Refugee Week: Why work should be part of welcome

web LifttheBanpic credit Lift the Ban coalition‘Changing the Conversation around Immigration’ is just one of the activities that will take place at the United Reformed Church’s (URC) base at this year’s Greenbelt festival.

And for Refugee Week (17-23 June), Simeon Mitchell, URC Secretary for Church and Society, explains why churches are backing calls for asylum seekers to have the right to work.

'Being here, we are not working, it’s like we’ve been put to one side, as if we are not human beings,' saysMartha, an asylum seeker[1]

We are all children of God. This understanding of our common humanity is the starting point for many Christian approaches to issues of justice. We believe in the importance of treating all people with dignity, and that everyone should have the opportunity to experience life in all its fullness.

This is why the United Reformed Church is calling for an end to the government’s hostile environment policy, and also for asylum seekers to have the right to work.

In Britain, it can take months or even years for asylum claims to be settled. While people await a decision, they are currently effectively banned from working. Not being able to work means that asylum seekers often struggle to provide for themselves and their families. While they are housed and given a minimal level of financial support by the state, at just £5.39 a day, this leaves many in poverty.

Just as importantly, people seeking asylum are denied the opportunities for flourishing that work brings: to integrate into the community, build self-esteem, and contribute to society.

Another asylum seeker, Ahmet, commented: 'I want to work in this country because I want to find my identity. My identity is my work. If I can work, I can improve my life and I can help other people. I will be happy and confident.'1

Our faith tradition provides us with good grounds to support the call for asylum seekers to be given the opportunity to work. The Old Testament is full of exhortations that the people of God should welcome the stranger among them. Landowners are instructed to leave some crops in the fields so that others can harvest them, in the practice known as gleaning. In simple terms, it was an instruction that everyone had a right to work.

As a Church, we believe that people who have risked everything to find safety in Britain should have the best chance possible of living in dignity, contributing to society and integrating into their new communities. That’s why we are campaigning for asylum seekers to have the right to work after six months, as part of the Lift the Ban coalition.

The coalition points out that the current ban is wasteful of both public money and the talents of our population. No other European country has such strict rules, and nor do Canada or the USA. Research has found that two thirds of the general public agree that asylum seekers should have the right to work, and support is growing in Parliament.

Find out more and join the campaign at www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/lifttheban. And join us in the URC tent at Greenbelt to talk about how we can ‘Change the Conversation about Immigration’.

[1] Quoted in Lift the Ban campaign launch report, October 2018