01 November 2001

Methodist leaders respond to the Government review on Asylum

Home Secretary David Blunkett this week announced changes to the Government's policy on immigration and asylum seekers. Responding to this review, the President of the Methodist Conference, Rev Christina Le Moignan, and Vice President, Mrs Ann Leck, made the following comments:

"We warmly welcome the proposal to end the voucher system for asylum seekers. This is a first step towards ending what is a socially divisive system that undermines the dignity of asylum seekers. An increase in cash as part of the weekly allowance will help initially. We must be wary also of ID cards becoming a new stigma for asylum seekers.

We applaud an end to the use of mainstream prisons to hold asylum seekers. We welcome, in principle, plans to open new accommodation centres. However, these will only work if there is good access to education, legal advice and health care. Those housed in the new centres must not feel like they are in little more than detention centres. Their cases must be dealt with quickly enough that they do not become institutionalised.

There is a good opportunity here for the Church to show practical care for asylum seekers. There are already substantial efforts being made by Methodists and others to reach out to asylum seekers in existing detention centres and local authority accommodation. Now churches and other groups near to planned new centres might wish to consider providing pastoral support to those who will be housed there while their applications are being considered.

Above all, it is important to remember that asylum seekers are people who have the right to have their case considered seriously and speedily, and that they should be treated with dignity while that process takes place. It is encouraging to hear that the Home Secretary intends to speed up the process, but this must not be at the expense of a fair hearing and right of appeal.

It is laudable that the Home Secretary is attempting to reduce the extensive backlog of asylum applications to the UK. But this may give us the mistaken impression that the long queue of asylum seekers is a problem with a finite end. We no longer live in a world with the hard borders that may have existed even just a few decades ago. As our global population becomes more mobile for all sorts of reasons, we may have to learn new ways to deal with the increasing crossing of borders."

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