UK faith leaders implore govt to temper asylum crackdown

UK faith leaders implore govt to temper asylum crackdown
The government hopes to crack down on arrivals via small boat from the English Channel. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 February 2022

UK faith leaders implore govt to temper asylum crackdown

UK faith leaders implore govt to temper asylum crackdown
  • PM urged to step in to curb most harmful aspects of Nationality and Borders Bill
  • It ‘will criminalize desperate people fleeing war and persecution,’ Muslim Council of Britain tells Arab News

LONDON: Leaders from the UK’s Muslim, Christian, Jewish and other faith communities have penned a joint letter urging the government to reconsider aspects of its controversial Nationality and Borders Bill.

If passed, the bill would have widespread consequences for people seeking asylum in the UK, and could have ramifications for British ethnic minorities.

A group of faith leaders including Zara Mohammed, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying they are “horrified and appalled about the potential repercussions” of the bill, urging him to make changes “even at this late stage.”

The bill is currently in its third reading in the House of Lords, meaning it will soon become law if MPs in the House of Commons vote in favor.

If it becomes law, it will introduce a raft of measures making it more difficult to reach the UK as an asylum seeker.

It will also make it easier for the government to criminalize those who arrive via unconventional means — such as the English Channel — and to strip the citizenship of individuals considered a threat to national security.

The joint letter, also signed by former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, said: “While there is still conflict and injustice in the world, there will always be desperate people needing to seek sanctuary from war, persecution and suffering. We cannot close our door on them, but this bill does just that.

“We assert that the values that bind UK citizens together, especially those concerning human dignity and life, will be fundamentally damaged by this bill.”

They also called on the government to abandon its plan to criminalize and restrict the rights of all people arriving in the UK seeking refugee protection outside pre-arranged schemes, including those coming via irregular routes, such as by boat or lorry. The signatories say this policy was made “without a basis in evidence or morality.”

Johnson should show “political leadership” and promote “compassion, human life and dignity,” added the letter.

Kamran Hussain, CEO of Green Lane Masjid, one of Britain’s largest mosques, told Arab News that there are “people running away from war and oppression, desperately seeking sanctuary from persecution and suffering. This bill will only make their struggles harder.

“At a time when we should be opening the doors to help them, we’re hastily trying to close them.

“We talk about British values and how we should all hold ourselves to a high standard. It’s in times of struggle, when people are suffering and in need of our help, that our true values manifest themselves.”

He added: “This is ultimately about showing compassion. As British people, we’re better than this. Let us reflect our true British values of compassion.”

The MCB told Arab News that it has “expressed grave concern about many aspects of the Nationality and Borders Bill, including its categorical failure to safeguard the rights of refugees and those seeking asylum in the UK.”

It added: “In practice, the bill will criminalize desperate people fleeing war and persecution, deny them the right of sanctuary and abandon them to an uncertain fate. It would be an affront to human rights, the rule of law and our collective morality to do so.”