The Government must “lead rather than follow” public opinion on asylum policy according to the Church of England’s Commission on Urban Life and Faith: ‘Faithful Cities’.
The report, which is endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, criticises government policies that make asylum seekers destitute, and follows the Commission’s ‘Faith in the City’ report, which severely rebuked the Conservative Government for its failure to address the problems of Britain’s declining urban districts.
The Commission notes that asylum policy is “formulated in rapid response to popular xenophobia… sustained by a large section of the press on a political terrain influenced by fanaticism”. As a result, asylum seekers are forced into extreme poverty and even destitution because of constraints on welfare entitlements, and because of the complexity and inefficiency of the asylum system.
The report also calls for asylum seekers to be allowed to support themselves and contribute to society through paid work. Currently asylum seekers are unable to work unless the initial decision on their claim has taken over 12 months to process. The Commission describes as “unacceptable” the practice of using destitution as a tool of coercion for dealing with refused asylum seekers.
Commenting on the report, Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council said:
“We welcome this acutely observed and timely report. Like ‘Faith in the City’, it is a wake-up call to politicians to give a lead to public opinion. If they fail to do so, the losers, as ‘Faithful Cities’ points out, are those asylum seekers living in extreme hardship or forced into destitution in order to ‘encourage’ them to leave the UK. What’s needed is moral leadership, helping to inform everyone about our obligations to those who have fled persecution and sought sanctuary in the UK.
Using destitution as a tool of coercion for dealing with refused asylum seekers is rightly described as ‘unacceptable’. These are vulnerable people and to ‘encourage’ them to leave the UK by the prospect of starvation is inhumane and unnecessary.”