As buzz around the pending Immigration Bill increases, the content of the proposed legislation remains uncertain. It's vital that Quaker voices inform the debate.
Immigration remains high on the news agenda thanks to the ongoing Windrush scandal, the announced closure of Campsfield Detention Centre, and coverage of the Stansted 15 trial. Now is the time to seek to change immigration policy – by engaging with new legislation, by speaking to MPs and councillors, and by changing the narrative wherever we can. Let's keep up the pressure.
What are the key areas to challenge?
There are four areas that we would like to see in any forthcoming legislation. They are:
1. Right to family life
Earlier this year MPs debated the Refugee (Family Reunion) Bill, which would make it easier for refugee families to stay together by allowing children to sponsor their parents and reinstating legal aid. People fleeing war or starvation should not be forced to choose between their family and their safety. We believe that refugees granted the right to stay in the UK should be able to sponsor family members to join them.
2. Right to work
People seeking refugee status are banned from working whilst they wait for a decision on their asylum claim. For most people, this means that they are destitute and reliant on charity – sometimes with disastrous consequences. Their cases can take months or even years, during which time they are in limbo.
3. Burden of proof
Some people come to the UK because they are fleeing torture, or they are in danger because of their sexuality or beliefs. The burden of proof needed is often unreasonable, sometimes impossible.
4. Limit detention to 28 days
Every year around 30,000 people are detained in immigration detention centres in the UK. Anyone with 'irregular status' can be detained – new arrivals, people with no papers or 'wrong passports', and overstayers. Most have not been charged with any crime. There's no judicial oversight of the decision, and nearly half of those detained are subsequently released back into the community. The damage to their relationship with the state, and to their own mental and physical health, can be permanent.
What are Quakers doing and what can you do?
Now is a real opportunity for change. But with so many voices hostile to immigration, it is important that MPs hear from constituents who want to change the system for the better.
Write to your MP, or invite them to a meeting, and ask them to support a 28-day limit for immigration detention. Download a template letter to wrote to your MP. (.doc) If you have personal experience of working with people seeking sanctuary, then please share your stories with us through our Sanctuary Everywhere programme.
Almost half of all Sanctuary Meetings have already lobbied local politicians on issues of destitution, detention and deportation. Some Sanctuary Meetings are holding social afternoons and lunches, or offering meeting rooms for free. Others are working with Right to Remain to ask their local councils to pass motions against immigration detention. Many Quakers have been supporting and befriending individual asylum seekers.
One meeting said: "Members support and befriend individual asylum seekers… we have made our meeting house available to asylum seekers and refugees to hold children's birthday parties." Another said that their children's meeting had been learning about refugees stuck in Europe and sent 70 filled pencil cases to Greece for children in the camps.
At Quakers in Britain we'll continue to work with other churches and faith groups to demand change. Please help us shine a light on to this broken immigration system.