SENDING asylum-seekers overseas raises “serious ethical questions”, “cannot stand the judgement of God”, and is “sub-contracting out our responsibilities”, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in an Easter sermon openly critical of the Government’s plans.
The Archbishop of York also attacked the “off-shoring” plans. “We can do better than this,” he said.
The plan to outsource the UK’s responsibilities for asylum-seekers to Rwanda was announced by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, last week. She had used the rare process of a ministerial direction after civil servants queried the uncosted plan.
Preaching in Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Day, Archbishop Welby said of the plan: “It cannot carry the weight of resurrection justice, of life conquering death. It cannot carry the weight of the resurrection that was first to the least valued, for it privileges the rich and strong.
“And it cannot carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values, because sub-contracting out our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do well like Rwanda, is the opposite of the nature of God who himself took responsibility for our failures.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency of the United Kingdom, was among those who criticised the Archbishop’s remarks, contending that he had “misunderstood” the Government’s intention, which was about deterring people-traffickers and “fighting organised crime”.
The Archbishop also addressed the UK’s present financial crisis. “Families across the country are waking up to cold homes and empty stomachs as we face the greatest cost-of-living crisis we have known,” he said.
“The rise in the cost of power and fuel, of basic foods, indeed, in the cost of living, will be the first thought of the day, and they will feel overwhelmed by the pressures. For others, it will be the continued deep sense of loss of someone from Covid, or during Covid, to whom they could not say a proper farewell.”
Archbishop Welby acknowledged the resurrection of Jesus as “not a magic wand that makes the world perfect” but as “the tectonic shift in the way the cosmos works”. Reflecting on its meaning for individuals, he said: “In dying for us, God sees and knows the wounds that causes so much pain.
“He hears the cry of the mothers in Ukraine, he sees the fear of boys too young to become soldiers, and he knows the vulnerability of the orphans and refugees. Closer to home, he sees the humiliation of the grandparent visiting the food bank for the first time, the desperate choice of parents in poverty and the grief and weariness of the pandemic.”
Archbishop Cottrell was similarly robust in his criticism of the Rwanda plans in his sermon at York Minster, suggesting that Christ’s question to Mary Magdalene about why she was crying showed “what we should strive for.
“Which is why, among so many other things that trouble our world at the moment, it is so depressing and so distressing this week to find that asylum-seekers fleeing war, famine, and oppression from deeply troubled parts of the world will not be treated with the dignity and compassion that is the right of every human being, and instead of being dealt with quickly and efficiently here on our soil, will be shipped to Rwanda.
“We can do better than this,” Archbishop Cottrell said. “We can do better than this because of what we see in the Risen Christ: a vision for our humanity, which breaks barriers down — not new obstacles put in the path. After all, there is, in law, no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. It is the people who exploit them that we need to crack down on, not our sisters and brothers in their need.”
He asked: “Do want to be part of a nation that is hopeful, enterprising, that cares for those in need; that supports those who are in poverty because they can’t afford the heating, or food for the table — and offer some genuine help?
“Do we want to continue to be known as a country that opens proper legitimate pathways for all who flee violence, and oppression — not just those from Ukraine, but also those fleeing other conflicts and the effect of climate change?
“Do we want to be known for the robustness of our democracy where those in public life lived to the highest standards and where we can trust those who lead us to behave with integrity and honour?”
Among the other Easter addresses, the Prince of Wales made no specific reference to the Government’s plans for asylum-seekers in the UK. But he described Jesus’s washing the feet of his disciples as an example of how to look after and serve one another. it was a message, he said, “as challenging today as it was then.
“Tens of millions of people find themselves displaced, wearied by their journey from troubled places, wounded by the past, fearful of the future — and in need of a welcome, of rest, and of kindness.
“Over the past years, I have found myself heartbroken at the sufferings of the innocent victims of conflict, or persecution, some of whom I have met and who have told me stories of unutterable tragedy as they have been forced to flee their country and seek shelter far from home.
“But amidst all this sadness and inhumanity, it has been profoundly moving to see how so many people are ready to open their homes to those in need, and how they have offered their time and their resources to help those facing such soul-destroying sorrow and hardship.”
The Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, called the Rwanda plans “immoral, shameless, and obscene. The suggestion that we should send those seeking refuge in this country on a one-way ticket to Rwanda is a bitter betrayal,” he said, “a betrayal of this country’s international commitments. A betrayal of those in desperate need. Not one passion story but thousands of stories of people betrayed by those who should offer friendship, fairness and common decency.
IN ROME, Pope Francis addressed massed crowds in St Peter’s Square, the first time in two years they have been able to gather in person to receive his traditional Urbi et Orbi Easter blessing.
He urged peace for “war-torn Ukraine, so sorely tried by the violence and destruction of the cruel and senseless war into which it was dragged. In this terrible night of suffering and death, may a new dawn of hope soon appear . . . may there be an end to the flexing of muscles while people are suffering. Please, please, let us not get used to war.”
He went on: “May the conflict in Europe also make us more concerned about other situations of conflict, suffering and sorrow, situations that affect all too many areas of our world, situations that we cannot overlook and do not want to forget.” He made reference to the Middle East — “rocked by years of conflict and division” — and spoke of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and the African continent.
He said: “I hold in my heart all the many Ukrainian victims, the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, the divided families, the elderly left to themselves, the lives broken and the cities razed to the ground.
“I see the faces of the orphaned children fleeing from the war. As we look at them, we cannot help but here their cry of pain, along with that of all those other children who suffer throughout our world.”
The Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, used his Easter sermon to condemn what he described as the “naked aggression” of the world’s great powers.
He spoke of “dark days” in his own country — darkness that occurred “when men ignore the cries and the anger of rape survivors and the survivors of gender-based violence and write it off as if it is something they asked for,” he said.
“It occurs when we fail to speak out against naked aggression perpetrated by the world’s great powers, whether it is the United States and Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Russia in Ukraine.
“When we dismiss the testimonies of others, the pain and the struggles of those consigned to the margins, when we undermine and destroy women, survivors, migrants, and the poor who long for opportunities and justice, we don’t only diminish them. We confine ourselves to the darkness of the tomb and stop the dawn from breaking; we demean ourselves, and most seriously, we frustrate the resurrection. In the name of God, we cannot allow this.”