Written evidence submitted by the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network 19.1.2017:
The Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network links Quakers from all over the UK. This submission concerns Forced Migrants – refugee and asylum seekers. The Select Committee will also receive submissions from individual Quakers and other groups of Quakers, many of whom are deeply engaged in work with and for forced migrants.
Quakers long standing track record of humanitarian support and concern for the homeless and displaced is best known for the KinderTransport which brought children to safety from Hitler’s Germany. Those children have enriched the cultural and intellectual life of this country immensely. The refugees and asylum seekers currently seeking a new life in the UK have already introduced enriching variety to our culture.
Our commitments as a nation Quakers insist that political decisions have an ethical dimension. We urge the committee to take this on board, and to support our commitments to the conventions concerning refugees and their treatment, most notably the 1951 Refugee Convention. Many of the recently introduced practices for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers appear to us to breach the Human Rights Act which implements the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular Articles 6, 7 and 8.
The stated commitments of this and earlier governments are at odds with the reality of legislation and its implementation. For example, the convention stipulates that refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. The immigration Act 2016 means that forced migrants may be imprisoned and have their earnings confiscated if they work before they have refugee status. Their employer and landlord are likewise exposed to prison.
Humane treatment for asylum seekers
Government should be fair and consistent towards refugees, treating them like human beings and supporting them appropriately in their claims. This would include:
- Reinstate a fair and reasonable legal aid system.
- Set clear and understandable criteria for applicants to meet without hidden snares which makes it possible for so many to fail at the first hurdle.
- Providing basic housing and income support throughout the application process including appeals,
- Allow people to work during their period of application
- Providing easily accessible health care.
Immigration detention and its failures
Immigration Removal Centres apply administrative imprisonment, and the Shaw report has highlighted some of the many failures to care properly for the vulnerable. The Parliamentary Inquiry into Immigration Detention made numerous recommendations for improvements, which remain stalled. We urge the Committee to examine the way in which requests for asylum are treated in practice, particularly the IRC detention system. There are practical alternatives to detention. The long sought maximum period of 28 days in an IRC should be seen as the time required to arrange effective alternative accommodation pending hearing of the case for refugee status.
- We urge the committee to review current detention practices in the light of the Shaw report
- We urge the committee to insist on a maximum period of detention no longer than 28 days
Integrating refugees in our society
Refugees rely on local services in their search to become integrated in our society and to be effective, productive citizens. Refugees face particular problems in finding housing, the absolute basic for becoming integrated. Reduced funding for health services, English language classes, schooling for their children and social care bear particularly heavily on those struggling to become part of our society. Most crucial is the availability of effective advice. We ask the Committee to review the disproportionate impact on refugees of the cuts to local government funding and services.
- We urge the restoration of funding for beginners English for incomers
- We would particularly wish to see restoration of funding of Citizens Advice Bureaux with a direction to emphasise advisory services critical to refugees.
Combatting hostility to refugees
The atmosphere of hostility to refugees and the displaced in this country is profoundly un-Christian and unloving. We believe that this atmosphere has largely been created through warped and hostile media reporting in direct conflict with anti-discrimination legislation. We believe that these attitudes infect many officials processing asylum claims, and foster an inhumane attitude.
- We urge the Committee to stress in its report the importance of fair and equal treatment of people who have fled intolerable conditions in search of a life where they can contribute to society and be part of it.
Hostility to refugees and asylum seekers arises from the manufactured perception of “floods”.
Our view of the data (see for example Refugee Council stats) is that the flow of refugees and asylum seekers to the UK is a trickle. Compare Lebanon – a country of 6 million housing 1½ million refugees. With migrants just 0.2% of our population, let’s not pride ourselves on generosity.
Information available on immigrants (of all types) ignores the proportion of immigrants who come and go, as opposed to those who come and stay. Accurate and complete data about immigrants and their impact on our society is essential so that decisions and communications are based on fact. We trust that the Committee will:-
- review the adequacy of the information on all types of immigration,
- identify gaps in what is needed to support decisions and to enable clear public understanding and
- make recommendations designed to fill the gaps – for gaps there are.
Refugees welcome here
In view of the relevant conventions, the message REFUGEES WELCOME HERE should be an integral part of our national atmosphere. It isn’t. Hostility suspicion and discrimination are more common. Pressure groups such as Citizens UK have promoted that message and sought its acceptance.
An atmosphere of welcome will allow us benefit to the full from unlocking the abilities of those we welcome. Remember the good and great citizens of the UK who came here as part of the Kindertransport. A true welcome for refugees can unlock the potential of new citizens.
We have a choice of approaching people seeking asylum using a filter of distrust, or prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. Our immigration system is built on the former; this would be a much healthier society if it adopted the latter.
- We urge the Committee to support this message with a whole hearted commitment to humane and generous treatment of forced migrants coming to this country.
 Quaker Faith in Action – Friends’ work in the area of forced migration. QCEA/WARN Dec 2016
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