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Government asked to declare an amnesty for legacy cases
13th February 2009: The Church of England’s General Synod has voted for a motion asking the Government to allow asylum seekers the right to work in the UK.

The motion entitled ‘Justice and asylum seekers’, which was tabled by the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham, also calls for Amnesty for legacy cases and practical help for destitute asylum seekers.

Apart from asking the Government to grant permission for asylum seekers to work, the Synod is also calling for practical help for destitute asylum seekers.

The motion recalled that until 2002, those seeking asylum were allowed to apply to work six months after filing an application for asylum. On 23rd July 2002 this concession was removed by the Government without notice, the reason being given, that applications should be processed within this time. However, this is not the case.

Changing the policy has a major impact on the future integration of those who will subsequently be allowed to stay and who have had to wait more than six months for an initial decision. It particularly affects those with specialist occupations, such as health professionals, who need to keep their skills up to date, Bishops said.

More than 1,100 medically qualified refugees are recorded on the British Medical Association’s database. The cost of preparing a refugee doctor to work in the UK is £10,000 as opposed to the £250,000 cost of training a doctor from scratch. There are more than 1,500 refugee teachers in England.

In May 2007 the Archbishops' Council announced that it was joining the Still Human Still Here coalition of church, refugee and asylum organizations, which highlights the plight of tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers in the UK.

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, said at the time: "Refused asylum seekers are forced into abject poverty without permission to work or access to health care and education while they wait either to leave the UK or be granted leave to remain here."

On 6th February 2008, Liam Byrne, then the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration to the Local Government Association, said: “We will fail if we do not reform our system so that it is more humane in its nature. So that it is compassionate. So we ensure we honour our traditions of providing humanitarian protection to those who need our help…. And we will be most sensitive to the children in our care and the victims of human trafficking.”

The Bishops now appeal to the Government “to find a practical and humane remedy to the intolerable situation of destitute ‘refused’ asylum seekers who are unable to return to their country of origin because of personal safety, health or family reasons.”

Niall Cooper, National Coordinator of Church Action on Poverty, said: “Across Britain many churches are picking up the pieces of the government's despicable use of destitution to try to force asylum seekers out of the country. For many people refused asylum there is no safe route back so they are stuck in limbo here. For the last few years our Living Ghosts campaign has been seeking to ensure the principle of ‘work for those who can, support for those who can't’ should include all people on these islands, which includes people refused asylum,” Ekklesia reported.