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Welby defends his condemnation of Rwanda asylum-seeker plan

27 April 2022


Archbishop Welby arrives for the Easter Sung Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral

Archbishop Welby arrives for the Easter Sung Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral

THE Church of England is “not a passive observer of migration policy”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has asserted, after being reportedly criticised by the Prime Minister for his condemnation of the Government’s plan to remove some asylum-seekers to Rwanda.

Reiterating his criticisms of the plan in a Daily Telegraph article on Wednesday, Archbishop Welby wrote: “We can and must do better.”

In an Easter Day sermon, the Archbishop had said that the plan, which, the Government argues, will deter people-traffickers, raised “serious ethical questions” and “cannot stand the judgement of God” (News, 18 April).

Addressing some of the criticism of him which followed the sermon, the Archbishop wrote: “People trafficking is an evil crime. We must go after the traffickers and bring them to justice. They are the villains here, not the people being trafficked. We created this system, and it has failed people. We should not use it as the justification for going further down the same path.”

According to an unnamed MP quoted in The Times on Wednesday 20 April, Boris Johnson reacted to the Archbishop’s sermon by telling Conservative MPs that “the hierarchy of the Church of England had . . . failed to construe the difference between legal immigration and people illegally entering the UK at huge personal risk across one of the busiest shipping channels in the world” (News, 21 April).

In the Telegraph piece, Archbishop Welby wrote: “There is much in migration policy on which the Church of England and the Government agree,” although this “might come as a surprise”. Defending the stance that he and others in the Church of England had taken, he argued: “Government and Church are not the same, but we must surely all want to put humanity and fairness at the heart of our asylum system.”

To the charge that the Church was a “passive observer”, he wrote: “Some of my fellow bishops, clergy and worshippers came to the UK escaping persecution or conflict.”

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, who fled Iran as a teenager, wrote to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, on 18 April in support of the Archbishop’s comments. She suggested that criticism of the Archbishop was “to misunderstand the important role of the Church of England. . . It is our responsibility to point out where there are serious ethical and moral implications arising from Government proposals.”

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