Mayor and Bishop of Liverpool write open letter to Home Secretary

THE MAYOR of Liverpool and the Bishop of Liverpool have written an open letter to the Home Secretary asking that the government withdraws its Nationality and Borders Bill.

The move comes after a motion was passed at last Wednesday’s Full Council meeting  requesting that the Mayor writes to Priti Patel calling for the bill to be withdrawn. The motion also requests that the government works with councils and communities to build a fairer and more effective asylum system.

Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes, who will retire on 2 March, is co-signatory of the letter. He has served as the Bishop of Liverpool for eight years and his final service in the city will be on 22 February.

Liverpool now joins other local authorities and organisations across the country in expressing concern that the Nationality and Borders Bill will create a two-tiered system that will add further pressure on councils and will also disproportionately affect Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

Since 2016, Liverpool has resettled 200 refugees and is currently supporting 250 people who were evacuated from Kabul in August 2021.

Liverpool City Council sets out its vision of Liverpool as a welcoming city for refugees in the Our Liverpool Refugee Strategy The strategy’s purpose is to co-ordinate the work of council teams and other partners in supporting refugees.

The Bill is currently at the committee stage in the House of Lords.

The full text of open letter:

Dear Home Secretary,

Liverpool is a city built on migration and we have always been proud of the part that we play in the UK providing a haven for those seeking sanctuary. People seeking sanctuary deserve the right to live in safe, welcoming and cohesive communities which allow them to build diverse relationships, make connections and rebuild their lives. Therefore, we strongly oppose the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill and we are troubled by the detrimental impact it will have on the lives of those who need our protection. In particular, the proposed Bill will exacerbate an already failing asylum system and for this reason we cannot support it in any way.

The council passed a motion on 26 January 2022 which resolved to:

(i)              call on the UK Government to throw out the Nationality and Borders Bill

(ii)             call on the UK Government to work with local authorities and communities to build a fairer and more effective asylum system, including the provision of viable, safe legal routes to protection in the UK.

Liverpool City Council and the Diocese of Liverpool have always endeavoured to work in partnership with your department and the Government on a range of issues – including on asylum and resettlement (such as through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Support Scheme and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme). We are happy to be one of the core dispersal and initial accommodation centres in the UK. We are proud of the place we play in protecting and supporting vulnerable people who have suffered persecution, exploitation and (as we have seen recently with the tragedy in the Channel) unimaginably perilous journeys. These are people who are here to seek safety for themselves and their families.

The legislation you have proposed will create a hostile two-tiered asylum system and have a widespread impact on the city of Liverpool and our council. It is hard to comprehend that Her Majesty’s Government in 2022 is planning to flout international law with what the UNHCR says is a proposal that ‘do[es] not respect fundamental principles of refugee law’ . A law born out of the ravages of the Second World War that was created to protect vulnerable people.

How someone enters the UK has no bearing on their need for protection, it is simply a reflection of the circumstances in which they have found themselves in. As Lord Kerr pointed out, your own department’s figures show that 61 per cent of people crossing the Channel in the past 18 months are granted asylum at initial stage and 59 per cent of the remaining applicants are granted at appeal. So the facts suggest that well over 70 per cent are accepted as having a well-founded fear of persecution. In the light of this, proposals in the Bill to ‘offshore’ the UK’s responsibility for providing protection, or to warehouse people seeking asylum in detention-like ‘accommodation centres’ flies in the face of our international obligations, and will stoke division and cause human suffering. The bill fails to meaningfully acknowledge the fact that for the majority of people there are no safe legal routes for protection.

Liverpool has been a dispersal area for over 20 years, a City of Sanctuary since 2012 and we published the Our Liverpool refugee, people seeking asylum and vulnerable migrant strategy in 2019. Being a welcoming city is at the heart of our work, we are proud of what we do to support and welcome people seeking asylum directly into our communities. This bill will deeply exacerbate the problems we have in our city and runs counter to our culture of inclusion and cohesion.

Your plans come at a time when we are still in the midst of a pandemic and slowly recovering from the strains this has placed on our city. Your bill will potentially create additional burden on Liverpool to support vulnerable people through your two-tiered asylum system. We have been working hard as a city to deal with the stresses of your department’s existing No Recourse to Public Funds policy, but despite these challenges you are pushing forward a bill that will potentially create a whole new group of additional people in need of support. The burden of this will predominantly fall upon Northern cities which host the highest numbers of people seeking asylum which seems at odds with your government’s levelling up agenda.

As Mayor and Bishop we are both committed to empowering communities and promoting equalities. This bill will have the most negative impact on Liverpool’s black and Asian residents and people from other ethnic minority backgrounds. For example, your proposals on Clause 9 (no notice removal of British citizenship) strip away the British principle of due process and will potentially have the most negative impact on British people from these groups. We find it deeply disappointing that you would consider actions that work in opposition to the creation of a fairer and more equal society for all.

Your recent comments about the incident at the Women’s Hospital in Liverpool only go to show that your agenda in this bill is not to create a fairer more efficient system but is to stoke the politics of division. Your conflation of the incident with the current asylum system risked stoking discord in our communities and resulting in people (including British citizens) being harmed. It saddens us that you would take such a risk with people’s safety.

Liverpool City Council is a participant in the City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network and our concerns are shared by many other local authorities. The Network’s full response to the New Plan for Immigration can be read online. These concerns have been echoed in the Lords by the Bishops of Chelmsford, Durham and London.

Together with all our partners across the city we are asking that you abandon your plans for this bill and instead work with partners to reform the process along the following principles:

  • Effective access to the asylum process
  • A fair, humane and efficient asylum system
  • Reception conditions that promote dignity, liberty, empowerment and integration
  • Integration
  • Dignity, liberty and humanity for those found not to be in need of protection
  • Global solidarity and responsibility sharing

There are many elements of your bill which we find deeply worrying and we would be happy to meet with you to discuss these issues.                                                      

Joanne Anderson                                          Paul Bayes

Mayor of Liverpool                                        Bishop of Liverpool

Image: Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson and the Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes

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