with close family members in the UK are risking their
lives trying to escape deplorable conditions in camps and reunite
with their families. Many lives could be saved if safe legal routes
were secured by the Government."
The Rt Revd Peter Hill, Bishop of Barking pointed to the failures
in family reunion policy affecting unaccompanied refugee children:
"The system is broken and The Home Office must establish a
functional system which delivers now, without bureaucratic delays.
At the current rate of reunification it will take a year before all
the children in Calais are reunited with their families. This is
forcing children to take matters into their own hands on rail
tracks, stowing away in lorries and putting themselves into the
hands of unscrupulous people traffickers. How can a civilised
country allow this to continue?"
Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, DL, Director Network of Sikh
Organisations UK said: "We all have a responsibility to help those
forced to make perilous journeys fleeing horrendous conflict, and
reunite families tragically torn apart."
The faith leaders join over 350 judges and lawyers who published
an open letter to the Prime Minister on 12 October 2015, signed,
among others, by the former President of the UK Supreme Court and
other former law lords.
They also join over 120 senior economists who wrote a scathing
open letter to the Prime Minister in February 2016, including the
former Deputy General Secretary of the United Nations, the former
Director General of the World Trade Organization's General
Agreement on Trade and Tariffs and the former Vice President of the
27 major humanitarian and refugee NGOs also published their own
letter on 4 January 2016, including Oxfam, Amnesty International,
the Refugee Council and Christian Aid.
The series of letters to the Prime Minister from senior
leaders of these sectors of civic society urge the Government to
adhere to 'four refugee principles', setting out minimum standards
for a fair and humane refugee policy.
Notes to Editors
The current immigration rules render it almost impossible for
many British citizens and permanent residents and for recognised
refugees already living in the UK to bring certain categories of
close family members to join them. Those stringent rules are
currently not relaxed even if the overseas family members overseas
are refugees living in desperate conditions. In addition, although
many unaccompanied minors in Calais, Dunkirk and on the streets of
Greece have family members in the UK and a right under European law
to come to the UK to be reunited with them, the children are unable
to enter the UK due to bureaucratic obstacles and Home Office
inertia. Faith leaders say this must change.