UK faith leaders urge government to end detention of stateless people

David Bradwell, Refugee Co-ordinator for Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees and member of the Executive Committee of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe
/ 4 mins read

Over the last three months, Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees and ENS have been working in partnership to promote the #LockedInLimbo campaign and to raise awareness about the plight of stateless people in the UK. During the UK’s Interfaith Week (12-19 November 2017) we launched a faith leaders’ joint statement calling on the UK government to end detention of stateless people and to improve treatment of those living in Britain without a nationality.

When it was published last Wednesday the statement was backed by over 120 religious leaders, with an additional 15 added since. It received widespread coverage in the press (some examples - Sundday Post, Evening Telegraph and The Courier) and on social media. The statement remains open for signature to other UK based faith leaders who wish to add their support and further activities are being planned to capitalise on the widespread support.

The collaboration in bringing this statement about has involved each of our organisations offering what they do best. ENS have been great partners in that their knowledge, expertise and ability to support a focussed campaign makes it easy to join in. Churches and faith groups in the UK often work closely at an institutional level, so asking for sign-up and sharing stories with leaders at a local, regional and national level is possible.

Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees and the Joint Public Issues Team helped provide the faith group liaison and support for the statement. The commitment of the Churches in particular to support work to eradicate statelessness is informed through bodies such as the World Council of Churches, which has a programme of work on the issue. In Europe, the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe also has raising awareness and tackling statelessness as part of its agenda.

When it comes to matters of human dignity and human rights, there should be no acceptance of a situation which leaves people in unfair and unequal situations.

This is so obviously a question of morality and ethics, and how human societies interact with one another, that it is important that faith and religious leaders, along with all people of good will, speak up and make the case for policy-makers to prioritise the welfare of people who face marginalisation and exclusion.

Joint statements by faith leaders which bring together voices from a variety of different traditions and beliefs demonstrate the moral, ethical and spiritual concerns of an issue like the arbitrary detention of stateless people.

The multi-faith collaboration on this statement is a remarkable demonstration that there is a strong shared commitment to the common good.

It has been an exciting partnership for the UK faith communities to be working with ENS.

The UK faith leaders’ statement was backed by the Right Rev Dr Derek Browning (Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland), Dr Muhammad Adrees (Convener/President of the Muslim Council of Scotland), Dr Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury), 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 is calling for action on 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.

Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said:

“I am pleased to support this statement as a sign of my support for global efforts to contribute to ending statelessness.

“Churches have a vital and significant role in offering a message of hope and peace to the world. It is good to see so many people wanting to engage with the issues and take action.

“The role of the World Council of Churches in advocating for the rights of stateless people has been particularly important in helping to focus attention on this issue.”

Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim representatives have supported the statement, a full list of which can be found here.

I think the UK is facing two particular challenges at the moment. One is lack of awareness and understanding about the issue of statelessness. Part of the reason of getting a large number of faith leaders to support the #LockedinLimbo campaign is that we hope they will now be better informed and can use their influence and contacts to keep raising awareness of the issue.

The second challenge in the UK is around levels of intolerance and xenophobia towards any migrants or racial or religious minority. This is why it remains important for faith groups to speak together. We have seen some strong leadership by global figures including Pope Francis, but the context of Brexit driven by concerns about immigration continues to cause anxiety and uncertainty for many.

We cannot overcome these challenges by working in isolation – creative partnerships between NGOs and faith groups, as well as with other agencies and actors, are what is needed to have an impact with influence-shapers and decision-makers.

If faith groups in other countries are interested in setting up their own #LockedinLimbo statement and would like to find out more how we went about it, do please get in touch.

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