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Photo Credit: Gareth Fuller/ PA
Photo Credit: Gareth Fuller/ PA
UK News

'Hostile, tragic, shameful': Christian refugee rights campaigner disappointed by UK's biggest asylum system overhaul

by Tola Mbakwe

A Baptist minister who helps Church denominations campaign for refugee rights has condemned the UK government's proposed changes to the asylum system. 

The Government has billed the Home Secretary's new immigration plan as the "biggest overhaul of the UK's asylum system in decades". 

Some of the new measures are as follows:  

- For the first time, people deemed to have arrived in the UK "illegally" will no longer have the same entitlements as those who come to the country by legal routes. This will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses and their status in the UK if that claim is successful.

- Access to benefits and family reunion rights could be limited while the appeals and judicial process will be reformed to "speed up" removals for those whose claims are refused.

- The system will be made "much harder for people to be granted refugee status based on unsubstantiated claims" and will include "rigorous age assessments" to stop adult migrants pretending to be children.

- Tougher laws will be introduced to "withhold protection and remove dangerous criminals, even when they improperly claim to be victims of modern slavery".

-Harsher sentences will be imposed on people trying to enter the country illegally.

Rev Steve Tinning is minister at Leigh Road Baptist Church in Essex, which housed a refugee family through a safe route. He told Premier he is saddened by what the government is proposing. 

"The only victims of these new regulations are going to be those who are fleeing war and persecution," he said. 

"It's another step along the path that we've seen over the last few weeks of hostility towards asylum seekers and refugees from the government. And it needs to be resisted. it's a really tragic and sad state of affairs."

Rev Tinning specifically called out the use of the terms "illegal" and "legal" when referring to asylum seekers. 

"The way that we respond to asylum seekers and refugees shouldn't be based on the routes that they are forced to make, it should be based on their need," he said. 

"And while the government is closing so many safe routes for refugees and asylum seekers to find sanctuary in the UK, it is no wonder that so many of them are having to resort to these unofficial routes.

"The legally and illegally narrative is so unhelpful because it paints a picture of those that are deserving and undeserving… those that are going by the book and those that aren't going by the book. It isn't putting the emphasis on their need, because so many of them are fleeing war and persecution, and it is the need that is the most critical thing that needs to be listened to."

The Home Office argued that "fairness" and a genuine need for refuge are at the heart of the new proposals. It defended the plans as necessary to deal with the "terrible trade" of people smuggling and to fix the "broken" asylum system. 

Life sentences will be brought in as a maximum penalty for people smugglers. However, Rev Tinning doesn't think that strategy will work. 

"I don't think there's any evidence to suggest that deterrent policies work. You can't assume that those that are fleeing war and persecution will have a detailed understanding of the rights they will or won't have when they reach the country in which they're hoping to find welcoming and claim asylum. 

"If they're willing to risk their lives on boats that are not suitable to cross these seas and to climb into lorries and risk their lives, then you have to assume that there is a degree of desperation that is going on. To think that it's a deterrent is just wildly unrealistic, and lacking of understanding of the desperation that so many of these people are facing."

Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed deals could be sought for foreign nations to process asylum claimants, saying the Government will "consider all options".  The British Red Cross said her policies are "inhumane", but Ms Patel said she will be able to offer protection to vulnerable people in "immediate danger and at risk in their home country".

Rev Tinning called for Christians to speak out against the system overhaul and work to welcome and house refugees in their communities. 

"It's hostile and it's tragic," Rev Tinning added. "As Christians, we have no choice but to speak out in shock and dismay at the way those who are seeking our welcome and our protection and our compassion are being treated. It is really shameful."

Last year about 8,500 people arrived in the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats and the majority claimed asylum, the Home Office said. Around 800 are estimated to have made the crossing so far this year.

Listen to Premier's interview with Rev Tinning here:

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