The Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland have told the British Government that it must rethink its New Plan for Immigration, as they warn it will provide a ‘charter for trafficking’.
In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Bishop William Kenney CP, a member of the Santa Marta Group, strongly encourages the Government to refocus its response so that it provides support for victims, instead of criminalising them.
Whilst welcoming the Government’s commitment to ensuring that police and courts have the necessary powers to bring perpetrators of modern slavery to justice, while giving victims the support they need to rebuild their lives, Bishop Kenney expresses serious reservations over elements of the new immigration plan.
‘The policy statement makes extensive reference to abuse of protection mechanisms, placing disproportionate emphasis on a very small number of cases and proposing more restrictive criteria for support, while overlooking the genuine failings in the UK’s response to trafficking and modern slavery,’ he writes on behalf of the Santa Marta Group.
‘The reality is that a significant proportion of victims are never identified, most of those who are do not receive adequate support, and prosecutions of criminals responsible for exploitation are extremely rare.’
Bishop Kenney strongly encourages the Government to modify its approach to prioritise three key elements: an effective National Referral Mechanism that efficiently identifies and supports victims; consistent recognition that modern slavery is not an immigration offence; and focus on pursuing perpetrators, not criminalising victims.
‘The introduction of new barriers to entering and seeking asylum in the UK risks pushing more people into the hands of traffickers,’ writes Bishop Kenney. ‘Across the world it has been consistently demonstrated that policies criminalising those seeking sanctuary and introducing new border security measures do not save lives but are simply a charter for trafficking.’
In a separate joint letter to Ms Patel, Bishop Paul McAleenan, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees, and Bishop William Nolan, Chair of the Scottish Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace, also warn that ‘tougher border security and a less generous asylum system’ will ‘risk driving more people into the hands of criminals’.
‘We believe in tackling trafficking through combining a strong response to organised crime, with the opening of more safe and legal routes to sanctuary, while ensuring that victims are never criminalised,’ they write.
‘How we respond to those in need has profound implications for our society. We must keep in mind that welcoming successive generations of refugees has greatly enriched our communities.
‘It is therefore imperative that we continue to make room for people who seek safety and a home among us in the UK.’
In their letter, the bishops also call for clear resettlement targets and proper support for civil society groups welcoming refugees through community sponsorship.
‘Creating arbitrary divisions based on people’s method of entry will have profound implications for those who need our support most,’ the bishops write.
‘We know that many families and individuals have no choice in the route that they take and to penalise them on this basis dangerously undermines the principle of asylum. We oppose any move to treat differently those forced to risk their lives or make difficult journeys to reach safety and those who are selected for organised resettlement routes.’
Highlighting Pope Francis’ call for Catholic communities to host refugee families, the bishops note that ‘parishes across the UK have been at the forefront of welcoming people through Community Sponsorship’.
Whilst being encouraged by the Government’s commitment to a new UK Resettlement Scheme and ensuring that more people can enter through the Community Sponsorship route, the bishops also warn that ‘the impact will be limited without ambitious targets or proper support for civil society groups’.
They urge the Government to incorporate these into resettlement policy as it is developed.
Picture: A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by Border Force officers.