Joint Public Issues Team Blog

Joint Public Issues Team Blog

Asylum Applications and Christian Belief

Posted: 16 May 2018 02:25 AM PDT

A briefing for ministers called to give evidence in support of asylum applications.

This briefing was originally published in May 2017 but has been updated in May 2018 in order to provide the most up-to-date and accurate information

Many people seek asylum in the UK on the grounds that they fear persecution as Christians or as converts to Christianity in their country of origin. Some may have entered the UK as Christians or have experienced a conversion to Christianity after they have arrived. Some of these worship in our local churches and participate in the life of the congregation.

As a result, ministers and members of our congregations are confronted, possibly for the first time, with the complexities of the asylum process. Some ministers are called to testify at hearings as to the genuineness of an applicant’s Christian faith.

This briefing offers some general guidance. Although the scenario refers to a URC congregation, this guidance is intended to be used by all denominations – please adapt it to your individual circumstance.

Asylum Applications and Christian Belief


The starless midnight of Gaza – praying for peace

Posted: 15 May 2018 08:31 AM PDT

On the 15th day of every month Methodists around Britain and Ireland pray with Christians in the Middle East.

Today I held my Methodist prayer handbook alongside my newsfeed, and I almost wept.  Two weeks ago I was in Israel and Palestine, and as I prayed I pictured the people I met.

With the killings of at least 60 Palestinians in Gaza yesterday, and the killing and wounding of many others over the past few weeks, and the deliberate forestalling of any final status peace negotiations with the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, I prayed for Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land.

I pray for peace, but sometimes the bright spots of peace look as if they will be overwhelmed.

Just two weeks ago I saw something of the grinding reality of the occupation of the West Bank – the separation barrier, the checkpoints, the permit system, the military incursions, the expanding settlements.  I heard the Israeli Defence Force spokesperson talk about how Gazan protesters were legitimate targets because they were Hamas supporters.  And I heard the Palestinian Authority representative defend the speech by Mahmoud Abbas denying the nature of the Holocaust.  I left the country feeling pessimistic and today it looks worse

And yet…I was also privileged to meet people committed to peace – the Hand in Hand school where Arabic and Hebrew are taught together and narratives of Israeli Independence Day are told alongside the stories of the Nakba 1.  The Abraham Fund which finances initiatives which make encounters between communities more possible and equitable.  Individuals committed to the dialogue which is a pre-requisite for peace.  The family at the Tent of Nations with their patient, welcoming non-violent resistance against settlement encroachment in violation of international law.

The prospects for peace look grim today.  But I find challenge in the words of Martin Luther King:

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Unarmed truth and unconditional love.  Isn’t this the way of Jesus, who walked the roads of the Holy Land, and teaches us the ways of justice and peace?   As we “seek peace and pursue it” what does it mean to listen for the truth needed for justice and peace, and to let it be heard?  How do we overcome the starless night of violence and injustice with the bright daybreak of unconditional love?

Today, all I can do is to pray for those who have been killed or injured, for those who are violent and those who are peaceful, for those who are striving for dialogue, for those who have the power and responsibility to negotiate for change, and for those who feel powerless.  I will give to one of the charities working to pick up the pieces in Gaza.  And I will read, listen and discuss with others how to act.

And so this day of all days I pray: “May true peace be found in the Holy Land, with Israelis and Palestinians understanding each other’s needs….For all who live in the Holy Lands of sacred scriptures, we pray.”


  1. “Nakba” or Day of Catastrophe is how Palestinians refer to their experiences of expulsion in the 1948 war

Pulling the plug on the Iran deal

Posted: 09 May 2018 06:37 AM PDT

The complete collapse of the Iran deal would be disastrous[1] but could the Trump administration still score a foreign policy success with Iran?×512.jpg 768w,×400.jpg 600w, 800w” sizes=”(max-width: 350px) 100vw, 350px” />Donald Trump takes personal credit for Kim Jong-Un’s recent decision to halt missile and nuclear warhead testing.  He was backed by most of the international community on the need to apply pressure, although not necessarily in his choice of language.  But by going it alone with Iran, Donald Trump risks a monumental two-fold foreign policy failure.   He might fail to influence the Iranian military threat and simultaneously weaken the relationship with NATO allies.

