Church leaders have called for an end to the government's 'hostile environment' for migrants and refugees in an open letter to the home secretary, Sajid Javid.
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'.
The letter says: '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.'
It continues: '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.'
It calls for an independent review of immigration policy and practice.
Signatories include representatives of the Church of England, the Baptist Unions of Great Britain, Scotland and Wales, the Methodist Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church, Quakers in Britain and the Churches Refugee Network.