UK Catholic bishops and justice leaders have launched a blistering attack on the Government’s ‘cruel and unworkable’ Illegal Migration Bill, with the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales releasing a key document and urging the Catholic community to get involved and write to their MPs.
The issue has come to the fore after the BBC controversy in which Match of the Day host Gary Lineker compared the language used by the Government to the language used in Germany in the 1930s. Lineker was removed from presenting duties and fellow pundits went on strike.
The controversial Illegal Migration Bill, which cleared the first Commons hurdle on Monday, aims to stop people claiming asylum in the UK if they arrive through unauthorised means. In response, CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network) said: “We urge the Catholic community to speak out against this cruel and unworkable Bill which is an affront to human dignity and a breach of our responsibilities to the global common good and our obligations under international law.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the legislation is needed because the asylum system is being ‘overwhelmed’ by people crossing the channel. The Bill would see migrants who arrive through unauthorised means deported, and hit with a lifetime ban from returning, but Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees for the Bishops’ Conference, explained that ‘migrants and refugees are human beings, not just statistics’ and condemned the Government’s ‘derogatory’ rhetoric.
“In 2023, people making dangerous journeys across the Channel to reach the UK are called by various names: ‘refugees’, ‘asylum seekers’, ‘migrants’, and often by more derogatory terms,” Bishop Paul said.
“We should never view people arriving from elsewhere as a political problem to be solved, but rather as brothers and sisters who we have a responsibility towards, and who greatly enrich our communities. We have a duty to help people flourish in their homelands, as well as welcoming those who leave in search of a better life.”
The bishop’s call comes as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ released a document called ‘Love The Stranger’. The document, say the bishops, ‘articulates our Christian duty to look beyond such labels and see the person who has left their homeland in search of a better life.’
Ms Braverman said “stopping the boats is my top priority”, adding that ‘we’ve had too much of it in recent years’ and ‘uncontrolled and illegal migration is simply bad.’ However, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, welcoming the new publication, noted that a ‘fair hearing’ for asylum seekers is currently ‘dramatically lacking’
“Love the Stranger draws together more than one hundred years of Catholic teaching to guide our response to migration in England and Wales today,” he said. “It clearly calls for procedures which permit safe and controlled access and a fair hearing to those seeking asylum. Present arrangements in this country are dramatically lacking in both of these requirements.”
CSAN added that the Bill would mean Britain ‘turning our back on the global common good’ and pointed out that there are currently ‘very few safe routes for refugees to come to the UK.’
“The Bill ignores Home Office data which shows that most people who cross the Channel are people escaping torture and conflict from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria,” CSAN said.
“Most people who make the crossing are granted asylum following rigorous checks. There are very few safe routes for refugees to come to the UK. This Bill would be turning our back on the global common good and adding to the burden on poorer countries, which receive most refugees.”
CSAN is encouraging the Catholic community to engage with the ‘Love The Stranger’ document ‘as a source of inspiration for our response to the Bill.’ It is also urging them to write to their MPs, asking them specifically to stand up for the UN Refugee Convention; to ensure the Government provides alternatives to dangerous journeys, including safe routes; and to insist on a ‘just and compassionate’ asylum system which gives people a fair hearing.
CAFOD Director Christine Allen stressed that people have a right to flourish in their homelands.
“People around the world continue to be tormented by conflict, which drives them from their homes as they seek safety. Failure to act will mean people around the world continue to see their lives turned upside down,” she said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “I’ve..always been clear that there is no overnight easy one simple solution to what is a complicated problem. It will take lots of different interventions.”
‘Love The Stranger’ can be read here