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Migration: ‘a cause of fear, but we must provide’, says Welby

10 June 2016


Giving evidence: the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, on Tuesday

Giving evidence: the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, on Tuesday

IMMIGRATION is a burden and a cause of fear for many communities in the UK, which the Government has a responsibility to distil, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. The refugee crisis has also been a “steep learning-curve” for the Government and will continue to be a political issue for the next generation.

Archbishop Welby was giving evidence on migration and asylum to the Home Affairs Select Committee, alongside the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, in Westminster on Tuesday. It was the first time that an Archbishop has given evidence on a Select Committee.

“The answer to the burden”, the Archbishop said, “is that one has to provide significant extra resource to the communities affected from central Government — because it’s a national issue not a local issue — not only for the direct cost of those who are coming in as immigrants but to strengthen the stability and the infrastructure, in particular around education, health, and housing, of those communities that are accepting people.

“This in my experience liberates the natural generosity of people to welcome once the causes or the reasons for fear have been dispelled, and they are quite easily dispelled, so this is a problem that needs to be addressed; it is not a case for saying that the answer to that is no immigration; quite the reverse.”

The Church of England working with other denominations and charities is central to this welcome, he said.

Archbishop Welby was being questioned by the chairman of the Committee, Keith Vaz, and other member MPs. Mr Vaz began by referring to comments made by the Archbishop in recent interview, that it was “absolutely outrageous” to presume that those who fear immigration are racist (News, 18 March).

The Archbishop responded: “There is a great deal of nervousness around immigration and there is genuine fear stirred up by comments more widely. The answer to fear — pastorally — is not to say it is improper to fear but to recognise fear and to address the causes of the fear.”

When asked whether he condemned suggestions made by the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, at the weekend that women might be more vulnerable to sex attacks should the UK vote to remain in the European Union on 23 June, Archbishop Welby answered: “Absolutely, without hesitation.”

“[It] is an inexcusable pandering to people’s worries and prejudices that is giving legitimisation to racism, which I have seen in parishes in which I’ve served, and we cannot legitimise that,” he said. “Fear is a pastoral issue; you deal with it by recognising it, by standing alongside and providing answers to it.”

Mr Farage later responded: “Nothing I have said is racist,” before suggesting that the Archbishop had been misled by newspapers headlines.

The Archbishop was cautious, however, not to reveal his stance on the EU referendum when questioned by Mr Vaz on how the outcome might impact migration and asylum. Bishop Butler said that he was happy to confirm his pro-remain position, disclosed earlier this week.

The Bishop, who has previously called on the Government to accept 30,000 more refugees into the UK than the 20,000 promised by the Prime Minister, said that he was “frustrated” with the slow progress and red tape — such as funding and safeguarding issues — preventing volunteers from hosting refugees in their homes, including the Archbishop’s.

The Government must not let this enthusiasm and wiliness slip, he said, and “there must be a greater wiliness from local authorities” to move the process forward.

Archbishop Welby said that he hoped to receive a refugee family in Lambeth Palace — nine months after his offer — in a “reasonable distance” of time.

He also said that the UK was not “full” and could take more refugees if sufficient provisions were made. World leaders first need to “craft very carefully the way that safe and legal routes are created to avoid pulling those who feel they can come”, while stifling the human-trafficking industry, he said. “It is also the law of the sea that you rescue those in danger — it is not a moral option.”

The Archbishop was later questioned by MPs on government airstrikes in Syria, which he had condoned in a debate in the House of Lords last year, saying that the criteria for Just War had been met.

“Airstrikes by themselves would be a disaster,” he said on Tuesday. “I was supporting limited air support in the context of very heavy engagement in humanitarian work to relieve the pressure and to create safe havens and to renew the economies in Lebanon and Jordan, and in the safer areas of Iraq and Syria where possible. The Government has done that very effectively.”

Narrowing the crisis down to the conflict in Syria and Libya, however, is a mistake, he said; many countries in Africa, and in Asia, are host to tens of millions of refugees, and climate change is as much a significant cause of this movement.

In the 90-minute evidence session, the Archbishop also said that he agreed with Pope Francis that the United States Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was “not a Christian”. When asked by the Labour MP Chuka Umunna what he thought of the billionaire’s policy to keep out Muslims, he said: “It’s certainly not a Christian thing to do, nor is it a rational thing to do.”

Hate crime against Muslims in the UK is on the rise, and the country has a “shameful record” on anti-Semitism, which had been the “biggest failure” of the C of E’s recent history, and a “great cause of shame”, he said.

The chairman of Migration Watch UK, Lord Green of Deddington, and its vice-chairman, Alp Mehmet, a former Ambassador to Iceland, were later called as witnesses to the inquiry. The think tank campaigns for an increase in quality housing to accommodate risings levels of immigration to the UK.

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