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Government ‘criminalising’ those who help asylum-seekers, bishops warn

15 September 2021


A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by a Border Force patrol boat, on Monday

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by a Border Force patrol boat, on Monday

TWELVE Anglican bishops have accused the Government of criminalising the “Good Samaritans” who rescue asylum-seekers crossing the Channel in unseaworthy craft.

The bishops say that the plan proposed by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, for Border Force vessels to force migrant boats back into French waters, will penalise those who decide to bring their occupants safely to the UK.

In a letter to The Guardian on Monday, the bishops, who speak on asylum and refugee issues within the Church, say that the “turn-back” policy outlined in the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill raises significant moral concerns. “It would require those who see asylum-seekers at risk to choose between ignoring a moral imperative (also established in maritime law) to assist them, or to risk prosecution and imprisonment.

“This amounts to a criminalisation of the Good Samaritan who did not pass by on the other side, and an affront to justice to put the saving of lives under any sort of legal penalty.”

International and maritime law says that assistance must be given to people in distress at sea, and Article 98 of the 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea requires vessels from every state “to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost”.

The 12 signatories are the Bishops of Durham, Manchester, Croydon, Bradwell, London, Dover, Gloucester, Southwark, Chelmsford, Wakefield, Bristol, and the Bishop in Europe.

In their letter, they say that the Government’s “increasing militarisation and securitisation” of the border has failed. “All the while the crossings are still happening and are actively being made more dangerous, at greater cost in human life, by the Government’s own policies.

“It is time for a reappraisal which looks again at serious multilateral approaches to refugees, which promotes safe routes for those in need, and which, above all, values human life and the dignity of vulnerable people.”

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