Nationality and Borders Bill
I apologise for addressing this to you as Chair of an Interparliamentary Group to the House of Commons but could not find on the website any address to which to send a submission in answer to one of the questions. As you will see, I am sending this on behalf of the Iona Community Fife Family Group. In 2005-6 I and two others from the Britain Zimbabwe Society submitted evidence to this Committee which was examining the treatment of Asylum Seekers and sadly I feel that this new legislation heralds a potentially very worse situation.
Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee - call for responses to questions on the Nationality and Borders Bill.
Response to the question:
What ore the implications of extending the offence of helping onasylum seeker facilitate irregular entry to the UK so that It covers those that may help asylum seekers for nobenefit to themselves?
We members of the Fife Family Group of the Iona community, an international Christian community, with a strong commitment for over 80 years to justice and peace, wish to address this question. The leader ot the Iona Community, betore the deadline, sent a response to the Home Ottice challenging many aspects of this bill ongrounds of distortion of the truth, lack of compassion, and disregard for human rights.
We are aware of the claim made in the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill that the bill will assist 'regular' asylum claims, by tightening the legislation to prosecute and punish those who profit from the tratticking ot illegal immigrants. We are also aware, as the Joint Committee's question implies, that the bill will go much further than that, taking a very different direction in its approach to those who offer any assistance to those who have sought asylum in the UK, without going through the difficult and dangerous legal process that isopen to few who flee from danger at home.
We are convinced that this proposed billincludes a very serious proposal to tacilitate the tracing and deportation of many needy and genuine asylum seekers, by threatening to criminalise ordinary citizens, who are acting out of motives that are the results of their religious faith or their common concern for humanity.
Historically there are many examples ot how threats towards those driven by philanthropic and humanitarian concerns have beenused to enforce political policies. In 1851the Fugitive Slave Act in the United States tightened lawscriminalising anyone who assisted or sheltered those seeking refuge from slavery. In the 1930slaws were published in Nazi Germany and other parts of Europe with severe penalties imposed on any who assisted or sheltered Jewish people. Some of us in this century have spoken to those on the Mexican/USA Border who deliver water and medical help to 'illegal' immigrants in the desert, and have been taken to court during the Bush administrationand sentenced to imprisonment. In all these different situations there were courageous people who stood by the obligations of their faith and humanity, and continued to risk life and liberty by their compassion for the needy.
Churches, Charities, Voluntary Organisations and Individuals all over Britain provide unconditional humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers and refugees. Obviously the most serious aspect of this proposed legislation is the threat that it poses to persecuted and needy asylum seekers who have no 'regular' means to seek proper documentation before coming to Britain. But there is also a basic threat towards ordinary citizens who are criminalised tor tollowing the obligations ot their taiths and humanity. As the committee will know, giving practical assistance to the needy stranger is absolutely central to at least three of the world's great faiths-Judaism, Christianity, andIslam and indeed to others. It is well recognised that the fundamental test of any genuine religion is compassion. This proposed legislation willeffectively prevent that basic right.
There is no doubt in our minds that normally law abiding and peaceful citizens willcontinue to assist needy asylum seekers in detiance ot this proposed law. There is a recent precedent in apartheid South Africa, when those of faith were encouraged to refuse to obey unjust laws, drawing on the example of the Confessing Church in Germany in the 1930s. If this legislation passes it will mean that thousands ot UK citizens, in pertorming simple humanitarian acts ot assistance and sanctuary will be engaged in breaking the law for the sake of conscience and human sympathy. For many centuries, religious communities were known and recognised as places of sanctuary for those fleeing persecution. In this regardthere arealready a group ot Quakers near us in in Fite who are planning to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers, and there will be many more throughout the United Kingdom. They will have the support of the Iona Community.
Rev Dr lain Whyte Rev Isabel Whyte Ms. Morag Balfour Ms.Isabel Carr Smart
On behalf of, and with the agreement of, the Iona Community Fife Family Group, Scotland.