Sarah Teather, former MP and Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK since January 2016, made a passionate presentation about the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees at the recent Justice and Peace England & Wales conference (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfJOPCsoZPU&list=PL5UUtVasGFc86xfJa4vp-uhh6jSE3bhq5&index=5 ). Justice & Peace Scotland’s vice chair, Marian Pallister, was there and reflects on the dangers of a ‘hostile environment’.
A powerful resignation letter dated July 16 2018 has been shared on social media.
It is signed by Elizabeth Holtzman and addressed to Kirstjen Nielson, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Washington DC. Elizabeth Holtzman was co-author, with Senator Robert Kennedy, of the US Refugee Act of 1980. She tells Nielson that she and President Trump have violated that Act by their treatment of refugees and that it should be Nielson who resigns.
That Act enabled impressive numbers of refugees to be welcomed to the US from Cuba and Vietnam, and 100,000 Jews fleeing the Soviet Union.
Holtzman accuses the Trump administration of ‘making war on immigrants and refugees’ through the ‘ethnically and religiously motivated travel ban’ and the mass deportation of ‘undocumented aliens’. She describes as ‘the final straw’ the separation of children from their parents.
Where does this slippery slope lead?
Scrolling further through my news feed on Facebook, I saw a photograph of a protester whose banner read: ‘The people who hid Anne Frank were breaking the law. The people who killed her were following it.’ The Jewish schoolgirl, and the millions of men, women and children who died with her during the Holocaust, were innocent of any crime other than her religion.
But is all this just someone else’s dirty linen? Chillingly – no.
The Westminster government is deliberately and cynically creating what politicians admit is a ‘hostile environment’ for refugees and asylum seekers. Follow the link above to Sarah Teather’s speech and see just how hostile.
Sajid Javid may be considering ending indefinite immigration detention, but the hostility faced by those seeking asylum in the UK is ugly.
Yet Pope Francis said earlier this year that it isn’t a sin to fear newcomers to our countries. ‘The sin,’ he said, ‘is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection.’ He added, ‘The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbour, when this is in fact a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord.’
Teather says that when official interviewers encounter ‘the other’, they are required to prove that they are fabricating, merely seeking a better life in the UK. They must discredit someone who claims they have been tortured, fought on the ‘wrong’ side of a war, or been subjected to unspeakable discrimination in their home country – and would indubitably die if returned there.
Teather’s disturbing disclosure that interviewers are offered Marks and Spencer’s vouchers to ‘lose’ the evidence presented by asylum applicants is stomach-turning. Who issued that order? ‘Give them M & S vouchers to slip those files in the back of a drawer.’ Who dishes them out? ‘Here you are, lads – get the wife a bottle of wine and a meal for two on your way home on Friday. And there’s the shredder, nod, nod, wink, wink.’ And can you imagine strolling round M & S with those vouchers in your wallet, considering which of the array of goodies you can enjoy on the back of someone’s deportation and possible violent death? I can’t.