Government challenged on refugee policies
Christians in West Yorkshire have challenged the Government to significantly improve conditions for asylum seekers and refugees in the UK
In a hard-hitting statement, the West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council (WYEC) has expressed its concern “at policies which cause homelessness and poverty among people seeking sanctuary”.
In light of the “largest refugee crisis since World War II,” it has called on the Government to change national policy in four ways:
to establish SAFE AND LEGAL ROUTES for refugees to find protection in the UK and Europe;
to regard and respect people seeking refugee protection as FUTURE CITIZENS, willing and able to make a positive contribution to the UK;
to increase ASYLUM SUPPORT to at least 70 per cent of Income Support and to grant asylum seekers PERMISSION TO WORK;
to prevent the homelessness of new refugees by INCREASING THE TRANSITION PERIOD from 28 to 40 days for those granted protection in the UK.
The statement concludes that our national attitude towards the most vulnerable is a guide to the spiritual health of our society. ‘In failing to support people seeking refugee protection, we are failing ourselves,’ the statement reads. ‘We uphold the words of Jesus on the judgment of nations: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”
The statement has been affirmed by members of eight Christian traditions: Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, New Testament Church of God, Quaker, United Reformed Church, and the Wesleyan Holiness Church. Church Leaders in the region have a tradition of coming together on Ash Wednesday to speak out on issues of common social concern.
It will be officially presented on Ash Wednesday at New North Road Baptist Church in Huddersfield (10 February).
The church is the base for Reach, a project offering support and hospitality for asylum seekers and refugees, which has operated out of New North Road Church for 15 years. Reach started when a Sierra Leone asylum seeker came into the church to say thank you for his safe arrival (his friend had been shot on the way). Reach offers advice, lunch, food parcels, clothing, furniture, English language classes, conversation and friendship.
Former Baptist Union President the Revd Ernie Whalley is the Chair of Reach. He said, ‘We see on TV boats loaded with asylum seekers drifting in the Mediterranean because of the terrible conflicts in the Middle East and parts of Africa.
‘Some of these people come over our threshold at New North Road. This project is one of the ‘welcoming arms’ of our church as we reach out in the name of Jesus who always gave a special place to the most vulnerable.’
The Revd Kevin Watson is Moderator of the Yorkshire Synod of the United Reformed Church. He said, ‘We cannot ignore the biggest human crisis in Europe for 70 years. Let's open our hearts and open our borders to people fleeing persecution. Let's treat asylum seekers with the dignity and respect they deserve; let's see them as future citizens; let's recognise them as children of God.’
Picture: UNHCR / I. Prickett
This year's Baptist Assembly features a session exploring the refugee situation in our country
For Baptist responses to the refugee crisis including stories, statements and study resources, visit the refugee section on our website