Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN)

 

In the UK, the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network, (QARN) works to ensure that justice and compassion are the guiding principles in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers (whether recognized under UN Convention on the Status of Refugees or not). QARN campaigns for their rights, focusing particularly on the issues of indefinite detention, detention of children and destitution.  QARN’s work is rooted in the testimony to equality.

QARN (then called the Quaker Asylum network) held its inaugural meeting in Manchester Friends Meeting House in December 2006. Elizabeth Coleman described that meeting in the Friend (the weekly journal for UK Friends). She wrote of what they had heard:

We heard of the detainees at Manchester airport, who are kept in a windowless detention centre without natural light, and were not allowed any visitors for some weeks because of security concerns. We heard of children in detention and detention is another word for prison. We heard of people living in fear of a broken down door at midnight, detention and deportation, especially over the Christmas period when it is hard to contact one’s solicitor.

And she wrote of what that first meeting concluded:
As we get to know asylum seekers and find out about their situation, we find that many aspects of government policy and the way the asylum system works are in conflict with Quaker values, especially with our testimony to equality and, more fundamentally, our belief that there is that of God in everyone and all should be treated with justice and humanity.
 

Following that meeting, the group undertook to meet four times a year, in different places around Britain. Since then there have been three interrelated strands to their work – helping individuals, raising awareness within the Quaker community, and campaigning more generally.

Those working with individual asylum seekers and refugees, provide support, practical help and advocacy. They give assistance with housing and provide emergency shelter and food for those who become destitute. Some teach English and help provide access to education and employment advice.  They provide links to psychotherapeutic services for those suffering from trauma and visit those held in detention.

The strand concerned with raising awareness of asylum and refugee issues among British Friends aimed to:

 convince British Quakers that a principled critique of current Asylum Policy should be part of our Corporate Quaker witness, in keeping with our Testimony to Equality and to help Britain Yearly Meeting to work effectively for justice and compassion in the asylum and immigration system.   

In 2007 they brought the issue to Meeting for Sufferings in London, where it was formally recognized as a concern of British Quakers. Meeting for Sufferings recorded:
We are outraged at the way our society treats most asylum seekers and refugees. Let us add a strong voice to those of churches, charity organisations such as Amnesty International, MPs and others who are working for change.
 
In 2012, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the corporate social action agency of British Friends, officially adopted QARN’s statement on immigration detention.
We urgently call for the ending of indefinite detention, which is fundamentally unjust and causes much suffering to its victims.

“As Quakers we believe that there is that of God in everyone. We see the Testimony to Equality as clearly relevant to our concerns about those migrants and asylum seekers who are kept in detention. They are treated much worse than those born British…

The third strand, wider campaigning, has been done by QARN itself, and also by QARN and QPSW working together. In 2010 and 2011, QARN made a number of representations to the UK government about the detention of children, based on its statement on immigration detention, quoted above.

In  2013, QPSW made a submission to the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee, based on work carried out by QARN, on the subjects of indefinite detention, detention of children and destitution experienced by failed asylum seekers.  In 2014, QPSW and QARN made a further statement to the same committee, focusing on the quality of decision-making and the information on which it was based.

QPSW also represents Quakers on Still Human Still Here, a coalition of over 60 organisations that are campaigning to end the destitution often experienced by refused asylum seekers.