Senior religious leaders gather to call for new refugee policy

To read about the sponsorship of refugees inBirmingham please click here.

The Vice President of the Methodist Church, Rachel Lampard, haschaired the launch of a letter from over 200 faith leaders to thePrime Minister calling for more help to be given to refugeesfleeing Syria, Iraq and other areas of conflict. The launch tookplace at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London on the 12 September2016.  
Religious leaders, including Methodist President the Revd DrRoger Walton, and 17 Methodist District Chairs have added theirnames to a growing roll-call of prominent voices criticising theGovernment's response to the refugee crisis as too slow and toonarrow, including former judges, eminent lawyers and senioreconomists.

In an unprecedented joint initiative, senior faith leaders haveasked Theresa May to unblock rules currently preventing familiesfrom being reunited.

In her speech as chair of the launch, Rachel Lampard said: "At thecentre of our call today is support for families. Whatever shapethey are, families are a necessary part what it is to be human. Asfaith leaders, we are deeply concerned that current Governmentpolicy undermines the chance that many refugees have to a familylife.

"Under current British immigration rules, it is almost impossiblefor a British citizen to bring to this country some categories oftheir family, even if the family members are living in refugeecamps."

Also present was the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord DrRowan Williams, who commented: "We make (the proposal) because thepace seems very slow at the moment in responding to this crisis. Wehave had several months of discussion about the reuniting ofchildren with parents. We have, as yet, very little to show forit."

Referring to society's response to the crisis, he added: "Therefugee issue is not going to go away, however much we put ourfingers in our ears and screw our eyes tight shut - that is notgoing to change. Turning people away does not solve the problem, itshifts the burden very often in the world we currently live in onto those less able to bear it than we are.

"The issue is not going to disappear, and so it's futile andfoolish to pretend that it will if we ignore it for longenough."

In their open letter, senior Christian, Muslim and Jewish clericsand leading representatives of other faiths have pointed to seriousdefects in family reunion policy for refugees, leading to'avoidable tragedies'.

The letter says:
"Under the present immigration rules, a British doctor ofSyrian origin could not bring her parents from a refugee camp inLebanon - even though they were refugees and she could support andhouse them.

"A Syrian child who arrived alone in the UK could not bring hisparents from a refugee camp in Jordan - even if the child wererecognised a refugee and even though his parents were themselvesrefugees.

"Families in these situations can currently be reunited only byresorting to desperately unsafe irregular journeys, sometimesending in avoidable tragedies."

One of the signatories of the letter, Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBEsaid: "Being the son of refugees from Hitler, who lost over 100 oftheir close family members because of the lack of compassion andvision with regard to family reunification by the authorities atthat time, I feel especially obliged to help ensure that we don'trepeat those mistakes."

Qari Muhammad Asim MBE, Chief Imam, Makkah Masjid said: "Manyrefugees with close family members in the UK are risking theirlives trying to escape deplorable conditions in camps and reunitewith their families. Many lives could be saved if safe legal routeswere secured by the Government."

The Rt Revd Peter Hill, Bishop of Barking pointed to the failuresin family reunion policy affecting unaccompanied refugee children:"The system is broken and The Home Office must establish afunctional system which delivers now, without bureaucratic delays.At the current rate of reunification it will take a year before allthe children in Calais are reunited with their families. This isforcing children to take matters into their own hands on railtracks, stowing away in lorries and putting themselves into thehands of unscrupulous people traffickers. How can a civilisedcountry allow this to continue?"

Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, DL, Director Network of SikhOrganisations UK said: "We all have a responsibility to help thoseforced to make perilous journeys fleeing horrendous conflict, andreunite families tragically torn apart."

The faith leaders join over 350 judges and lawyers who publishedan open letter to the Prime Minister on 12 October 2015, signed,among others, by the former President of the UK Supreme Court andother former law lords.

They also join over 120 senior economists who wrote a scathingopen letter to the Prime Minister in February 2016, including theformer Deputy General Secretary of the United Nations, the formerDirector General of the World Trade Organization's GeneralAgreement on Trade and Tariffs and the former Vice President of theWorld Bank.

27 major humanitarian and refugee NGOs also published their ownletter on 4 January 2016, including Oxfam, Amnesty International,the Refugee Council and Christian Aid.
The series of letters to the Prime Minister from seniorleaders of these sectors of civic society urge the Government toadhere to 'four refugee principles', setting out minimum standardsfor a fair and humane refugee policy.

Notes to Editors
The current immigration rules render it almost impossible formany British citizens and permanent residents and for recognisedrefugees already living in the UK to bring certain categories ofclose family members to join them. Those stringent rules arecurrently not relaxed even if the overseas family members overseasare refugees living in desperate conditions. In addition, althoughmany unaccompanied minors in Calais, Dunkirk and on the streets ofGreece have family members in the UK and a right under European lawto come to the UK to be reunited with them, the children are unableto enter the UK due to bureaucratic obstacles and Home Officeinertia. Faith leaders say this must change.