The Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, yesterday backed a campaign calling for a one-off earned amnesty for long-term visa overstayers and refused asylum-seekers. He urged the Birmingham Citizens assembly meeting at the Great Hall of Birmingham University to give the campaign its "full backing". The Birmingham gathering of more than 800 delegates from more 25 civic organisations brought together faith, business and union leaders in call for long-term irregular migrants to be given legal right to live and work in UK. Archbishop Nichols said asylum seekers "become non-persons" after their claims are turned down, and are "left destitute." "They simply disappear off the face of the earth," he said, adding: "This is unacceptable in a civilised society". He also referred to the plight of undocumented workers, quoting Catholic social teaching on the dignity of labour. "Work sets up a relationship between those who employ, those who receive the benefit of the work and the person who has carried it out. This is inescapable and needs proper recognition not only in wages and work agreements but also in legal status." Archbishop Nichols said: "That is why I give my support to this call for regularisation procedures which will give them proper legal recognition to those who steadily contribute to our economy. This is what we owe them. To fail to do this is to support the exploitation that brings hardship to conscientious workers and does real damage to the well-bring of our society." Last year Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor called for regularisation at a Mass for migrant workers on 1 May 2006. Birmingham Citizens - part of a national civic network of churches, mosques, unions and schools, under the umbrella of the Citizen Organising Foundation - has made the "Strangers into Citizens" campaign its major priority after graphic testimony collected by churches has highlighted the condition of migrants who have lived for years in the UK without legal status. Highlights from the testimonies were shared at the Assembly, which will also saw a newly-made campaign DVD showing the indignities faced by refused asylum seekers and by visa overstayers working with false identities or in the underground economy. Strangers into Citizens campaigners are calling on the Home Office to allow migrants who have made new lives in the UK - resident for at least four years - to be given a two-year work permit. At the end of that time, assuming they meet other criteria (proficiency in English, employer and character references etc.) they should be given leave to remain. The campaign, which was launched last November at a 1,000-strong citizens' assembly in east London, has attracted growing support from faith leaders, as well as London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, a number businessmen, unions such as the T & G, and a growing number of MPs. Campaigners are calling for thousands to converge on Trafalgar Square on 7 May for a "Strangers into Citizens" rally in what is set to be the largest demonstration by and for migrants in UK history. The 7 May rally will be preceded by a Mass for Migrant Workers at Westminster Cathedral, and followed by a choral evensong in celebration of migrants at Westminster Abbey. Austen Ivereigh, the campaign's co-ordinator, writes in this week's Spectator that the Government's "crackdown" on illegal working and threats of deportation fail to recognise the contribution that illegal immigrants make to a vibrant economy -- and are in practice unworkable: at the current rate of deportation it would take more than 25 years forcibly to remove an estimated 500,000 irregular migrants. "A more sensible approach starts from the assumption that it is a successful economy that accounts for illegal immigration," he writes. "Rather than ineffectually harassing employers and condemning honest, hardworking people to a furtive existence beyond the law, we can accept the reality that thousands have made successful new lives in the UK, and naturalise them." So-called "amnesties" have been carried out with success in Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Holland. Some 800,000 mostly Latin-American illegal immigrants stand to benefit from a naturalisation Bill before the US Congress. Strangers into Citizens is a campaign by the Citizens' Organising Foundation (www.cof.org.uk), the UK's largest broad-based organising network. More than 120 schools, mosques, churches, unions, and ethnic associations make up the network, which is divided into four "chapters": East London (TELCO), West London, South London, and Birmingham. For more information see: www.strangersintocitizens.org.uk .
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