Migrants picked up at sea while attempting to cross the English Channel Migrants picked up at sea while attempting to cross the English Channel  (AFP or licensors)

Archbishop Welby: UK/Rwanda asylum plan, opposite of the nature of God

The head of the Anglican Church blasts the British government’s plans to push back migrants and asylum seekers by externalizing their processing and relocation. The proposal has also drawn criticism from human rights and refugee organizations.

By Benedict Mayaki, SJ

The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken against a plan by the British government to reject tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers and send them to the East African country of Rwanda.

In his Easter sermon, Justin Welby reacted to the proposal that has been described as lacking in care towards those forced to flee their countries. He said that there are “ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas” and the measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Pattel last week cannot stand up to the judgment of God.

He said that as a country formed by Christian values, “sub-contracting out our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do well, like Rwanda, is the opposite of the nature of God."

UK/Rwanda agreement

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the proposal last Thursday, saying that his government had struck an agreement with Rwanda, that will see some people who arrive in the UK as stowaways or on small boats, sent to the East African country where their asylum claims will be processed.

Johnson justified the plan saying the move will discourage people from making the dangerous attempt of crossing the English Channel, and will also put people-smuggling gangs out of business.

Last year alone, more than 28,000 migrants entered the UK across the Channel. Several dozens have died in the process, including 27 in November when a boat capsized.

The Home Office in charge of implementing the arrangement with Rwanda said that Britain had settled hundreds of thousands of refugees from around the world. However, it notes that the world is facing a global migration crisis on an unprecedented scale and a change is needed to fix the current resettlement system.

Easter, a time of hope and renewal

Speaking at the Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday, Archbishop Welby underlined Easter as “a season of life and hope, of repentance and renewal.”

Jesus’ resurrection, he added, “promises each nation, and every victim and survivor, that the injustices, cruelties, evil deeds and soulless institutions of this world do not have the last word.”

He also called for a ceasefire in Ukraine and lamented the rising cost of power, fuel and food. “Let this be a time for Russian ceasefire, withdrawal and a commitment to talks,” he urged. “This is a time for resetting the ways of peace…Let Christ prevail! Let the darkness of war be banished.”

Refugee, human rights’ groups react

Several Refugee and human rights groups have condemned the asylum plan, describing it as inhumane and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

In a statement, the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, said that the government’s plan shows a “craven disregard for humanity and dignity” as these are plans to “turn our backs to people seeking sanctuary here, removing them without even examining their claims.”

“They do this in the face of horrifying evidence that offshore processing fosters human rights abuses. Further, these plans seek to cut off routes for refugees to find sanctuary and settle in the UK. They abandon any sense of care towards refugees,” JRS-UK said, calling the plan “cruel and inhuman.”

JRS further lamented the building of walls instead of bridges in the face of the migration challenge, and prayed for “urgent repenctance and a change of course.” “As Christians, JRS said, “we must be horrified by the absence by any sense of common humanity.”

Similarly, in an initial response, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed its opposition to the arrangement, saying that it was “contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention.”

The refugee agency urged both countries to rethink the scheme and warned that externalization arrangements would only magnify risks to refugees by causing them to seek alternative routes, and exacerbate pressures on frontline States.

19 April 2022, 12:50