Church of England General Synod calls asylum seeker amnesty
More than 300,000 asylum seekers should be allowed to stay in Britain indefinitely, the Church of England General Synod has said.
By Martin Beckford, Religious Affairs Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:44PM GMT 13 Feb 2009
The Synod, the governing body of the state religion, voted overwhelmingly in favour of an amnesty for those whose cases are still being decided on, and said all those who want to live here should be allowed to work.
It also said that a solution must be found to the “intolerable” situation of people who are refused leave to remain but cannot return to their home countries, and that children and families must no longer be detained in Immigration Removal Centres.
The Rev Ruth Worsley, a priest in the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham who tabled the motion on the subject, said: “The financial cost to our country, as well as the human cost which leaves people in limbo for years, not knowing what their future might hold, seems unconscionable.
“With the arrival of the credit crunch, the subsequent loss of jobs, the recent call for British jobs for British people, there is a danger that we become inward-looking and even xenophobic.
“But the Gospel tells us that we are not a tribal nation but a global family.”
Just 23,430 people applied for asylum in Britain in 2007 after fleeing war or persecution overseas, the lowest number for more than a decade.
But hundreds of thousands more remain lost in the system, some of whom have been waiting years to find out if they can settle in the country. Until their claim has been decided they are unable to work and only receive 70 per cent of the benefits to which refugees or indigenous residents are entitled.
In 2006 it was announced that there were 450,000 of these “legacy” cases, of which about 100,000 have now been processed.
Meanwhile, the Church claims many failed asylum seekers are left destitute because it is unsafe for them to return home yet they are unable to claim benefits or get a job.
Mrs Worsley told of an Iranian man who was refused asylum in Britain, Afshin Azizian, after the Home Office took five years to decide on his case.
“Unable to work and preferring destitution in the UK to the threat of persecution in Iran, Afshin lived rough, scavenging through rubbish bins and sleeping in a launderette.
“He suffered mental health problems and despite twice attempting suicide was subsequently released with no one taking responsibility for his welfare.”
The Rev William Raines, of Manchester diocese, said: “The asylum system could have been designed by King Herod after reading Kafka.”
Synod voted by 242 votes to 1, with 1 abstention, in favour of calling upon the Government to “ensure that the treatment of asylum seekers is just and considerate”, and to consider its suggestions.