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Refugee crisis needs ten-year plan, Archbishop of Canterbury tells Government

24 May 2023

Parliament TV

The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking during the Second Reading of the Illegal Migration Bill earlier this month

The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking during the Second Reading of the Illegal Migration Bill earlier this month

THE Archbishop of Canterbury will attempt to persuade the Government to adopt a ten-year international plan to tackle the refugee crisis, illegal migration, and human trafficking.

Archbishop Welby has tabled two amendments to the Illegal Migration Bill, which returns to the House of Lords on Wednesday evening for the start of its Committee stage. The first amendment requires the Home Secretary to have a ten-year strategy for collaborating internationally to tackle human trafficking into the UK. The second calls for a ten-year strategy to address the global refugee crisis by working “in collaboration with signatories to the Refugee Convention or any other international agreement on the rights of refugees”.

The first amendment is tabled in partnership with Lord Kirkhope, a Conservative peer, and two Labour peers, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Blunkett, a former Home Secretary; the second is with Lord Bourne, another Conservative, Lord Blunkett, and Baroness Kennedy, also Labour. Archbishop Welby says that the amendments have cross-party support.

After his speech in the Lords attacking the Illegal Migrants Bill two weeks ago (News, 12 May), the Archbishop was widely criticised by Conservative politicians and commentators for offering no alternative plan to the Government’s proposal to remove the right of asylum to anyone arriving in the UK illegally.

But, writing in The Times on Wednesday, the Archbishop counters the criticism, beginning his article: “We must control our borders. We must stop the boats. We must have limits to those coming because we cannot take everyone. I said all this in the opening sentences of my speech in the House of Lords the week before last.”

But, he says, “this Bill will do little to resolve the existing problems, and will exacerbate others, all while causing serious suffering to the most vulnerable.”

And he writes: “We need a new approach that loves mercy and does justice, to use words from scripture.”

As for having no alternative to the Government’s plans, which include forcibly removing refugees to Rwanda, Archbishop Welby recalls proposals made by bishops in the Lords in a debate last December (News, 16 December). One was “to make better use of the existing system to speed up the processing of the vast backlog of asylum seekers the Home Office has allowed to build up, better facilitate removals of those whose asylum claim has been refused, and work more closely with groups organising voluntary returns”.

Another proposal was to undercut the smugglers by offering alternative safe routes for people fleeing from war or oppression. And another was to lead a review of the 1951 UN Convention on Human Rights “to ensure that all nations accept their fair share of what is a global problem”.

It is the global nature of the refugee problem that Archbishop Welby is seeking to persuade the Government to acknowledge by his amendments. In his Times article, he writes: “The crisis is global, vast, and long term. No nation can offer simple, quick fixes on its own. Successive governments have implemented deterrence policies to prevent asylum seekers arriving. They face indefinite detention in grim conditions, at constant risk of severe destitution, and now face the prospect of being sent to Rwanda. And yet Channel crossings are set to see record numbers this year.”

And he warns: “Climate change and related conflicts will increase up to tenfold the number of people fleeing their homes for safety over the coming decades.

“The best long-term way to address this crisis is to support the infrastructure and development of their own states. We have an aid budget precisely for this purpose, albeit a budget the Government has reduced and up to a third of which it spends housing asylum seekers in this country.

“Spending it effectively in countries that need it will provide better value for money than constructing a vast detention state or giving £120 million to Rwanda not to house a single refugee to date.”

A further amendment has been tabled by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, and the Labour peer Baroness Lister, requiring the Secretary of State to comply with any recommendations made in the current review of refugee detention centres being made by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

The amendments tabled by Archbishop Welby and Bishop Butler were not debated on the first day of debate on Wednesday, but are likely to be considered when the committee stage resumes on 5 June. 

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