Unitarians oppose Illegal Migration Bill

18 April 2023

Unitarians have voted at their recent Annual Meetings to oppose the UK government’s Illegal Migration Bill and called on the government instead to establish safe and accessible routes for all those seeking asylum, urging Unitarian and Free Christian congregations across the country to write to their MPs before the third reading of the bill on 25 April 2023.

The emergency resolution passed by the Annual Meetings states that “the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches is concerned that the provisions of the Illegal Immigration Bill will remove rights to protection in the UK for vulnerable adults and children seeking safe haven”. Our Chief Officer will join with other Church leaders in publicly opposing the Bill as it stands and our General Assembly “calls on Unitarian congregations and individuals to raise these concerns with their MPs before the 3rd Reading of the Bill on 25 April 2023”. The resolution also “calls on the British Government to establish safe and accessible routes for all those seeking asylum.”

Our Social Action Officer Ann Howell is coordinating our campaign. Please email her for more info.

Background information provided by the proposers of the emergency resolution can be found below:

On April 4th 2023, representatives from the United Reformed Church, Baptist Union and Methodist Church, as well as from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Churches Together in England handed in a joint signed statement to 10 Downing Street. Over 1,500 church leaders signed this statement calling on the government to withdraw the legislation, ‘appalled’ by the proposals of this Bill.

Revd David Hardman, Methodist Public Issues Team leader, said: “If ever there was a contemporary example of ignoring our neighbour and walking by on the other side, this is it. On a moral level, these proposals lack compassion and respect for people’s dignity. On a practical level, they fail to see that punishing people who cross the channel in small boats without offering alternative safe routes will only cause pain and increase the backlog of people who are stuck in unfit accommodation here in the UK.”

The United Nations Human Right Council has called this bill ‘an effective asylum ban’ in breach of the Refugee Convention. It breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

On this the Holy Week for Christians, it feels like a betrayal of our British values that we as a country would allow a Bill that betrays our Christian Values of love and support of our neighbour. This bill proposes to detain and remove those who arrive in the UK in breach of immigration control (irregular routes) without consideration for human rights claims and wish for protection claims to mitigate their case. This Bill proposes to ‘forcibly’ remove children under the age of 18 years in detention with and without family members, and without recourse to protection of the law nor appeal, and return them to the country they are escaping.

The Bill fails to recognise the limited availability of legal routes open to those leaving their country seeking safe haven. Entitlement of protection under the law of those who have been victims of modern slavery or human trafficking would also be denied, possibly mitigating sections of the Human Rights Act 1998.  Those who make the dangerous journey to our shores have had a campaign of vilification against them, often lead by uncared words by our leaders. They are refugees, asylum seekers, migrants but most importantly, they are human beings.

Our Unitarians principles calls us to account and to act with responsibility in upholding our values and the inherent worth and dignity of all people. This motion recognises our stance of standing in solidarity with other faith traditions to call our government to account and require of them to act with responsibility and compassion to those in need of our care and consideration, especially when they have risk their lives escaping conflict, oppression, climate disaster, torture, poverty and exploitation.

This motion calls on our EC and Chief Officer to stand in solidarity with the other faith leaders and sign petitions against this Bill on the behalf of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

The motion calls on all Unitarian congregations, and congregants, to contact their representatives to put pressure on their MPs to call for this Bill to be withdrawn.

In addition, the motion adds to the voices of other faith leaders calling on the UK government to ‘establish safe and accessible routes’ for those seeking asylum, and for the UK to ‘honour our moral and international obligations… in welcoming people in need of safety.’

We also request that if this motion pass, that the Chief Officer writes to all congregations immediately with the details of the Resolution and Background Note, in order to ensure MPs can be contacted in a timely manner.