The Archbishop of Wales John Davies has called for refugees to be treated with dignity and compassion as he welcomed the return of Otis Bolamu to Swansea.
Otis, an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo, had been taken from his home in the city in a dawn raid in the run-up to Christmas.
He was held at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre at Gatwick and had been scheduled to be deported on Christmas Day, but has since been released on appeal.
The Archbishop was one a number of faith leaders who wrote to MPs last week, urging the government to rethink its approach to immigration and to move away from a hostile environment towards a culture of sanctuary.
“It’s vital that a country which prides itself on its moral standards, a country such as our own, should be a place of welcome rather than a place where refugees and asylum -seekers are viewed with cynicism,” he said.
“It should be a place where people can believe that what they have to say will be heard fairly and that they will be treated justly.
“Too often we hear stories about people who come to us having fled from all manner of problems, and potential persecution, being treated with a huge degree of cynicism, a huge degree of disbelief, so that their stories are just not treated seriously.
“We’ve also heard of instances where, even if their stories are taken seriously, they are kept waiting for unjustified periods of time while their applications for asylum are dealt with.”
Otis has now returned to Swansea, where he is a member of his local church and a volunteer in an Oxfam bookshop. A petition to prevent his removal was signed by more than 12,500 people.
“I deplore the face that people can be snatched from their beds at 4am and whipped way to a detention centre,” the Archbishop said. “It’s an affront to their dignity and says little about our decency when dealing with people who are frightened, displaced and potentially persecuted.
“Fortunately, because of public pressure, that order for removal was not enforced and he’s currently back in familiar surroundings. There are many around who are less fortunate, whose lives remain on the line, who remain fearful and separated from family and friends.”
Among those campaigning for Otis’s release was Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees (HBTSR), which hosts regular away days around Powys for asylum seekers and refugees across South Wales.
The Archbishop visited the charity’s away day at Tregoyd House Adventure Centre in the summer, when 80 youngsters who have started new lives in Newport, Swansea and Cardiff came together for an activity weekend.
“I am profoundly impressed by HBTSR which treat people with dignity and give them a sense of being welcomed,” he said.
The Archbishop is now calling for urgent action to create a more humane immigration system.
“I’m not suggesting for a moment that we should be a pushover and that we simply accept any story that we are told; but our country should be a place of sanctuary, where people can feel safe and be dealt with in good time and with dignity and fairness.
“I urge all those who have influence in such matters to look on these people as human beings and not just as statistics, and to try and reflect upon on just how draining, how spiritually and physically exhausting it can be, to not to know where your future lies.
“If you have any influence, if you could write to your MP or anybody else who has influence I would urge you to do so. This country needs to be able to look itself in the eye and recognise itself as a place where those who are persecuted, those who are desperately frightened, can be welcomed and treated with dignity and justice and compassion.”