Let’s hope that Trump has a strategy for working with the international community in such a way that constrains rather than inflames the situation in the Middle East.

Sadly we do not have good grounds for such hope as the Trump record so far is not good.

For example, when threatening to pull out of the Paris climate deal he thought that it could be amended to better suit America.  It couldn’t, and it is difficult to see any single positive foreign policy gain for the US arising from that decision.

On Israel/Palestine, in December 2017 we learnt that the US had a new and radically different plan for resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict that would be announced within weeks.  To date the much vaunted peace plan has not been released.  There is little evidence of a plan that comprehends the aspirations of both peoples.

With respect to Iran, Trump anticipates that the US could inflict significant damage on the country’s economy which might harm the Iranian Government’s military spending.  To achieve this the US would need to impose secondary sanctions on European firms which would erode foreign policy and trade cooperation with NATO allies.

Looking for positives, we might find one aspect of Trump’s announcement yesterday useful.  While castigating Iran’s leadership as a “murderous regime” he recognises that they are rational actors driven by national interest and he briefly placed himself in their shoes.

“Iran’s leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal. They refuse, and that’s fine. I’d probably say the same thing if I was in their position. But the fact is, they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people.”

But the businessman in Trump needs to appreciate that even severe economic hardship is not likely to divert the Iranian leadership from pursuing national interests and preserving national identity. If the President’s staff are to avoid a huge two-fold foreign policy failure they must work harder to understand the position of others over the coming months.  If US pride and unilateralism is paramount they may not bother to try.



[1] The Iran deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA) sustains the all-important nuclear verification regime.  Yesterday’s announcement is irreversible, but there are a few weeks or months, in which to negotiate the extent of US sanctions. This might determine the Iranian leadership’s continued commitment to the JCPOA.


Power posing: cause for concern?

Posted: 03 May 2018 12:54 AM PDT

Rachel Allison explores the latest trend of political power posing and asks what it means that our politicians think they must be superheroes…

There has been a lot of talk about ‘power-posing’ this week.  The new Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, decided to power pose outside the Home Office for photos after his appointment.  Standing with his legs slightly too far apart, the aim seemed to be to imitate a heavyweight boxing champion.  The consensus seemed to be that he didn’t really pull it off and just reminded everyone George Osborne at the 2015 Conservative Party Conference.

I, myself,

prefer a superwoman power pose

I, myself, prefer a superwoman power pose – but only in the privacy of the toilet cubicle for a pre-meeting confidence boost. Power poses do have some great benefits, especially for women, as Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy and her colleagues explore in their paper and TED talk.[1] Try it.

However, I would argue that the public power posing of high profile politicians is a cause for concern

Besides making politicians look a bit odd, power posing is a type of body language designed to say: I am strong, powerful and mighty.  It propagates the idea that politicians should be super human, all powerful beings who are going to change the world.  It makes us believe that they have the power and confidence to do things which are not humanly possible and can sometimes make us less forgiving of them when they make mistakes.

It is easy to get frustrated when you get an automated reply to a handwritten letter, or your MP won’t get on board with your very reasonable request for world peace by end of play tomorrow.  But behind that slightly short response to your complaint is an over worked and often underappreciated human being.  Someone who is constantly being told that they have to get it right all the time, be strong and not show weakness. We should expect our politicians to be remarkable, but we cannot expect them to be perfect.

As Christians we have a responsibility to care for our MPs and local councillors, to not just demand things from them but also encourage them in the good work that they do.

We also have a responsibility to advocate for a different kind of leadership, like the leadership shown by Jesus.  A leadership which is grounded in humility, integrity and, compassion.

Helen and Rachel admit that true strength

does not come through a superwoman pose…

True strength does not come through a superwoman pose.  Power and strength come through accepting that as people we are flawed, we mess up and we need a helping hand sometimes. A big part of leadership is being able to admit when you are wrong, saying sorry and trying better next time. When we perpetuate the myth that MPs are super humans we don’t allow them the space to do that.

