The organisation ‘Seeking Sanctuary’ aims to raise awareness about people displaced from their homes and to channel basic humanitarian assistance from Faith Communities and Community Organisations via partnerships with experienced aid workers. Their special concern is for the 2000 or so exiles who are stuck in north-western France, mistakenly expecting a welcome in the UK. For more information visit their website (www.seekingsanctuary.weebly.
On the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of King Charles
Alongside so many other organisations we offer our profound condolences at this difficult time. We cannot of course know the views of our late Queen on asylum and refugee related issues, but we can be sure that through her many journeys and commitments to the Commonwealth as well as her public utterances she was committed to multiculturalism and racial equality, as is our new King who has a long record in promoting many inititiatives to promote equality, and efforts to establish justice and peace.
Might our late Queen with her fondness of the story of the Good Samaritan even have cautioned against forced deportations to Rwanda? We would like to think so …
‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ …
Ben writes: We are very conscious of the need not to ‘proselytise’ in our updates and the need to respect the views and beliefs of you, the recipients of our updates.
And yet this passage from the Gospel of John is striking and relevant to the crises in the world in which we find ourselves. It describes a belief which transcends faith and belief systems which is based on respect for the dignity of human persons.
That is the message that we take from the World Day for Migrants and Refugees on 25th September. For so many of our friends life is about survival – and the granting of asylum might be the first step in enabling someone fleeing persecution to ‘live life to the full.’
The theme of the World Day was ‘Building the future with migrants and refugees’. Note the wording – the future needs to be built ‘with’ rather than ‘for’ migrants and refugees. A future that, in the words of Pope Francis, leaves no-one behind.
The Political Scene – surrounded by myths
From Ugandan Asians fleeing Idi Amin to Ukrainians seeking refuge from war, Britain has a strong heritage of welcoming those less fortunate than us. Yet asylum remains one of the political policy areas led by rhetoric rather than facts and most fraught with division and polarisation.
Many worry that the asylum system is not sustainable and the government’s perceived lack of control of borders contributes to this. There is no coherent national refugee strategy and a long-term vision is needed to move away from crisis management. Anyone fleeing war and persecution should be able access a fair hearing and live in safety and dignity.
Major barriers to rational discussion result from the repetition of several myths.
First, a belief that refugees deserve to be treated with compassion and given a fair hearing does not mean that you are in favour of uncontrolled migration. Refugee applications make up only a small percentage of the total immigration figures, but concerns about economic migration create scapegoats out of refugees without reducing migration figures.
A second myth is that the number making treacherous and very visible Channel crossings can only be reduced through deterrence policies such as the Rwanda plan. However, such policies are ineffective, costly and risk weakening the global system for managing asylum claims. Quite apart from questions of morality, the cost of creating a sufficient deterrent is too great to have any meaningful impact on the number undertaking Channel crossings. Many of those reaching Calais have faced incredible hardships at home and on their journeys: they are not deterred by the probability of a flight to Rwanda.
Viable ways forward must start with diplomacy. We must strengthen collaboration to stop smuggling and secure agreement from our European partners for creating mechanisms to review cases elsehwere in Europe (with safeguards so that asylum claims are looked at before people arrive here). Additionally, we should create safe routes so that we take a fair share of displaced people and create incentives for European partners to uphold their side of the bargain.
Another important myth is that we do not have the capacity to manage the current caseload safely. This is based on publicity over the use of poor quality asylum hotels costing an astonishing £1 billion annually. The asylum backlog creates a major challenge to orderly management as well as pushing up the exorbitant costs. Clearance of the backlog is essential, and meantime while there are labour shortages, people seeing asylum should be allowed to work and contribute to the common good of UK society.
Asylum and refugee policy should not be divisive.
Our four point plan for avoiding dangerous Channel crossings
We need to find a way of countering the narrative of ‘illegals’ crossing in small boats which has been repeated again by the new Home Secretary. Here are our proposals which would do away with small boat crossings as well as cutting the risk of asylum seekers falling into the hands of people smugglers.
- Open a UK asylum processing centre in Calais using Border Force personnel who are already deployed there, together with interpreters. (The Centre could equally well be in another accessible location such as Lille or Paris.)
- Develop a system of timed appointments so as not to overwhelm the Centre. These can be made online to avoid unnecessary journeys to Calais. Support and help.would be needed to enable applicants to access the system, for example through a dedicated multi-lingual website.
- Provide safe Channel crossings for those who have been interviewed and whose applications are being processed. Provide UK accommodation as at present.
- Provide finance for the French authorities to provide safe and dignified accommodation for those who are waiting to have their claims heard.
Under these proposals there would be no need for people to make dangerous Channel crossings. The resources now deployed in border patrols, etc., could be diverted, and most important of all, nobody would put their lives at risk. Your views on these proposals are welcome ….
And the cost of living crisis with its implications for asylum seekers
Those waiting for decisions on their applications in the UK are often housed in poor quality, temporary accommodation. It is more than likely that many will have to use key meters for electric power, which can cost up to 25% more than ordinary meters.
And yet the question remains – how to manage dramatically increased costs on a budget of £37 per week which has to cover food and all other expenses. The simple answer is that it can’t be done – do let us know about the impact of the cost of living crisis on asylum seekers in your area so that we can lobby on this issue, as required.
Focus on conflict and civil war – the tragic situation in Burkina Faso …
This month we turn our attention to the tragic events emerging in the West African state of Burkina Faso. This country has been grappling with a jihadist insurgency that swept in from Mali in 2015. During 2021 there were a number of attacks by armed Islamist Groups which marked a deterioration in human rights and security.
The country was further destabilised by a military coup in January this year. And it is experiencing its worst food crisis in a decade. Currently 600,000 people are existing at emergency hunger levels.
The attacks have continued and on 5th September 35 people died on a bus as they were nearing the capital, Ouagadugou. The town of Djibo has been blockaded since May and is hosting nearly 300,000 displaced people. It is estimated that nearly 5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance – about a quarter of the total population of the country. And 1.9 million people have been forced to leave their homes. Yet another example of news from a human catastrophe which has barely reached our consciousness.
Disturbing reports also reach us from Eritrea, where in the past few months the military have been targeting boys and young men during Church services. Recently members of an entire choir in their robes were abducted to a military camp to fight as soldiers in current conflicts. It’s no wonder that so many young Eritreans are forced to seek sanctuary away from their country …
A good time was had by all
Meanwhile we would like to thank those of you who contributed so generously to our appeal for a meal for residents of Napier Barracks to mark the World Day on 25th September. A total of £220 was raised. Because of logistical problems it was not possible to stick to our original plan for a meal in a local restaurant – instead we used the funds to book an excellent local caterer to deliver quality food to the barracks – this benefited many more of the 300+ residents than could be taken out to a restaurant. It was a pleasant surprise from the bleakness of the barracks.
With our thanks for your concern for our neighbours who suffer,
Phil & Ben.