Faith leaders urge PM to revise refugee policy

A Syrian mother and child in Macedonia, Greece. Public Domain/flickr
A Syrian mother and child in Macedonia, Greece. Public Domain/flickr

The Superior of the Mount Street Jesuit Community is among the 200+ religious leaders who have written to the Prime Minister, urging her to relax the UK’s immigration rules so that refugees from Syria and other areas can be reunited with their families. Fr Dominic Robinson SJ joined the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, as well as Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger and Muslim Council of Britain secretary general Harun Rashid Khan and other representatives from the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities, who have written to Theresa May.

In their letter, the faith leaders say that close relatives of Britons and refugees already in the country are living abroad in "desperate conditions" and pointing out that people are now making "unsafe" journeys with "avoidable tragedies". They urge the government to "urgently revise its policy" to help refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and other areas of conflict "by adopting fair and humane family reunion policies" and to give them a legal route into the United Kingdom.

"Under the present immigration rules, a British doctor of Syrian origin could not bring her parents from a refugee camp in Lebanon - even though they were refugees and she could support and house them,” the letter says. "A Syrian child who arrived alone in the UK could not bring his parents from a refugee camp in Jordan - even if the child were recognised a refugee and even though his parents were themselves refugees."

Fr Dominic has recently returned from a visit to Kurdistan with Aid to the Church in Need, the agency which, with Jesuit Refugee Service, is supporting families who have been forced to flee their ancient Christian heartlands in Mosul city and the neighbouring Nineveh Plains. With no breakthrough yet in the struggle to claim back their towns and villages, they still need support in their places of temporary sanctuary in Kurdish northern Iraq. Last month, Fr Dominic joined a delegation of 22 faith leaders on a visit to ‘The Jungle’, the temporary refugee city in Calais. And in two weeks' time,  he will walk the Camino Ignaciano with parishioners of Farm Street Church to help raise funds for ACN projects in northern Iraq and JRS.

A human issue - not religious or political

"There is an urgent obligation to speed up the process of reuniting with their families unaccompanied children living in the Calais 'Jungle' in squalor and constant danger," says Fr Dominic. "The week our delegation of faith representatives visited there had been five murders in the camp. This is not a religious or political issue. It's a human issue which can be resolved."

Last October, faith leaders – along with lawyers and former judges – criticised the UK government's response as "too low, too slow and too narrow" and called on it to adopt new policies to help refugees. And last week, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the UK was on track to deliver the promise to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 and was committed to accepting 3,000 unaccompanied children registered in France, Italy and Greece.

In response to this week's appeal by the faith leaders, a Home Office spokeswoman said: "The UK has been at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria … We are also in active discussions with the UNHCR, other partner organisations and the Italian, Greek and French governments to strengthen and speed up mechanisms to identify, assess and transfer unaccompanied refugee children to the UK where this in their best interests."  However, the faith leaders pointed out in their letter: “Families of refugees can currently be reunited only by resorting to desperately unsafe irregular journeys, sometimes ending in avoidable tragedies".