So next time you write to your MP remember that they are just like you and I. They probably got involved in politics to make the world better. They are probably trying their best and they are definitely, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu says: ‘made for goodness’.

If you’re living in an area with local elections this week why not send your newly elected Councillors a welcome letter.

You could send your MP a letter thanking them for their hard work or even send them a box of chocolates.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must all remember to continually hold our elected representatives in our prayers. Let us pray for their wellbeing, and let us pray that they might make decisions which work towards the common good.

Good Ruddance to the hostile environment?

Posted: 01 May 2018 06:21 AM PDT

Home Secretary Amber Rudd is the Cabinet’s latest casualty. Helen Byrne hopes she takes her Department’s ‘hostile environment’ policy with her:

Amber Rudd has resigned, her position untenable following the Windrush Scandal. The final straw was a leaked document which undermined her claim, made to Parliament, that she was unaware of Home Office deportation targets; this was at best negligent and at worst, a lie.

Rudd’s resignation is perhaps a small triumph for the generation so wronged by their country’s immigration policy and for civil society groups working to expose its inhumanity. They have been heard. The former Home Secretary has been replaced by a British person of Pakistani Muslim heritage whose first instinct upon hearing of the fiasco was to think ‘it could have been me’.

In her resignation letter, Mrs Rudd made a distinction between the Windrush generation and ‘those who do not have the right to be here’. Such a distinction is important. I spoke last week with an African-Caribbean friend who emphasised his Britishness, commenting that his community did not wish to be conflated with people who were in the country illegally.

But just as we cannot conflate the various categories of migrants, we cannot conflate legality with morality. In the name of “creating a really hostile environment for illegal immigration”, government policies have forced undocumented migrants and those refused asylum into homelessness, treated people as criminals to be indefinitely detained, denied people access to emergency NHS care and left people either to take the risk of exploitation in the shadow economy, or to eke out a meagre existence on asylum support of less than £6 a day.

They have done so legally.

Branding a person ‘illegal’ in order to justify visiting extreme suffering upon them undermines the legitimacy of the law. It undermines our reputation as a country that has a proud history of welcome and a tradition of liberty and respect for the individual. It undermines our very social fabric by effectively turning teachers, doctors, employers and landlords into border guards without our consent.

As our denominations build a campaign on the hostile environment, we are consulting with churches and members who are doing amazing work with refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented peoples in their communities. Some speak of the ‘incredible cruelty’, of the Home Office. Collecting the stories of the people affected by these policies has been a sobering exercise. Many only ‘survive through people’s kindness’.

Mr Javid’s stated commitment to righting the wrongs committed against the Windrush generation is reassuring. But simply distancing himself from the term ‘hostile environment’, while continuing to pursue the policies of his predecessors, would be an empty gesture. The ‘dignity and respect’ he promises must be extended to everyone who calls this country home – whether they are deemed to be ‘legal’ or not.

Do you have experience of the Hostile Environment? Let us know how it is affecting you or those in your community:

Minimum Unit Pricing Live in Scotland

Posted: 01 May 2018 04:58 AM PDT

As of 1st May 2018 Scotland has introduced minimum unit pricing (MUP), a policy which targets harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption. This fact-sheet gives an overview of why minimum unit pricing is necessary and encourages individuals and churches to push for England to follow suit.

You can either read the fact-sheet below or you can download it here:

MUP live in Scotland

What does this mean for alcohol pricing in Scotland?

  • A new minimum unit price of 50p per unit of alcohol in Scotland means prices of cheap drinks with high alcohol content will rise. If you’re living in Scotland you can now expect a minimum of around £1 for a typical can of lager, £1.50 for a pint of larger in a pub, £4.50 for a bottle of wine, and £14 for a 700ml bottle of whisky.
  • This will only affect a small proportion of the alcohol sold in Scotland. Minimum unit pricing links the cost of alcohol to its strength and targets the excessively cheap price of certain drinks preferred by hazardous and harmful drinkers.
  • For example, a recent study from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK found that 3-litre bottles of high strength white cider are being sold for as little as 16p per unit. This means it is possible to pay as little as £3.50 for the equivalent alcohol content of 22 shots of vodka. With a minimum unit price of 50p in place it will now be £11.25 in Scotland.
  • Minimum unit pricing will cost responsible drinkers just a few pence a week, but save lives and a huge cost to society.

