Cardinal Vincent Nichols has described the UK Government’s “very hard” treatment of asylum seekers as “a shame on our country”.
During a visit to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Wapping, east London, recorded by BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme, the Archbishop of Westminster said: “If you’re here for 10 years and you can’t have a residence, you can’t study, you can’t work, you have no income, its as if you are being told you are a ‘non-person’, and its that darkness that we have listened to this afternoon. I can think of no other word than to say it is a shame on our country.”
A Home Office spokesperson stressed the UK's "proud history" of granting asylum to those in need. Cardinal Nichols made his comments on 12 July after listening to the stories of individuals accompanied by the JRS, an international Catholic organisation working in 51 countries with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. In the UK, the JRS, which deals with 200-250 refugees per month, says its work “currently focuses on those who find themselves destitute as a consequence of government policies and those detained for the administration of immigration procedures”.
The cardinal hit out at the Government’s so-called “hostile environment” policy, adding: “I think being in this Jesuit Refugee [Service] Centre, it’s like just having a tiny light that allows you to see into the deep darkness of people’s lives who are here in this kind of twilight world, and what we’ve heard this afternoon is how deep that darkness is. And in a way, how deliberately that darkness is created, in a deeply mistaken sense that treating people this badly will prevent others seeking sanctuary in this country.”
Speaking afterwards about his visit, Cardinal Nichols reflected on his own podcast: “I heard heart-rending, terrible stories of the way some people have been treated … We seem to have a system in place that obviously has to deal with some very difficult cases, some hard cases, but it seems to deal with all cases in a very hard manner. And it…cannot be right, that a person is left in this limbo, this no-man’s land, for 10 or more years in a country as sophisticated and as affluent as ours.”
Responding, a Home Office spokesperson told The Tablet: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection. We ensure asylum seekers are properly supported while their claims are being considered by providing accommodation and a cash allowance to cover their essential living needs if they would otherwise be destitute.”
The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said that following the recent Windrush scandal he planned for a “fairer, more compassionate” immigration and asylum system after acknowledging that the “hostile environment” approach of recent years had not been “personal enough and not sympathetic enough”.
Latest official figures show that in the year leading up to March this year, more than one million people sought safety in Europe. Britain received 26,547 asylum applications, including dependents, an eight per cent decrease since the year before. At the end of March 2018, more than 9,824 asylum applications had been waiting for longer than six months for an initial decision on the case, an 87 per cent increase on March 2016.
The director of JRS UK, former Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, a Catholic, said: “The recent temporary pauses on some aspects of data sharing announced by the Home Secretary does not come close to the root and branch reform needed in the immigration system.
“The suffering caused by the hostile environment is deliberate and purposeful; these policies are directed to make the lives of those struggling to gain recognition of their refugee status as crushingly difficult as possible. This deliberate and cruel imposition of hardship is not an acceptable way to treat any human being, let alone those seeking sanctuary…Resilient people are made vulnerable by the system itself.
“The Government needs to stick to its word and provide the substantive change in culture needed within our immigration system. It is time to end the hostile environment agenda altogether.”