Churches call for new approach to refugees

 The Churches' Commission for Racial Justice (CCRJ) has expressed many concerns at the government's proposals for reforming the asylum system. CCRJ has said the tone of much of 'Secure Borders, Safe Haven: Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain' is negative, and shows an intention to deter and prohibit the small numbers seeking refuge in the UK. In a detailed reply to Home Secretary David Blunkett's White Paper on citizenship, immigration and asylum, the Moderator of CCRJ, a commission of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the Rt Revd Roger Sainsbury said: "Asylum seekers fleeing persecution and poverty in poor countries can and do add to our culture, and should be given every opportunity to find safety and well-being in the UK. Working with the government, we as churches will need to give priority to an education programme that dispels false myths, gives people the facts and show it is a biblical imperative to welcome the stranger." Secretary of CCRJ, the Revd Arlington Trotman said: "This fourth policy review within ten years clearly demonstrates that a workable and sustainable asylum system is beyond government alone to achieve. What is now required is a broader approach with an NGO-led, well-managed and accountable multi-agency commission to formulate policy and manage the process. This would ensure just decisions, reduce mounting costs, and enable Government to meet its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, to offer security and protection to applicants, while promoting inclusiveness, trust and confidence in the procedure at home." In its reply to the White Paper CCRJ said they welcomed the discontinuation of the asylum voucher scheme; the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme and extension of short-term work permits;discontinuation of the practice of holding asylum seekers in prison; and ncreased access to interpretation for asylum seekers. But they were concerned that there should be put in place the automatic access to bail hearings, as asylum seekers could be detained unnecessarily because there is no automatic right of redress and there is no good legal advice on entry into the UK; support for those who precisely because of the persecution they suffer cannot obtain a passport or a visa or cannot obtain documents which confirm their story and situation to make their claim; and no arbitrary detention since the deprivation of liberty is extremely serious, especially when vulnerable people, including children, are not accused of any crime."

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