The chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Office for Migration Policy has joined more than 20 organisations working with migrants and refugees in calling for the government to grant asylum seekers “leave to remain” in the UK for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
Paul McAleenan, Auxiliary Bishop for Westminster, extended his “full support” to the joint letter on migration policy, drafted by a Catholic charity, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). The letter asks the government to grant leave to remain in the UK to asylum seekers, refugees, and other groups with irregular immigration status.
In light of the coronavirus outbreak, the signatories argue that the unstable employment, poor housing conditions, and limited access to healthcare experienced by many asylum seekers and refugees constitutes a public health risk, as well as a violation of human dignity.
Drawing particular attention to the situation of those asylum seekers who are also qualified medical professionals, but unable to work due to their immigration status, Sarah Teather, director of JRS, said that the granting of immediate leave and right to work would “save lives”. “We cannot afford,” Teather added, “to have trained nurses, doctors, care workers and other key workers barred from contributing to society when they are desperately needed.”
Bishop McAleenan stressed the importance of enabling those with insecure immigration status to access public funds and support with housing. “Those without permanent status should be given the opportunity and means to do so,” McAleenan stated, requesting that the Government allow these vulnerable groups “to social distance, to self isolate, to access healthcare and so lessen the possibility of jeopardising public health.”
The joint letter follows on previous statements by Bishop McAleenan asking the government and general population not to forget refugees and migrants during the coronavirus outbreak. McAleenan, a former engineer, has been Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster since 2015.
UK charities and food banks have been destabilised by the coronavirus outbreak, which has had a knock-on effect on refugees, the homeless, and other vulnerable groups. In light of this disruption, and the suspension of other government services, the home office is facing a legal challenge for failing to increase support for refugees at this time. The legal challenge, mounted by Duncan Lewis Solicitors , argues that hundreds of asylum seekers are being asked to breach quarantine in order to attend hearings or face losing the government support they depend on to survive.