Faith leaders 'horrified' by impact of Nationality and Borders Bill on refugees

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The Bishop of Dover, the Most Rev Rose-Hudson Wilkin, and former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, are among the more than 1,000 faith leaders who have signed a letter to the Prime Minister expressing their horror at the implications of the Nationality and Borders Bill for people seeking asylum in the UK.

The open letter urges Boris Johnson to re-think the legislation and draws special attention to Clause 11 which separates refugees into two different groups according to whether they have arrived in the UK via a 'regular' route. 

The faith leaders warn that this "artificial" distinction will create a two-tier system "without a basis in evidence or morality".

"Criminalizing and punishing vulnerable asylum seekers who have little choice but to arrive in the UK through 'irregular routes', when the majority are subsequently able to prove that they have a legitimate basis for their asylum claim, is a disgraceful and dishonourable policy, and should be abandoned," the faith leaders say. 

The letter asks for clarity on how the government will expand and implement new safe routes for asylum seekers, particularly unaccompanied children, to come to the UK. 

"As leaders within faith communities across the UK, we are horrified and appalled about the potential repercussions of the Nationality and Borders Bill. We urge you to reconsider the proposals even at this late stage," the letter reads.

"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 urge the government to recognise the "desperation" driving asylum seekers to the UK, and to keep the values of "family life, community service and respect for human dignity" at the forefront of its policy decisions on refugees.

The letter concludes by asking for a meeting between the government and faith representatives to address the concerns raised in the letter.

"It is a sad fact that in our broken world, forced migration is not a temporary crisis; it is an on-going reality. 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," the letter ends.

"We cannot close our door on them, but this Bill does just that. What we need now, is political leadership which acknowledges and allays the concerns of the public while promoting the importance of compassion, human life and dignity." 

The letter was published on Monday as the Bill enters its final stages in the House of Lords.

It has been signed by leaders from the major faith groups, including Zara Mohammed, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism, Lama Yeshe Losal, Abbot of the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre in Scotland, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations UK, and Rajnish Kashyap, General Secretary of the Hindu Council UK. 

Other Christian signatories include Rev Lynn Green, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Rev Sonia Hicks, President of the Methodist Conference, Lord Jim Wallace, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rev Clare Downing, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, and John Arnold, the Catholic Bishop of Salford.