Churches Call on UK Government to Support Stateless People

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(from the Methodist Church in Britain)

A new initiative calling for improved rights and better support for ‘stateless’ people has been backed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and Rabbi Hershel Gluck OBE, chairman of the Arab-Jewish Forum.

The pair have joined 110 religious and faith leaders in signing a statement urging the UK Government to do more to welcome those who no longer have a country to call their home.

The move comes during Inter Faith Week (12-19 November) which seeks to build on the good relationships and partnerships between people of very diverse faiths and beliefs.

All have a shared commitment to protecting human rights and promoting human dignity. The statement is calling for action on the part of the UK Government to review its policies towards stateless people as many end up in prolonged and pointless detention while the Home Office tries to remove them from the UK.

‘Stateless’ people without legal status cannot leave the UK because no country will accept them. But without status, they don’t have permission to work in the UK and remain vulnerable to destitution, exploitation and detention. Worldwide there are around 10 million ‘stateless’ people. Signatories are calling for alternatives to detention and better support for access to rights and advice and help with integration.

The move is part of the #LockedInLimbo campaign which is led by the European Network on Statelessness and seeks to end the detention of people who end up locked in limbo simply because they have no country that they can return to.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: “This is a significant statement, showing inter faith support for global efforts to contribute to ending statelessness and the arbitrary detention associated with it. Faith groups have an important role in calling for policy-makers to prioritise the welfare of people who face marginalisation and exclusion. It is good to see so many faith and religious leaders addressing this deeply concerning issue that affects millions of people worldwide.”

Rabbi Hershel Gluck OBE, chairman of the Arab-Jewish Forum and chairman and founder of the Muslim-Jewish Forum added: “There is no question that statelessness leaves people vulnerable and at risk of being forgotten and abandoned. All people deserve to have their human rights recognised and respected, which is why this multi-faith communities collaboration is so important.”

Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim representatives have supported the statement. Signatories include Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Bharti Tailor, Vice-President of Religions for Peace UK, the Rev Lorraine Mellor, President of the Methodist Conference and Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Chair of the Liberal Judaism Rabbinic Conference. The statement will be open for other faith or religious leaders who wish to add their support via the website http://lockedinlimbo.eu. A full list of signatories can be found at: http://lockedinlimbo.eu/uk-faith-leaders-statement-against-detention-of-stateless-people.

People designated as stateless, according to the 1954 Statelessness Convention, are “not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”. Citizenship has often been described as the ‘right to have rights’. Statelessness, in turn, is a corrosive condition that impacts almost every aspect of daily life. The use of immigration detention and the criminalisation of irregular migration is increasing across many parts of Europe.

Text of statement:

An estimated 10 million people worldwide are stateless, which means that according to the 1954 Statelessness Convention they are “not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”. Citizenship has often been described as the ‘right to have rights’. Statelessness, in turn, is a corrosive condition that impacts almost every aspect of daily life.

The use of immigration detention and the criminalisation of irregular migration is increasing across many parts of Europe. Stateless people are particularly vulnerable to arbitrary detention, including here in the UK. Some face indefinite detention because there is no country to which they can be returned but equally no prospect of regularisation in the country hosting them.

All our faiths compel us to affirm the dignity of all human beings and to offer help to anyone in need. The best of this country is represented by the generosity, kindness, solidarity and decency that the United Kingdom has at many times shown those who need our protection, even at times of far greater deprivation and difficulty than the present day.

There is strong multi faith support from local, regional and national religious leaders which demonstrates a shared commitment to the welfare of the most marginalised and a degree of moral and ethical urgency to this issue.

We therefore urge the UK government to do more to welcome stateless people and in particular to adhere to five key principles:

1. Implement a range of alternatives to detention to ensure that stateless people do not end up locked in limbo simply because they have no country to which they can return.
2. Ensure early identification where a person lacks a nationality, and guarantee that detainees have full access to the UK’s statelessness determination procedure.
3. Carry out an individual vulnerability assessment as part of every decision to detain.
4. Facilitate integration in the community by regularising stateless people and granting them a residence permit and facilitated access to naturalisation.
5. Improve monitoring and data collection on statelessness as in order to effectively address the problem it needs to be properly understood.
Notes:

The full list of religious leaders who are signatories can be found here.

Earlier this month the United Nations High Commission for Refugees launched a new report This is Our Home – stateless minorities and their search for citizenship.

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About the Methodist Church in Britain

The Methodist Church is one of the largest Christian churches serving Great Britain, with around 200,000 members and regular contact with nearly 500,000 people. It has 4,650 churches in Great Britain, and also maintains links with other Methodist churches with a worldwide total membership of over 80 million. Its activities, both alone and with ecumenical and secular partners, are based on four aims known as Our Calling:
• To increase awareness of God’s presence and to celebrate God’s love
• To help people to grow and learn as Christians through mutual support and care
• To be a good neighbour to people in need and to challenge injustice
• To make more followers of Jesus Christ.

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Michael Ivatt
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E ivattm@methodistchurch.org.uk