The Church of England's Board for Social Responsibility has expressed concern today about the Home Secretary's White paper on Asylum, Immigration and Citizenship, published last Thursday. The White Paper marks the beginning of the fourth attempt in under a decade to reform policy in this area. 'Many of the proposals seem to give with one hand and take with the other,' said the Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark and chairman of the Board for Social Responsibility. 'We welcome the abolition of the vouchers system but remain concerned about the lack of real support allowed for those seeking asylum. The new plans for the use of induction and reception centres must enable asylum seekers to have their requests dealt with equitably, courteously and quickly: and must provide primary care for the traumatized, as well as initial acclimatization. 'The government must also address the issue of bail hearings as it promised in 1999. These proposals must not be just another form of deterrent. 'We welcome signs that the government is willing to look at legislation in the broader international or European context. People are on the move, not least for economic reasons. This is the underside of globalization; global processes move people, not just money and information, across national frontiers. We need to work closely with the UN and our European partners on why people become refugees and economic migrants and then look at the international systems that are needed to address those root causes.' The White Paper addresses a number of asylum and immigration concerns on which the Church engaged with government in 1995 and 1999 - particularly the voucher system. It also indicates a willingness to re-examine some controversial areas such as family visits. The White Paper's proposals in relation to citizenship will require careful examination. There is no commitment to review the parts of the 1981 Nationality Act that imposed different categories of citizenship. It fails to address some of the continuing difficulties faced by asylum seekers still waiting for decisions. It attempts to impose a more draconian regime for future arrivals, not least the greater use of detention and a early resort to removal. Abolition of the voucher system does not alter the level of material support provided, which continues to impact detrimentally on children, despite assurances given by ministers during the passage of the 1999 Act. There is no attempt in the proposals to revisit the question of the dispersal of the majority of asylum seekers and the special provision needed for them. The burden of this falls on some of the poorest local authorities. Change to the current asylum system is vital if the United Kingdom is to provide asylum for those fleeing violence, torture and persecution. The essential aspect of any credible system must be the fairness of its decision making, and the checks in place to avoid the removal of those with legitimate claims. The inadequacies of support offered for medical and psychiatric care, retraining and rehabilitation has raised fundamental questions about the expectations of those who have gained refugee status or leave to remain. These need to be addressed by the Refugee Integration Programme, which must be adequately resourced for the task. The increased use of detention remains a concern, particularly since the bail hearings provision in the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act has not been implemented. According to the Refugee Council, this results in large numbers being detained contrary to basic international legal standards while effectively prevented from arguing this case in court.
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