The overwhelming response to the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme shows clear support amongst the public for helping those seeking sanctuary. Methodist churches and members around the UK stand ready to open their homes and lives to Ukrainians who desperately need our friendship and solidarity.
The scheme also demonstrates that when called for, the Government can find resources and commit to helping people in need. We are grateful that the Government has listened to the widespread calls for them to act and to begin to open routes by which Ukrainians can come to the UK for safety.
However, whilst communities are united in offering support and protection to those fleeing an unimaginable situation, we remain concerned that this welcoming approach appears to be at odds with the Government’s response to refugees from other parts of the world.
Over the past few weeks, non-Ukrainian nationals fleeing the conflict have been treated with hostility across Europe. Many foreign students, refugees who have settled within Ukraine and others who have made Ukraine their home have struggled to find routes out of the conflict, and have instead faced discrimination and harsh treatment. All people fleeing Ukraine need to be offered safety, not only those holding a Ukrainian passport.
In the UK, this hostility is particularly demonstrated in the Nationality and Borders Bill currently going through Parliament.
With this Bill, the Government is continuing to pursue a hostile and unwelcoming approach towards some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The Bill will have a detrimental impact on many people seeking refuge, criminalising people with a legitimate claim to asylum, keeping families apart and undermining people’s right to refugee protection. The Bill currently presents no new safe routes by which refugees can reach the UK, leaving people fleeing conflict and persecution in places such as Yemen, Syria and Iran without options. At the same time as the Government asks us to open our homes to Ukrainian refugees, they are closing the door on refugees from around the world.
The Refugee Convention was established over 70 years ago in 1951, in the wake of war. Signatories to the convention committed that the way someone travelled to seek refugee protection should not matter, acknowledging that escaping conflict, oppression and persecution was the immediate priority. Despite the risk of war rising once again, the Nationality and Borders Bill directly undermines this principle.
As Christians, we are called to welcome the stranger, and to recognise God amongst them. We cannot abide any kind of discrimination which seeks to ignore or mar the image of God that all people bear. This Bill which judges a person’s legitimate claim to sanctuary based on how they arrive in the UK should not be tolerated. Just as the Government is right to make every effort to welcome people from Ukraine, we must ensure that this effort is made whenever necessary.
Any response to people fleeing conflict in Ukraine must now be applied across the board. We urge the Government to look carefully at the Nationality and Borders Bill, recognise this inconsistency, and take immediate action so that all who seek sanctuary are protected.
The President and Vice-President of the Conference
Revd Sonia Hicks and Barbara Easton