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Hostile policies towards asylum-seekers should be challenged, says Bishop Poggo

25 April 2023

Neil Turner for the Lambeth Conference

The secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Anthony Poggo, addresses the 2022 Lambeth Conference last August

The secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Anthony Poggo, addresses the 2022 Lambeth Conference last August

THE UK Government’s plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda represents a failure to recognise the UK’s global responsibility to refugees, which Christians must challenge, the secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Anthony Poggo, has said.

Bishop Poggo delivered keynote lecture at the Centre for Anglican Communion Studies, at Virginia Theological Seminary, in the United States, on Wednesday of last week. He was speaking just before the start of the next stage of the court battle over the Rwanda scheme, under which no asylum-seeker has yet been sent to the country.

Bishop Poggo called on Christians to challenge both the policy and hostile rhetoric towards refugees.

In a press conference after his speech, Bishop Poggo said: “The Church has a mandate to be a prophetic voice, and should speak on behalf of the voiceless. The Bible reminds us to love our neighbour, as each and every person is made in the image of God. Nobody chooses to leave their place of origin for the sake of it: they have valid reasons to do so.”

In the lecture, he said: “As a migrant myself, I’ve been displaced three times. One of those times was as a refugee in Uganda — and, as you can imagine, this is therefore a subject that is very, very close to my heart. My father, an Anglican priest, and my mother fled to Uganda when I was barely one year old; this was during the first Sudanese Civil War. As a family, we only moved back to South Sudan when I was nine years old in 1972, at the end of the first civil war.”

He was displaced again when he could not return home from Uganda during the second civil war. The third time was while he was in the UK, when the people of Kajo Keji, in Sudan, where he was Bishop, were forced to leave their homes within days.

“The Church can use its moral authority to challenge the cultural and governmental context in which it exists, particularly when that context is hostile to migrants or contributing to their mistreatment,” Bishop Poggo said.

He continued: “Most of us here live in countries where the cultural and governmental context is often responsible for the root cause of migration, and then hostile to migrants when they arrive. Any attempt to make change is likely to meet opposition — especially when it challenges vested interests. When we participate in the work of God, we can expect even more opposition.”

He criticised UK government policies that “confirm the concept of a hostile world”, and called on Christians to challenge such policies and rhetoric.

On current UK government policy, he said: “The destination country of Rwanda is not the issue: the problem is the UK’s failure to recognise that it has its own share of the global responsibility. Conversely, the Church in Rwanda understood the basic need for hospitality, and did not find fault with the UK policy. This is a prime example of Anglican Christians, or the Anglican Communion, differing on their perspectives on a given issue.”

He criticised the implementation of quotas for refugees, which were driven by fear, he said. “One thing I have noticed living in the UK is that the West often specify quotas: the governments only pledge to accommodate a certain number of people,” he said. “However, a migrant running away from insecurity, or even danger, does not care about these quotas.”

He drew attention to the positive part played by Anglican Churches around the world, including in the US, where the Episcopal Church has its own Migration Department, which, he said, “gives me hope for change”.

He continued: “The Church globally has been known for stepping into the gap where society fails. Despite so many different experiences and opinions, can we seek to find a way of holding differences together, to find a theology that shows how different responses form complementary parts of one body, as they tell good news stories about how Churches are responding to inspire the next generation of leaders.

“The Anglican Church of Canada has pledged refugee sponsorship since the 1970s. The Anglican Church of Cyprus has pledged to ‘welcome the stranger’. The Church of Uganda has offered hospitality to approximately one million people from South Sudan.”

He has been on his first official visit to the US since he was appointed, and was in the country last week when Gafcon Primates issued a communiqué which rejected the structures that hold the Communion together (News, 21 April).

He urged, “Pray for leaders to make the right decisions, and to take into consideration their people. Pray for the religious leaders, including Archbishop Ezekiel [Archbishop of Sudan] and his bishops, that they will feel God’s presence. We also need to think of ways we can support the Church in addition to praying for them.”

On Sunday, Bishop Poggo preached a sermon in Trinity Church, Wall Street, in New York City, two days after the Gafcon communiqué. In his sermon, Bishop Poggo did not mention Gafcon by name, but he defended the existing structures for maintaining relationships throughout the Communion.

“The Instruments of the Communion are there to maintain our unity, and it is with this in mind that the Archbishop of Canterbury . . . has said the instruments are not static; the instruments evolve,” he said. “However, this review should be within our existing instruments or processes, and sanctioned in an orderly and respectful way. Walking to Emmaus, as we read in our Gospel, is a very important thing.”

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