Methodist leaders respond to the Government review on Asylum

Home Secretary David Blunkett this week announced changes to theGovernment's policy on immigration and asylum seekers. Respondingto this review, the President of the Methodist Conference, RevChristina Le Moignan, and Vice President, Mrs Ann Leck, made thefollowing comments:

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

We applaud an end to the use of mainstream prisons to holdasylum seekers. We welcome, in principle, plans to open newaccommodation centres. However, these will only work if there isgood access to education, legal advice and health care. Thosehoused in the new centres must not feel like they are in littlemore than detention centres. Their cases must be dealt with quicklyenough that they do not become institutionalised.

There is a good opportunity here for the Church to showpractical care for asylum seekers. There are already substantialefforts being made by Methodists and others to reach out to asylumseekers in existing detention centres and local authorityaccommodation. Now churches and other groups near to planned newcentres might wish to consider providing pastoral support to thosewho will be housed there while their applications are beingconsidered.

Above all, it is important to remember that asylum seekers arepeople who have the right to have their case considered seriouslyand speedily, and that they should be treated with dignity whilethat process takes place. It is encouraging to hear that the HomeSecretary intends to speed up the process, but this must not be atthe expense of a fair hearing and right of appeal.

It is laudable that the Home Secretary is attempting to reducethe extensive backlog of asylum applications to the UK. But thismay give us the mistaken impression that the long queue of asylumseekers is a problem with a finite end. We no longer live in aworld with the hard borders that may have existed even just a fewdecades ago. As our global population becomes more mobile for allsorts of reasons, we may have to learn new ways to deal with theincreasing crossing of borders."