Columban Lay Missionary, Nathalie Marytsch writes about how we desperately need an immigration policy in this country which reflects the vision of Pope Francis; that refugees and asylum seekers are ‘welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated’ in our society.

The scale of spontaneous migration to Europe has led to decades of fine tuning and refining of policies and procedures to secure the so-called ‘fortress Europe’. The UK has not been alien to this. Years of austerity along with a growing sense of nationalism have prompted not only anti-immigration legislations, but also a hostile environment, which according to experts excludes individuals who have the right to seek sanctuary as delineated in the Geneva Convention, of which the UK has been a signatory of since 1954.

In the 1990’s the national media began to question how ‘genuine’ asylum applicants were, often portraying them as ‘bogus’ and ‘criminals’ seeking a better life, with government officials pressing for numbers to be clamped-down. There has been a narrative favouring ‘us’, those who belong, and antagonizing ‘them’. As a result, restrictions have been imposed on asylum seekers to prevent them from working and denying them welfare support, a systematic exclusion some call.

In recent months Priti Patel, the government’s Home Secretary, has been talking about an overhaul of the immigration system, ‘the most significant reform in a generation’, she has said. The New Plan for Immigration has a strong message, a fair but firm new immigration system. It acknowledges the contribution many migrants have made to the country, and aims to continue a tradition of ‘being open to the world’. Nonetheless, the emphasis is on supporting those who are genuinely vulnerable and who ‘legally’ come to the UK and chastising those who have entered illegally. I wonder how someone can legally cross and enter a new border when fleeing persecution. It is not a well planned trip or a holiday, they are fleeing so they leave their homes and everything behind.

Our friends at City of Sanctuary UK have prepared some useful information explaining the changes being proposed by the government in its New Plan for Immigration. They are encouraging people to submit a response to the government’s consultation in the hope that together, we can overhaul the policy and create one which reflects the vision of Pope Francis; that refugees and asylum seekers are ‘welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated’ in our society.

The Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS) has recently published a report ‘Being Human in the Asylum System; A fresh perspective drawn from Catholic Social Teaching’. The document calls for ‘an asylum system founded on justice, designed for the welfare of refugees and not for their harm’. It highlights concerns over the government’s New Plan for Immigration and recommends instead, an asylum system that listens to refugees and asylum seekers and strives to offer them protection; an ‘asylum system that allows them to flourish and rebuild their lives’.

In Britain, Columbans participate in a network of organisations providing care and restoring dignity for the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who come to Birmingham, coping with a tough British asylum system and significant public hostility. At the heart of this ministry is Fatima House, a collaborative project with the Archdiocese of Birmingham and Father Hudson’s Charity.

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