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Leader comment: Migration is a complex global issue

26 April 2024

IT IS hard to forget that there is a General Election in the offing. For a start, there is the tenacity with which the Government pursues “flagship policies”: supposed crowd-pleasers such as this week’s “Rwanda is safe because we say so” Bill. Second, there is the appropriation of any event, however tragic, in support of such policies. The drowning of five asylum-seekers off the coast of France on Tuesday was cited as evidence that the Rwanda project was justified. So much easier to blame people-traffickers than invite the public to consider the broken political and economic systems, not to mention climate change, that have led to the global displacement of an estimated 37 million people. So much easier, too, to persuade the public that the chief need in this crisis is to exercise control over one’s borders rather than co-operate with other nations in projects to alleviate poverty and insecurity in the refugees’ countries of origin.

Another straw blowing in the election wind is the statement from church leaders on Tuesday expressing continued dismay at the Rwanda project. At another time in the political cycle, they might have concluded that, having fought the Bill in the Lords, there was nothing for it but to accept defeat with whatever grace they could muster. Not so now, when the Opposition has pledged to repeal the law and end the scheme. The issue of immigration will remain a live one right up to the issuing of ballot papers. The task — and it is a significant one — that the Archbishops and others have embarked on is to fight the narrative that the would-be immigrants are undesirable, and that their fate is immaterial to the public’s moral health. Once the election is called, it will be important to resist the white noise of a migration problem that has been “solved” by a resolute Government.

Exactly one year ago, a World Bank report, Migrants, Refugees, and Societies, devoted more than 300 pages to the issue, urging governments to “recognize the complexity and the increasing necessity of cross-border movements”. Being a bank, it concentrates on the concept of migrants as economic units of labour, a corrective to political movements that depict them as an inevitable drain on a host country’s resources. The report urged governments to “manage cross-border movements differently. Use bilateral cooperation to strengthen the match of migrants’ skills and attributes with the needs of destination economies. Organize regional and global responses to address refugee movements and reduce the need for distressed movements.” A key observation, distressingly absent in the UK debate, is that more than 70 per cent of refugees move within low- and middle-income countries, those with the fewest resources to cope.

As an election looms, we hope that church leaders will argue for a restoration of the overseas-aid budget (spent overseas). Only then can we start looking for the sort of system that they call for, one that is “fair, effective and respecting of human dignity”.

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