05 October 2021
Church leaders gathered alongside asylum seekers and refugees in Manchester on Sunday 3rd October, to hold a prayer vigil as the Conservative Party Conference opened in Manchester Central.
The prayer vigil focussed on the impact of the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill. The bill proposes to reform the UK’s asylum system, in particular to differentiate between the way asylum seekers are treated depending on how they arrive in the UK. Churches have commented that proposals in the bill ‘lack humanity and respect for human dignity’.
The President and Vice President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Sonia Hicks and Barbara Easton, opened the vigil with prayers and led periods of silent reflection. They focussed on their theme for their presidential year, ‘God’s table for all’.
People with lived experience of the asylum system shared their stories of travelling to the UK, and their life here since arriving. Under the proposed legislation, many refugees who have made their home in the UK would not be eligible for full refugee status.
The vigil invited participants to join in a time of collective lament, focussing on the pain and hardship caused by hostility in the UK’s asylum system towards people seeking sanctuary. It then turned to action, inviting participants and passers-by to write to their MP, to call for changes to the Nationality and Borders Bill.
Coordinating the vigil, the Revd Ian Rutherford, a Methodist minister at Central Hall, Manchester, said:
“Here in Manchester, many of our church communities know the invaluable contribution to our society asylum seekers and refugees make. But the government’s proposals will make life much harder for people seeking sanctuary in the UK. Their proposals would create a two-tier system for asylum seekers and refugees, and don’t show any regard for the wellbeing of people who have already gone through traumatic circumstances to reach safety. Our faith calls us here today to say that we think everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, and that these proposals jeopardise this important principle. We’re proud to stand with the partners of the Together With Refugees campaign to call for urgent change to the Nationality and Borders Bill.”
The Revd Sonia Hicks and Barbara Easton led prayers centred on the presidential theme ‘God’s table for all’. They said:
“Welcoming refugees should be part of who we are in the UK. As people of faith, we believe that God welcomes everyone, regardless of where they come from, or the opportunities they have had. It is devastating that these proposals go against the belief in the preciousness of each human life. We often forget that Jesus began his life as a refugee, forced to flee oppression and tyranny. We must acknowledge that people seeking asylum are people first – people who are children of God, made in God’s image. We need a fundamental rethink of the government’s proposals, in order to put in place a more effective, fair and humane approach to the UK’s asylum process.”
Many of the churches and groups represented at the vigil are campaigning on the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Methodist Church is part of the coalition group Together With Refugees, formed of over 200 organisations calling for ‘a kinder, fairer and more effective approach to supporting refugees in the UK’. The group are calling for amendments to the bill to reject the ‘two-tier’ system of asylum seekers and refugees the bill creates.
Notes for editors:
Photo – The Revd Sonia Hicks speaks at the vigil with Bishop John Arnold (R) of the Salford Catholic Diocese. and the Revd Ian Rutherford (L) of Manchester Central Hall.
The vigil was organised by local organisations alongside The Joint Public Issues Team, representing the United Reformed Church, Methodist Church and Baptist Union of Great Britain.