The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, today raised his concerns about the protection of refugees in the UK during a visit to the Refugee Council, the leading charity working with asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.
The Archbishop spent his visit meeting asylum seekers and refugees at the charity’s Day Centre and Advice Service in Brixton, London, many of whom are destitute and waiting to be able to return safely to their own countries. The people he met were from countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, and Sri Lanka, countries where human rights abuses are still rife.
The Archbishop, who has long supported the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, said:
“It was sobering to hear the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees during my visit today, and I was impressed by the work the Refugee Council is doing to help them.
“It’s clear that there’s an ongoing policy question about why asylum seekers are not allowed to work, a problem that was apparent from the people I met here today.”
He added: “I’m also very concerned about the issue of protection, and that people sent back to their countries are not monitored. Without these checks, there’s a risk that what the government regards as being a safe environment may not be. If we look at situations like the one in Zimbabwe, I think there’s a real question over whether people can be sent back safely to these countries.”
Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“We were delighted to welcome the Archbishop to the Refugee Council today and that he could hear firsthand the horrors many of our clients have faced in their own countries, and the difficulties they have experienced in the UK. We work on a daily basis with people who have fled torture, conflict and persecution, and are seeking safety in the UK – yet many have been forced into destitution here, and have nowhere else to turn. It is essential that the government, as part of its very welcome project to improve the asylum system, ensures it has the welfare of refugees and asylum seekers at its heart.”
The Refugee Council assists over 1000 people a month with practical advice and emotional support. At their Day Centre in Brixton, the charity provides around 140 people with a hot, healthy lunch each day, and clothing and toiletries to destitute clients. The charity also offers English classes and specialist counselling, as well as expert advice to newly arrived asylum seekers on how to access financial support, accommodation, and legal advice.