Is this really necessary?

  • For 15 to 49 year olds, the leading cause of death is alcohol.
  • The cost to the NHS of alcohol misuse is an estimated £3.5 billion per year, and the cost to law enforcement in England and Wales is an estimated £13 billion.
  • It has been calculated that of all child social care costs, 34% are related to alcohol.

Why now?

  • Scottish Parliament voted in 2012 to introduce minimum unit pricing, a measure that targets harmful drinking. However, the drinks industry reacted with a legal challenge, delaying this important legislation.
  • The UK Supreme Court finally ruled that minimum unit pricing is legal on 15th November 2017. This policy is long awaited.

What next?

  • The National Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland are making progress towards introducing similar policies.
  • Research suggests that a minimum unit price of 50p in England would save 525 lives a year, reduce hospital admissions by 22,000 and alcohol related costs to wider society would be cut by £3.7 billion over the next two decades.[1] And yet the UK Government has failed to take the necessary steps to introduce this life saving policy.
  • Now that Scotland has become the first country in the world to implement minimum unit pricing, it is time to remind the UK Government not to leave England behind.

Take action


  • Living in England, Wales or Norther Ireland? Tweet your local MP saying you want to follow Scotland’s example using #mupsaveslives
  • Living in Scotland? Celebrate! Why not tweet your local MP or MSP telling them how pleased you are?
  • Write to your local MP or arrange to meet them to discuss alcohol pricing (find out who your MP is and their contact details at
  • Write to the letters page of your local newspaper, pointing out the cost of alcohol misuse in your local area and describing the difference that minimum unit pricing would make.

You may also wish to:

  • Start conversations in your church; talk to those who work in alcohol counselling, members of your communities and churches with first-hand experience of the cost of harmful drinking.

Useful links – Our full briefing on MUP –The Alcohol Health Alliance brings together more than 40 organisations that have a shared interest in reducing the damage caused to health by alcohol. – Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs


[1] Angus, C. et al (2016), Alcohol and cancer trends: Intervention Scenarios. University of Sheffield and Cancer Research UK


The Asylum and Refugee Community

Posted: 27 Apr 2018 06:45 AM PDT

A story sent by Rev John Howard-Norman of Wesley Hall Methodist Church, Blackburn:

As the nations of Europe struggle to make an adequate response to the needs of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war, violence and oppression, Christians, cannot simply remain bystanders to this unfolding humanitarian tragedy. This crisis is so great it is quite literally of biblical proportions, and it is in the Bible that we discover that so many of God’s people were refugees, including Jesus! It is therefore natural that as Christians, we would want to make some sort of response. The question is, what can we do?

The first thing we must surely do is pray. Prayer opens our hearts to God’s will and purpose in this appalling situation. But is prayer all that we can do, or is there some action we might take? Churches located in those communities who will be hosting Syrian refugees, brought into this country by the British government over the next few months, may feel called to play their part in welcoming those who have lost so much, but having never encountered refugees or asylum seekers before, may feel uncertain about what to do. This is the story of one church’s response.

In 2004 the congregation at Wesley Hall Methodist Church, Blackburn made their own response to those arriving in the town as Asylum Seekers, by hosting a drop-in at the church every Tuesday. The drop-in became known as the ARC Project (the Asylum and Refugee Community). Eleven years on, that drop-in still meets every week. ARC is a place where all are welcome; a safe space, where differences of race and religion are laid aside, as adults and children of different nations and faiths share food and friendship together with the volunteers who support them, many of whom either still are, or have been, asylum seekers.


Those who attend the drop-in each week are often heard to say, ‘ARC is our home’.

