Twenty Church leaders have called for an end to the hostile environment in an open letter to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid MP.
The hostile environment is the web of government policies designed to make life so difficult for people who cannot prove they have the right to live in the UK that they will choose to leave.
The leaders, including representatives from the Anglican, Catholic, Church of Scotland and Methodist Churches, argue that the destitution deliberately inflicted by the government is ‘inhumane’ and that it leads to racial discrimination. They ask Javid “to seize this opportunity and to adopt an approach to immigration that treats every individual, whatever their status, with humanity, dignity, respect and fairness.”
Is it any wonder that Churches are speaking out about immigration policy? In Glasgow up to 300 asylum seekers who have had their right to remain turned down are under threat of being evicted from their homes. Once evicted they will lose the right to housing and will be faced with homelessness and destitution. Housing charity Shelter Scotland has filed papers at Glasgow Sheriff Court to prevent two tenants being issued with so-called lock-change orders.
The issue will also be raised in the Court of Session in Edinburgh after a case was lodged by Govan Law Centre, which is also trying to prevent the evictions by Serco.
Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council, said: “The Church of Scotland is deeply, deeply concerned at plans to evict up to 300 asylum seekers from their homes in Glasgow… many of those facing eviction have already needed to flee their homes in the past from appalling violence, terror and war. It is unacceptable that this should be happening.”
Open letter to the Home Secretary:
Dear Home Secretary
We are writing as a group of Churches and Church Leaders to express our deep concern about the impact of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies, and to support calls for them to be dismantled. We welcome the recent report from the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church: Destitution, Discrimination and Distrust: the web of the hostile environment, and support its conclusions.
The injustices of the hostile environment alarm us. It deliberately prevents people who cannot provide the right documentation – for whatever reason – from getting work, renting a home or accessing the kinds of services we all need to live. As the report shows, this is leading to poverty, homelessness and avoidable suffering. We believe it is inhumane to use destitution, or the threat of destitution, as a policy tool to encourage people to leave the country.
We are also concerned by the mounting evidence that hostile environment measures are causing racist discrimination. People who do not look or sound ‘British’ are now facing increased difficulty in finding homes and employment, because landlords and employers are being asked to play the role of border guards.
This is not about who we do or do not allow into the UK, but about how we relate to one another inside our borders. Due process, justice and the proper implementation of immigration policies should not require us to live in suspicion of our neighbours.
As Christians we assert the importance of offering welcome to the stranger and caring for the vulnerable, whoever they are. Many of our churches support those who have suffered hardship because of the hostile environment. Our churches include some of the very people who are at risk of destitution and discrimination. We hear many stories of how the system has failed people and the harmful human impact of these policies.
We believe that the hostile environment should be brought to an end, not simply given a new name. As a first step towards that, we are calling for a full and independent review of immigration policy and practice to examine the damaging effect that the policies of the hostile environment are having on the whole of society.
The revelations earlier this year about the appalling treatment of some members of the Windrush Generation have thrown the spotlight on the failings of the hostile environment. They also offer an opportunity for a fresh start. We urge you to seize this opportunity and to adopt an approach to immigration that treats every individual, whatever their status, with humanity, dignity, respect and fairness.
Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon and Chair, Churches Refugee Network
Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, Bishop of Loughborough
Rt Revd Richard Jackson, Bishop of Lewes
Revd Michaela Youngson, President of the Methodist Conference
Mr Bala Gnanapragasam, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference
Revd Richard Frazer, convenor of the Church and Society Committee of the Church of Scotland
Revd Nigel Uden, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church
Mr Derek Estill, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church
Revd Lynn Green, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain
Most Revd Mark J Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain
Rt Revd John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley, Roman Catholic Church in Scotland
Mr John P Cross, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Free Church of Scotland
Rev Alan Donaldson, General Director, Baptist Union of Scotland
Revd Judith Morris, General Secretary, Baptist Union of Wales
Revd Dr Geraint Tudur, General Secretary, Union of Welsh Independents
Christine Elliott, Director of International Programmes, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
Kathy Mohan, CEO, Housing Justice
Revd Fleur Houston, Churches Refugee Network
Mrs Joan Cook, President of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches and President of the Scottish Unitarian Association