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Archbishops express their continued opposition to Rwanda Bill

23 April 2024

Church support for refugees ‘unjustly maligned for political reasons’ they write

Prefecture Maritime du Nord et de la Manche/AP/Alamy

Migrants on an overcrowded inflatable off the coast of northern France on Tuesday, after five of their number, including a child, had fallen overboard and drowned

Migrants on an overcrowded inflatable off the coast of northern France on Tuesday, after five of their number, including a child, had fallen overboard...

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York, together with other UK church leaders, have expressed “deep misgivings” about the passing of the Safety of Rwanda Bill this week. They have deplored the “unjust maligning” — for political gain — of churches that have supported refugees.

The Bill, which was passed by both Houses of Parliament shortly after midnight on Tuesday, is expected to receive Royal Assent in the coming days. For the purpose of deterring illegal immigration, it determines that the Republic of Rwanda is “a safe third country, thereby enabling the removal of persons who arrive in the UK under the Immigration Acts”.

In a joint statement on Tuesday — also signed by the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, and representatives of the Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and United Reformed Churches — the Archbishops write that the Bill sets a “precedent at home and for other countries in how we respond to the most vulnerable. This includes victims of modern slavery and children wrongly assessed as adults, whom we have a duty to protect.”

It expresses gratitude for the continued refugee work undertaken by churches and charities “in the face of opposition and prejudice”, and expresses “sadness and concern” at the “rise in hostility towards those who come to these islands seeking refuge, and the way in which the treatment of the refugee and asylum-seeker has been used as a political football.”

The statement continues: “We are disappointed that the kindness and support offered by churches and charities to the people at the heart of this debate — those fleeing war, persecution, and violence trying to find a place of safety — has been unjustly maligned by some for political reasons.”

The church leaders specifically denounce the portrayal by former Home Office ministers and MPs of “churches and clergy as deliberately facilitating false asylum claims”. The statement says that officials had since provided “no evidence” of these claims.

The church leaders conclude by acknowledging the deaths of five people, including a child, who drowned attempting to cross the Channel from France on Tuesday morning. “Like so many in this country, we seek to support a system that shows compassion, justice, transparency, and speed in its decisions. We grieve the appalling loss of life in the Channel today.

“There may be differences between our churches and Government on the means by which our asylum system can be fair, effective, and respecting of human dignity, but we do agree that borders must be managed, and that vulnerable people need protection from people smugglers. We have pledged to continue to work with the Home Office, and we do so in good faith.”

The UNHCR has also expressed concern about the precedent set by the Rwanda Bill. Responding on Tuesday, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the Government “to reconsider its plan to transfer asylum-seekers to Rwanda and instead to take practical measures to address irregular flows of refugees and migrants, based on international co-operation and respect for international human rights law.” The new Bill was, they repeated, in breach of the Refugee Convention.

 

The full statement:

We retain deep misgivings about the Safety of Rwanda Bill, passed in Parliament last night, for the precedent it sets at home and for other countries in how we respond to the most vulnerable. This includes victims of modern slavery and children wrongly assessed as adults, whom we have a duty to protect.

As leaders in Christian churches we wish to express our profound gratitude to those who live out Jesus’s call to feed and clothe the poor, and to welcome the stranger, through their work with asylum seekers and refugees, at times in the face of opposition and prejudice.

We note with sadness and concern the rise in hostility towards those who come to these islands seeking refuge and the way in which the treatment of the refugee and asylum seeker has been used as a political football.

We are disappointed that the kindness and support offered by churches and charities to the people at the heart of this debate - those fleeing war, persecution and violence trying to find a place of safety - has been unjustly maligned by some for political reasons.

In their response to the tragic attack in Clapham earlier this year, some former Home Office ministers, MPs and other commentators sought to portray churches and clergy as deliberately facilitating false asylum claims. It was for this reason, at the request of Anglican leaders, that representatives of our Churches met the Home Secretary in February. When asked, neither he nor officials could provide evidence to support the allegations of widespread abuse. Home Office Ministers have since confirmed this in a written parliamentary answer, and on questioning by the Home Affairs Select Committee. Follow-up meetings have since been agreed to promote closer co-operation and co-working between the churches and the Home Office.

Like so many in this country, we seek to support a system that shows compassion, justice, transparency, and speed in its decisions. We grieve the appalling loss of life in the Channel today.

There may be differences between our churches and Government on the means by which our asylum system can be fair, effective and respecting of human dignity, but we do agree that borders must be managed and that vulnerable people need protection from people smugglers. We have pledged to continue to work with the Home Office, and we do so in good faith.
 

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell
Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun
Revd Lynn Green, General Secretary, The Baptist Union of Great Britain
Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, United Reformed Church General Assembly Moderator
Revd Gill Newton, President of the Methodist Conference

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