In addition to the drop-in, the ARC project volunteers help refugees and asylum seekers at ‘English Club,’ develop their English language skills in a fun and friendly environment. Throughout the week, individual case work is undertaken by the Project Manager, Emily Jones, employed by the West Pennine Moors Methodist Circuit; Rob Cross, Outreach and Wellbeing worker, employed by the Cornerstone GP Practice, and Robin Sarkar, a full-time volunteer. Over recent months the Home Office has speeded up the processing of applications for asylum seekers applying for refugee status,  and what used to take months or even years, is now taking just a few weeks. This means that the ARC staff members are busier than ever, in offering support to those attempting to navigate their way through the complexities of the asylum system. Supported by funding from the Lancashire District of the Methodist Church, Wesley Hall continues to be the home of ARC, so that ARC can continue to be the home of those who once were strangers, but now are friends.

Many thanks to the  Rev John Howard-Norman of Wesley Hall Methodist Church, Blackburn for this story. If you think you have a story about your church that could give guidance to others who are eager to help please share it with us:


Shooting the messenger: DWP’s responds to news that Universal Credit is driving Foodbank use

Posted: 26 Apr 2018 04:45 AM PDT

Foodbank use is up 13% across the UK but in areas with Universal Credit (UC) the rise is a horrendous 52%.

This figure is incredibly important. It is solid nationwide evidence confirming what churches and projects have been saying for some time – that many families are in trouble because of UC. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which administer the benefit, should take this news seriously, but instead they reflexively attacked the Trussell Trust’s research. 1

The problem is not that the Trussell Trust’s research was critiqued – no study is perfect and all evidence should be examined with a critical eye. The problem is that DWP used recycled attack lines that did not engage with the issue or the data, lines designed to discredit and close down further debate.

What was the DWP’s response?

It is important to note that while Trussell’s research is new, the DWP attack lines were identical to ones used against other organisations’ research over recent years.

  • “The reasons why people use food banks are complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause”. 2

I call this the tobacco company defence. The disease process in cancer is incredibly complex, however when all other things are equal, a person who smokes is more likely to get cancer.

People’s lives are hugely complicated but the evidence suggests that when all other things are equal the presence of Universal Credit full service in your area makes going to the foodbank more likely.

Neither statement is welcome news but denying them is dangerous and potentially self-serving.

This line is several years old and the same formulation has also been used to bat away stories linking welfare changes to suicide – sometimes stories of individuals, but also a large scale peer-reviewed research published in a reputable academic journal.

  •  The research is “based on anecdotal evidence from a small, self-selecting sample of less than 0.04 per cent of current universal credit claimants” 3

The evidence for 52% increase in foodbank referrals in UC areas is based on counting actual foodbank use – not anecdote. Trussell counted the number of food-parcels given out in the 32 centers that were in UC full service areas and looked at the change in numbers since UC was introduced. The principle is easy although in practice it is a big task.

second piece of research looked at why the presence of UC quadrupled the rise in foodbank use, and to do this Trussell surveyed users in UC areas. A survey of 284 people exploring people’s experiences isn’t anecdote, it is qualitative research. The DWP should know this, as their evaluations of UC contain many such studies.

The 0.04% number used by the DWP is arrived at by dividing 284 by the total number of UC claimants. While it does the job of undermining good research it is just a plain silly thing to do. Firstly the research is about UC claimants in foodbanks so you should divide 284 into the number of UC claimants in foodbanks – which would make the percentage much bigger. Secondly a 0.04% sample size can be great – it depends on the questions you are asking. Opinion polls, used by the DWP, have sample sizes that are proportionately 100 times less.

This formulation is of attack is also not new. It was used to attack the Citizens Advice research showing that the 6 week wait for the first UC payment was causing rent arrears. Four months later the DWP spent £1.5bn attempting to address the problem identified by CAB’s so-called self-selecting and unrepresentative research.


Politics first – people after

However subjecting the DWP’s comments to this type of scrutiny is not really fair. The intention was not to engage with the evidence of foodbank use – it was about the politics of bolstering a flagship policy that is in trouble. In those terms the attack lines have done their job well. Criticism has been defected and those who want to don’t want to believe UC is driving foodbank use have been given an excuse to dismiss Trussell’s research.

