Last Updated on 19 July 2023 by Ann-Marie Nye
The United Reformed Church (URC) has joined nearly 300 civil society groups and charities in expressing solidarity with refugees as the government’s controversial Illegal Migration Bill passes into law this week.
In a statement, signed by representatives from each of the organisations, including the Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, Moderator of the URC General Assembly, the signatories accused the government of abandoning its legal and moral obligations towards refugees.
The statement reads:
“We all deserve to live safe from harm. But this senselessly cruel Act will have a devastating impact on people’s lives. It turns our country’s back on people seeking safety, blocking them from protection, support, and justice at a time they need it most.
In abandoning the UK’s moral and legal obligations, the Act risks breaching multiple international human rights treaties including the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights while shielding the government from accountability. The UK government has admitted that it cannot confirm if the Act is compatible with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Act will force people into situations that threaten their lives – whether by placing children in detention or sending people off to countries where their lives might be at grave risk. Moreover, the Act attacks the very core of human rights, which is the principle that we all have them regardless of who we are or where we are from. In stripping the most basic rights from people seeking safety and a better life, the Act dismantles human rights protections for all of us.
Either all of us have human rights, or none of us do. While the UK government’s plans will harm those seeking safety the most, this is an attack on all of us and the values we hold dear.
The government has rushed through this law despite broad and deep opposition. But our fight is not over. As caring people, we will continue to fight for the right for people to seek safety and a better life without being forced to take dangerous journeys and without being punished for how they enter the UK. We will keep holding those in power to account for upholding the UK’s international obligations. We will strive for an asylum and immigration system that treats everyone with dignity and respect. We will stand in solidarity with and fight alongside everyone who makes the UK their home and build a society that treats everyone with compassion.”
The URC has been outspoken in its opposition to the Illegal Migration Bill since it was announced by the government earlier this year. Working with ecumenical allies in the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT), it coordinated a public statement from senior church leaders arguing that the Bill would “foster discrimination and distrust” and cause “immeasurable harm”. Read the public statement coordinated by JPIT, supported by more than 14500 church leaders and handed to the Prime Minister in April.
The Illegal Migration Act will make it illegal for people to claim asylum in the UK if they arrive via ‘irregular’ routes. It will result in the detention and potential deportation of thousands of people made vulnerable by war and persecution, and create a range of challenges around infrastructure in the UK to house and support people whilst attempts are made to remove them from the country.
The Church’s General Assembly in July passed a resolution from the North Western Synod condemning the Bill for undermining the UK’s long-standing commitment to human rights and the protection of human dignity.
Simeon Mitchell, the URC’s Secretary for Church and Society and JPIT Team Leader, said: “Our Churches will continue to advocate for safe and legal routes by which people can claim asylum in the UK, and for policies which treat people with dignity and respect. Many local churches continue to be active in their communities, welcoming refugees and asylum seekers and offering support and care. This is essential work, and bears witness to our Biblical calling to welcome the stranger.”
If you’d like to find out more about some of the challenges facing the UK’s asylum system, you can:
Image: Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0.