Moderator urges government to help stateless people

A new initiative calling for improved rights and better support for ‘stateless’ people has been backed by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Katalina Tahaafe-Williams
Australian theologian Katalina Tahaafe-Williams, who works for the World Council of Churches in Geneva, was a guest at the Moderator's Table on Refugees and Modern Slavery

Right Rev Dr Derek Browning has joined 110 religious and faith leaders in signing a statement which urges the UK Government to do more to welcome those who have no country to call their home.

The move comes during Interfaith Week (12-19 November) which seeks to build on the good relationships and partnerships between people of very diverse faiths and beliefs. The faith leaders share a commitment to protecting human rights and promoting human dignity.

The statement is calling for action on part of the UK Government to review its policies towards stateless people as many end up in prolonged and pointless detention while the Home Office tries to remove them from the UK.

More than 800 people are waiting for a decision

The Home Office has recognised only around 40 people as eligible for statelessness leave since introducing a statelessness determination procedure in 2013.

Research by the European Network on Statelessness in 2016 showed that over 800 people were waiting on a decision on their status. Many of them had been in limbo or detention for more than two years.

‘Stateless’ people without legal status cannot leave the UK because no country will accept them. But without status, they don’t have permission to work in the UK and remain vulnerable to destitution, exploitation and detention.

Worldwide there are around 10 million ‘stateless’ people.

Australian theologian Katalina Tahaafe-Williams works for the World Council of Churches in Geneva leading its efforts on migration, indigenous, and multicultural ministry. She visited Scotland last week to talk about the plight of stateless people.

Locked in Limbo

Signatories are calling for alternatives to detention and better support for access to rights and advice and help with integration.

The move is part of the #LockedInLimbo campaign which is led by the European Network on Statelessness and seeks to end the detention of people who end up locked in limbo simply because they have no country that they can return to.

Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said:

“I am pleased to support this statement as a sign of my support for global efforts to contribute to ending statelessness.

“Churches have a vital and significant role in offering a message of hope and peace to the world. It is good to see so many people wanting to engage with the issues and take action.

“The role of the World Council of Churches in advocating for the rights of stateless people has been particularly important in helping to focus attention on this issue.”

Multi-faith collaboration

David Bradwell, Co-ordinator of Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees added:

“When it comes to matters of human dignity and human rights, there should be no acceptance of a situation which leaves people in unfair and unequal situations.

“This is so obviously a question of morality and ethics, and how human societies interact with one another, that it is important that faith and religious leaders, along with all people of good will, speak up and make the case for policy-makers to prioritise the welfare of people who face marginalisation and exclusion.

“The multi-faith collaboration on this statement is a remarkable demonstration that there is a strong shared commitment to the common good.”

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said:

“This is a significant statement, showing inter faith support for global efforts to contribute to ending statelessness and the arbitrary detention associated with it. Faith groups have an important role in calling for policy-makers to prioritise the welfare of people who face marginalisation and exclusion.”

Other signatories include: Bharti Tailor, Vice-President of Religions for Peace UK, the Rev Lorraine Mellor, President of the Methodist Conference, Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Chair of the Liberal Judaism Rabbinic Conference, and Rabbi Hershel Gluck OBE, chairman of the Arab-Jewish Forum and chairman of the Muslim-Jewish Forum.

Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim representatives have supported the statement.View the signatories .

The statement is open for other faith or religious leaders who wish to add their support.

Table on Refugees and Modern Slavery
Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning invited experts, charity workers, academics and refugees and asylum seekers to join his table on Refugees and Modern Slavery

The 'right to have rights'

People designated as stateless, according to the 1954 Statelessness Convention, are “not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”.

Citizenship has often been described as the ‘right to have rights’.

Statelessness, in turn, is a corrosive condition that impacts almost every aspect of daily life.

The use of immigration detention and the criminalisation of irregular migration is increasing across many parts of Europe.

Earlier this month the United Nations High Commission for Refugees launched a new report This is Our Home – stateless minorities and their search for citizenship.