The DWP’s political cover comes at a cost however. The experiences of people in foodbanks are publicly dismissed. The small army of foodbank volunteers and donors who provide the last line of defence against hunger are insulted (and at the report’s launch the audience were vocal about how offensive they felt the DWP’s comments to be). It also discourages honest debate grounded in evidence and experience – the sort of debate that we need.

Perhaps the DWP are reading the report behind the scenes and Trussell with their partners will be able to drive improvements in the system. I truly hope so. But unless those who share their knowledge, experience and research are treated with greater decency, the urgent job of making UC tolerable will become a great deal harder.


  1. Reflexive attack is a common DWP response to criticism. To declare an interest, JPIT was on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour in 2015. We published data showing that 100 people with severe mental health problems had their benefits sanctioned each day. The DWP’s response was that they did not recognise the number, which seemed odd as it was the DWP who supplied the data to us via Freedom of Information requests. 
  2. A standard response was given to news outlets and quotes appear in many different places e.g. IndependentDaily Mail, ITV newsCoventry Telegraph etc 
  3. ibid

Deal or No Deal

Posted: 26 Apr 2018 04:42 AM PDT

Rachel Allison explains the uncertainty about post-Brexit devolution settlements and why the Welsh and Scottish Governments no longer agree.  

Yet again devolution is the issue of the day for Brexit.

Yesterday the government was set to announce its amendments to the EU withdrawal bill which were designed to settle the dispute over the devolved powers.  (For background to this issue please see my previous blog).  But before it was able to announce these the amendments the Scottish Government broke the press embargo to make a statement saying that it would not be accepting the amendments put forward by the government.

What is interesting about this situation is that the Welsh Government has agreed to the amendment and this is the first time the devolved governments have not spoken with a unified voice of the issue of Brexit and clause 11 of the EU Withdrawal Bill.

What is the government’s amendment?

The amendment basically returns the majority of the powers that resided in the EU to the devolved governments, apart from the 24 areas where the UK government wants to retain powers temporarily.  However, the amendment states that if the UK government wishes to change anything in these areas it must consult the devolved governments.

If the devolved governments don’t give their consent to the changes and the UK government decides to continue anyway, they must present a report to both Houses of Parliament explaining why they have come to this conclusion.  This report must also contain a statement from the devolved administrations explaining why they did not support the change.

Parliament is the backstop which makes sure the government doesn’t abuse its power.  There is also a so called ‘sunset clause’ which stipulates when the powers will be returned to the devolved governments.

Why are the devolved governments divided?

Up until this point, the Scottish and Welsh governments were united in opposition to the original clause 11 and the amendment the government tabled and then withdrew at committee stage in the House of Lords.  However, politics now comes into play.  The Welsh and Scottish governments have different political agendas because of the parties who are in charge.

Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon

The Scottish Government wants consent on all legislation tabled which relates to the 24 area 1 where the UK government has temporary powers.  This would in effect give them a veto on this legislation.  This would involve changing the devolution agreements and goes further than the devolved competence by giving Scotland the power to legislate in a way that could impact the whole of the UK.

The Welsh Government on the other hand are happy with the amendments, with the Finance Minister saying that there had been compromises on both sides but there was agreement that UK wide frameworks were required for the operation of internal markets 2.

The different parties who govern the nations have difference stances on devolution.  The Labour Party, which governs Wales, is strong on devolution but is a unionist party and so it is more willing to have powers temporarily residing in Westminster as long as there is a sunset clause and a backstop.  While in Scotland the SNP, who as the name suggests, is a party of independence, not a party of devolution.  Therefore, it is wary of Westminster having any more powers to make changes in Scotland.  Furthermore, unlike Wales, Scotland voted to remain in the European Union and, therefore, the SNP has a mandate to try and keep the post-Brexit situation as close to the status quo as possible.

So what happens now?

The UK government is open to more talks with the Scottish Governments but has set a deadline of the final reading of the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords which will be mid-May.  If an agreement is not reached by this point then there is a possibility that the Scottish Government will have to fall back on the Continuity Bill which is currently being passed through the Scottish Parliament.  This legislation is currently being challenged by the UK Government in the Supreme Court 3, however, and could be overturned.

