18 July 2023, The Tablet

Church groups appalled at passage of Illegal Migration Bill

“The Illegal Migration Bill drags any sense of the UK’s moral leadership on the world stage headlong into a gutter of hate.”

Church groups appalled at passage of Illegal Migration Bill

Protesters outside the Houses of Parliament on 17 July opposing the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill.
PA Images / Alamy

Church groups were among the 290 signatories to a statement released on Tuesday declaring that they “condemn the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill today and stand in solidarity with all who will be affected”.

These included Cafod, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK, Caritas Salford, Columbans in Britain, Quakers in Britain and the Methodist Conference.

The statement said that the government had “rushed through this law despite broad and deep opposition, but our fight is not over ... we will keep holding those in power to account for upholding the UK’s international obligations.”

Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead bishop for migrants and refugees of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, told The Tablet: “We call upon the government to listen to the cry of the poor and to provide legislation which will ensure protection for all, not increase suffering nor criminalise innocent victims.”

In a statement on behalf of the bishops’ conference, he said: “This legislation stands at odds with the teaching of the Church on welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating refugees.

“Refugees are human beings made in the image and likeness of God, not a political problem to be solved. We must never make recognition of people’s dignity dependent upon where they come from or how they reach our country.

“The biblical call to love the stranger is unequivocal and indiscriminate.”

After months of parliamentary opposition and protests by refugee organisations, the Illegal Migration Bill is set to become law after the government won a final series of votes in the Lords.

Amendments by peers, including introducing time limits on child detention and modern slavery protections, were defeated, paving the way for the bill to receive royal assent.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul said the bill “lacks compassion and humanity, and will put people and families seeking safety on our shores at risk”.

“We call on the Government to embed principles of compassion and dignity into our asylum system,” said the charity’s public affairs manager Alessandra Sciarra.

She told The Tablet: “People will suffer tremendously as a result of this Bill, and we remain concerned for the dignity and rights of people and children who will bear the brunt of these policies.

“We will continue to support people seeking asylum and refugees in communities across the country and campaign for their rights to be upheld.”

JRS UK called the bill “outrageous” and “wantonly cruel”, and said it had been forced into la “at breakneck speed, avoiding scrutiny wherever possible”.

The charity's director Sarah Teather said: “The Illegal Migration Bill drags any sense of the UK’s moral leadership on the world stage headlong into a gutter of hate.

“In it, we have abandoned the principle of refugee protection, and denied that we have a duty to anyone else in the world. We haven’t even done this to achieve any useful end, but revelled in sheer performative cruelty.”

The bill is central to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plans to stop migrants crossing the English Channel and peers were urged to respect the will of the elected house.

For weeks, MPs disputed the final shape of the bill with the Lords, who repeatedly sent it back with amendments.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, a strident critic of the bill, called unsuccessfully in the Lords for a statement of long-term plans to address the refugee crisis and human trafficking to the UK in a global context.

On Monday, JRS UK joined a prayer vigil outside the Home Office remembering the hundreds who have died seeking safety in Europe or the UK.  They described it as “a powerful reminder of the many, many lives that are affected by a lack of safe routes”. 

The same day Caritas Shrewsbury joined organisations in Greater Manchester to send an open letter to the home secretary and immigration minister expressing grave concerns about their “hotels optimisation” plans.

It was signed by more than 30 organisations working across the north-west with people housed in asylum hotels.

It urged the government to drop these plans, alongside plans to put people in camps and barges, and called for housing in safe, dignified conditions for asylum seekers and an end to inflammatory rhetoric.

On Tuesday, an accommodation barge set to house up to 500 asylum seekers arrived off Portland Bill in Dorset, where protesters gathered.

Among them was the Revd Canon Nick Clark, Anglican Dean of Weymouth and Portland, who said: “I am here to join with others here on the protest about the barge and to make a stand to welcome the refugees to this community.”

After the Illegal Immigration Bill passed on Tuesday, the UN high commissioner for human rights Volker Türk and UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi warned that was “at variance with the country’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law and will have profound consequences for people in need of international protection”.

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