*** DEBUG END ***

Grasping the details of asylum

23 September 2016

The debate needs Christians to get involved in the tough questions, says Paul Vallely

THERE are millions of miserable people in the world who would like to move to the UK for a better life. It is physically impossible for us to take them all. So we must have some mechanism for controlling immigration. So said the leading Conservative thinker Oliver Letwin this week.

The man who was one of David Cameron’s policy gurus is no longer at the centre of power. But, with those words, he succinctly summarised the stance of the new Prime Minister, who this week spoke at the United Nations on the global migration crisis. There she stuck to her well-worn corollaries of the Letwin doctrine. Refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. Economic migrants should be treated less favourably than those “genuinely” fleeing war. And Britain will take no more refugees.

It is easy to understand the political pressures at work behind this. Populist insularity is on the rise everywhere. Even Europe’s most towering politician, the German Chancellor, Dr Angela Merkel — who last year gave an extraordinary lead by declaring that Ger­many would welcome a million migrants — was this week forced to row back. After her party suf­fered a humiliating defeat in the regional election in Berlin, Dr Merkel declared that, although she had no regrets over the substance of what she had done, she would have liked to turn back the clock several years, the better to prepare her people for the impact of her great humanit­arian gesture.

There was a fascinating edition of Ernie Rea’s Radio 4 series Beyond Belief this week. It looked behind the scenes at decades of the Northern Ireland peace process. Progress had been made, it revealed, not through the bland broad-brush state­ments of the institutional Churches, but through the actions of maverick priests and min­isters, who allowed themselves to be bundled into vans with hoods over their heads. They went to meet men of violence whose mind-sets were eventually changed.

There is a lesson in this for the refugee crisis. Christians need to get into the detail of this deb­ate. We might question the received wisdom of the distinction between a refugee (good) and an economic migrant (bad). Such a precise defini­tion can be inhumane. Some economic migrants are more in need of our help than others — un­­accompanied children, for example. The division needs to be unpacked, and subjected to detailed moral scrutiny.

Questions should be raised about the principle that refugees must apply for asylum in the first country where they land. On what ethical basis is choice denied to refugees? The languages they speak, the qualifications they hold, the places in which their relatives live — all these legitimately affect the destinations that they seek. And is it ethical to expect front-line countries such as Greece, Italy, or Turkey to carry a disproportion­ate burden?

Then there is the question of forced deporta­tions from the UK of failed asylum-seekers. Is it decent to deport asylum-seekers’ children who have been born in this country, or grown up here, and “return” them to a land of which they have no memory? There is much more. The devil, they say, is in the detail. But sometimes God may be found there, too.


Paul Vallely is Visiting Professor in Public Ethics at the University of Chester

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Train-a-Priest Fund 2022 Appeal

Please consider a donation to TAP Africa this year. Every penny you can give goes to ordinands in Africa who face financial difficulty, to support them as they complete their training. 

Donate online

Read more about this year's appeal

Forthcoming Events

24 May 2022
Disability and Church: Intersectionality
A joint webinar from HeartEdge and Church Times.

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

More events

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)