16 May 2023, The Tablet

Catholic bishop backs Welby on migration

The Jesuit Refugee Service said the Illegal Migration Bill would “punish refugees for circumstances out of their control”.

Catholic bishop backs Welby on migration

Archbishop Justin Welby, speaking in the House of Lords debate on the Illegal Migration Bill on 10 May.
PA Images/Alamy

The lead bishop on migration issues for the Catholic Church in England and Wales has backed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s criticisms of the government’s Illegal Migration Bill as a “morally unacceptable” set of laws.

In an attack on the government’s plans to class the asylum claims of people who enter the UK illegally as automatically “inadmissible”, Archbishop Justin Welby warned in the House of Lords that the bill would contravene seven decades of international law on refugees and “damage the UK’s interests and reputation at home and abroad”.

The Jesuit Refugee Service termed the bill “draconian” and warned the new laws would “punish refugees for circumstances out of their control”.

Archbishop Welby, who sits in the House of Lords as one of 26 “Lords Spiritual”, instead asked the government to seek “long term, globally co-ordinated solutions” aimed at resolving the conflict and climate change that has driven escalating number of people to seek shelter in other countries as refugees – 80 per cent of them in the global south, he said.

The attempted “short-term fix” of the government’s plans, which include using barges to detain people making applications for asylum, was short-sighted as well as morally wrong, the archbishop said.

He pointed to IPCC forecasts that climate change could lead to at least 800 million more refugees globally by 2050.

Commenting on Welby’s speech, Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead bishop for migration and refugee issues for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said he would affirm “both aspects” of the archbishop’s suggested approach.

The UK government should follow suit in “upholding international frameworks”, McAleenan said while “tackling the root causes” of the increasing number of refugees worldwide, including conflict, the climate emergency and cuts to international aid.

Bishop McAleenan, an auxiliary for Westminster since 2015, also warned of the far-reaching consequences of the Bill: “The UNHCR has warned that the bill could lead to the collapse of the international system that protects refugees. Is that what we want the United Kingdom's contribution to be in our leadership?”

Sarah Teather, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, described the proposals as “grotesquely cruel and cravenly dishonest” in light of how few legal routes exist for refugees to enter the UK.

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