The UK governments amendment may still be tabled at the Report Stage in the House of Lords but without Scotland mentioned.  Or we might have to wait for another agreement to be formed and presented at the Third Reading.  But after months of uncertainty a statement which causes more uncertainty is all that has been released and this complicated issue is still yet to be resolved.

‘If you lay down with dogs you get fleas’. My personal experience of the hostile environment.

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 02:59 AM PDT

Madalena Leao tells of how one small personal experience demonstrates the very real consequences of a hostile environment for those who look and sound like migrants. She also reflects on the miasma of suspicion and distrust it spreads throughout our society.

This week Amber Rudd explained the disgraceful treatment of children of the Windrush with the words ‘the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual’. This she claimed was a surprise and a shock to her. But it should not have been. The experience of the Windrush generation of Caribbean migrants is a direct consequence of Theresa May’s decision to ‘create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal immigration’.

The hostile environment means that immigrants no longer only face border controls entering the country – they face them in their everyday life. They are required to prove not only their identity but also their right to remain when they apply for a bank account, sign a tenancy agreement, apply for a job, and even access NHS services.

Such a system which requires documentation at every turn is exactly the sort of system that neglects the individual. Constantly proving that you have the right to remain in this country is exhausting, expensive and sometimes impossible. It is also profoundly alienating. I know this first hand.

Jardim Botanico de Curitiba

The botanical gardens in Curitiba

where I was born.

I have been a British citizen my whole life but was born in Brazil and moved here at the age of 18 months. When I applied for university I was assessed by one of the universities as a foreign (non-EU) student despite the fact that all my schooling had been in the UK. This had severe implications for me as the fees a foreign student pays are much higher than those of a UK student. So I duly appealed and was told I had to prove that I had been resident in the UK for the past 3 years.

Evidence of my schooling was not going to be enough. This was difficult. As an 18 year old I didn’t have a bank account. I didn’t pay bills. I barely had any documentation that proved where I lived. I certainly didn’t have documentation about when I’d first come to the UK. In the end my mother found a letter from our GP squirrelled away in a drawer. I had a letter from student finance that I had received earlier that year. That provided me with enough documentation for my address. I managed to prove I was a UK student.  The story ended happily for me. But it could so easily have been different.

It was tempting to view the situation as merely ridiculous. But it was also highly stressful. At the back of my mind was the constant question: what if? And just like that a single piece of information on a form – my place of birth – meant that I was ‘othered’, that I was foreign. It meant that, contrary to everything I thought, I didn’t really belong here.

David Lammy told Amber Rudd that ‘If you lay down with dogs you get fleas’.  The decision to create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants has led to a hostile environment for so many more people. This is an environment that has very real human costs. We now live in a country where people with the right to remain have faced the threat of deportation because they do not have the ‘right papers’. By turning large parts of the population (landlords, bank clerks, nurses) into amateur immigration officers it is inevitable that these rules are not applied fairly. People who look and sound like migrants are targeted and profiled.

The constant checking of people’s papers, and the suspicion it encourages, are part of a wider trend towards overt hostility to migrants. This manifests itself in changes which mean that taxpaying, Home Office documented migrants must pay an additional NHS surcharge to have access to the health services their taxes fund. It means we are now facing a situation where families are separated because the British citizen’s spouse does not earn enough. This means children growing up with Mums and Dads available only over the phone.

The government has deliberately chosen to ‘other’ migrants. It is hardly surprising then that the consequence of a hostile environment for migrants is distress, expense, profiling, suspicion and precariousness. It becomes not just a hostile environment for those who are migrants, but also for those who look like or sound like migrants. The hostile environment is a racist environment.

God calls us to love one another, to welcome the foreigner. Jesus’ encounter with the woman from Samaria teaches us the importance of bridging national divides. The hostile environment does precisely the opposite. It makes many of us aliens in the country we see as our home.

This is why in the coming weeks JPIT will be launching a campaign on the hostile environment. If you have experience, big or small, of the very real consequences of the hostile environment please get in touch and let us know about it. We want to make sure that as Churches we understand the implications that the hostile environment has for all of us.

Let us know how the hostile environment is affecting you or those in your community:

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