Why the Church will continue to campaign for refugees

27 April 2022

The Nationality and Borders Bill is to become law despite fierce opposition from many including the faith sector. The Revd Sonia Hicks and Barbara Easton, President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, joined other faith leaders in writing to MPs earlier this month: 'We have made it clear how we feel the Bill fails to uphold the principles and values of the UK by creating hostility and fostering discrimination against some of the most vulnerable people in the world. '

Hannah Brown, Campaigns and Church Engagement Officer at The Joint Public Issues Team, explains why the Church has fought against the Bill and how this is grounded in a long history of standing up for the Biblical imperative to welcome the stranger.

Over recent weeks, Church leaders have appealed to MPs and Peers to use these last stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill to demonstrate compassion and care for our common humanity by voting for amendments to the Bill. You can read their letters here.

Faith groups have been a vocal component of the widespread civil society opposition to the Nationality and Borders Bill since its inception. The threat the Bill poses to the dignity, wellbeing and even life or death of human beings created in the image of God is too high for us to falter in our opposition now.

Church leaders have been criticised for joining the debate about asylum and immigration plans. They have found themselves caught in the supposed bind between morality and practicality, accused of laying down criticisms which do not have a basis in genuine suggestions for action. Yet since the beginning of this Bill’s passage through Parliament, and with previous asylum and migration policy, Churches have been vocal advocates for safe and accessible routes by which people can claim asylum.

We have called for family reunion and for humanitarian resettlement schemes, to stop the push back of small boats in The Channel, to grant asylum seekers the right to work. We have been pioneers of community sponsorship. We have written briefings, met with our MPs, campaigned and called for change. We have not left the practicalities up to others – across the UK, church members have been in the very midst of welcoming the stranger. In doing so, we have proved that morality and practicality are not untenable partners, but fundamental characteristics of policy which demonstrates the very best of who we are as a society.

Throughout all of this, we have learnt the value of a crucial failure of the Nationality and Borders Bill. Workable, practical and ambitious schemes for resettlement and support of people seeking asylum cannot be created without prioritising lived experience. Repeatedly, the proposals made in the Bill fail to account for the experiences of people who have made treacherous journeys to seek safety. They do not recognise the impact of the trauma of fleeing war, or escaping persecution. Instead, they treat people as a problem to be dealt with, to be shipped abroad, passed on to someone else, or processed in detention.

This is not only immoral, but it is impractical. It removes people from the communities within which they could be enabled to rest, repair and move forward. It withholds their ability to make decisions which will help them integrate, to begin a new life, and eventually to contribute to the communities they live within. If almost two thirds of people who claim asylum in the UK are eventually successful, why would we restrict their ability to be fruitful members of our communities?

Members of the House of Lords have repeatedly suggested amendments to the Bill which would inch it towards some semblance of compassion, of workable policies which also account for wellbeing. They have suggested that we expand and protect family reunion rights, that we enable asylum seekers to work, that we establish a target for resettlement, and that we end the unworkable two-tier system for processing asylum claims. On Tuesday 26 April, they voted for three final amendments in a last attempt to make changes. Denying these changes would be voting against the lives of vulnerable children, men, women and families who are in desperate need of our support.

The biblical mandate is clear that we should ‘welcome the stranger’. Regardless of criticism, and the outcome of this week’s votes, we will not stop advocating for love to be shown to our neighbour through the policies and practices in our asylum system. Churches across the UK will continue to come alongside those who remain in desperate need of our friendship and welcome.

We have partnered with Together with Refugees in opposing the Bill. Find out more about how to support this campaign going forward here