Several church denominations have hit out at plans to reform the asylum system, claiming they “lack humanity and respect for human dignity”.
Organisations have joined together in urging Home Secretary Priti Patel to put an end to “punitive measures aimed at people who are seeking sanctuary in our country”.
Announcing the proposals last month, Ms Patel vowed to tackle “illegal migration head on” with the “most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades”.
She promised a “comprehensive, fair but firm” plan which would address those entering the UK “illegally” but support those in genuine need of asylum.
For the first time, people who arrive in the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally, under the Home Office plans, prompting charities and campaigners to condemn the changes for judging claimants on how they arrive and not just on merit.
Some experts questioned how effective the plans would be, while others suggested it may cut the amount of protection offered to those making claims.
A public consultation on the plans closes on Thursday.
An open letter from Christian group the St Vincent de Paul Society (England & Wales) and scores of other faith organisations, including the Jesuit Refugee Service, Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Free Church of Scotland, said: “We believe these proposals lack humanity and respect for human dignity.
“We believe it would be wrong to create a system in which the way people enter the UK will impact how their asylum claim is processed and the status they might receive.
“Many people who are forced to flee their homes in desperate circumstances simply have no choice but to cross borders informally to reach a safe haven; to penalise them for this is to abandon the very principle of international protection.”
They said the changes to the system would mean it would “effectively be impossible for most people to claim asylum in the UK because safe and legal routes for claiming asylum in the UK are extremely limited, and could never feasibly be made available to all who need them”, adding: “We cannot ignore their plight and reduce it to a statistical act of bureaucracy.”
The Home Office has said the New Plan for Immigration will “reform the broken asylum system”, adding: “We will welcome people through safe and legal routes, while preventing abuse and reducing the pressures on the system created by parallel illegal routes.”