THE Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has been criticised by the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, and leaders of Christian refugee charities for describing “uncontrolled and illegal migration” as an “existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the West”.
In a speech on Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC, Ms Braverman said that “uncontrolled immigration, inadequate integration, and a misguided dogma of multiculturalism have proven a toxic combination for Europe over the last few decades,” and cited Leicester as an example of a place where this had contributed to “undermining the stability” of society.
Responding in a social-media post on Wednesday morning, Bishop Snow wrote: “I profoundly disagree with the Home Secretary’s speech about asylum and multiculturalism, her characterisation of Leicester, and of those seeking refuge in the UK. I am immensely proud to be Bishop of this diverse, creative and vibrant city.”
The Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, also expressed his disagreement with Ms Braverman. In a post on social media on Thursday, he wrote: “Multiculturalism is a way to ensure all receive equal treatment, respect each human being, celebrate diversity & bring richness to our common life, build a UK which is global in outlook with links to & understanding of the world’s people.”
In the speech, Ms Braverman also suggested that the United Nations Refugee Convention was being interpreted to allow too many people to seek asylum, which rendered the system “unworkable”.
On Wednesday, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, defended the 1951 Convention, saying that it has “served the world well”, and “it still does”.
“The international community does need to look carefully at how it might apply in a world of significant climate change and this leading to an increase in those seeking refuge. However, the fundamentals of the Convention are sound and it is important that as a nation we play our full part in the international need for the proper protection of those in need of refuge.
“Sadly, the reality of persecution remains for far too many people for a range of reasons. We need to continue to develop safe and legal routes for such people, working as part of the international community. Above all else, every asylum-seeker and refugee must be treated with the full dignity that comes with being a person made in God’s image and for whom Jesus Christ died and rose,” he said.
The speech was heavily trailed in the media, leading to rebuttals of Ms Braverman’s arguments before she spoke on Tuesday afternoon.
The UK director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, Sarah Teather, said that the Refugee Convention was a “vital and core mechanism to protect people fleeing persecution, and it is badly needed, now as much and more than ever.
“To suggest that many of those to whom it has extended protection for decades should be shut out and cast back into danger is appalling. The Government should work to extend protection to those who need it, not to find new ways to deny sanctuary. These comments from the Home Secretary are the latest in a cruel, vaunting attack on refugees.”
The terms of the Convention state that a refugee is someone with a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.
But Ms Braverman said that this was being interpreted to allow anyone with a “plausible fear” that they would suffer “discrimination” to claim refugee status.
“We will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection,” she said.
The Dean of St John’s College, Cambridge, and Dean-designate of Southwark Cathedral, Canon Mark Oakley, addressed these remarks in a social-media post on Tuesday afternoon.
“For the Home Secretary to imply that being gay in parts of our world does not include a well founded fear of persecution is disgraceful and an insult to the many who have lost their lives or livelihoods for being who they are,” he wrote.
The Revd Dr Charlie Bell, Assistant Curate at St John the Divine, Kennington, wrote: “Just 1.5% (1,334) of asylum claims to the UK last year were on the grounds of sexuality, yet Braverman is using queers as an example of people playing the system . . . Church, bishops: speak out for God’s sake.”
In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live, the director of the Sanctuary Foundation (News, 22 September), Dr Krish Kandiah, also suggested that Ms Braverman was using scare tactics, when she said that the current interpretation of the Refugee Convention granted more than 780 million the right to asylum.
“That’s a made-up number,” Dr Kandiah said. “Seven hundred and eighty million people are the total number of people living in countries where being a woman or being gay might lead to persecution, and most people in those circumstances don’t become a refugee. . . It’s a little bit like saying our nation is on the verge of bankruptcy because if everyone took their money out of the bank we wouldn’t have enough money.”
Dr Kandiah also resisted Ms Braverman’s complaint that refugees should be able to claim asylum only in the first safe country they reached. He suggested that it was unfair that the Government had offered visas to refugees from Ukraine and some other countries, while not creating safe and legal routes for others.
“The people that end up coming to the UK normally have a reason to be here — they might have a family member; they might speak English — there’s some connection”, he said. But he emphasised that uncontrolled immigration was not possible.
Ms Teather referred to remarks made by the Pope during a visit to Marseilles at the weekend, to mark the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Pope Francis called for “good politics . . .transparent, honest, far-sighted, and at the service of all, especially those most vulnerable”. Ms Braverman’s approach, Ms Teather said, was “anything but”.