Archbishop of Canterbury criticises plan to send refugees to Rwanda

The Archbishop of Canterbury on Sunday criticised the UK government over its plans to send migrants seeking asylum to Britain to Rwanda, arguing that the decision raised “serious ethical questions”. 

In his Easter Sunday sermon held at Canterbury Cathedral, Justin Welby will argue that the specific details of the UK’s asylum programme are for “politics and politicians”, but will voice concern over the plans, which have been met with an outpouring of anger by leading charities and human rights groups.

“The principle must stand the judgment of God and it cannot,” Welby is expected to say. “And it cannot carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values, because subcontracting out our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do well like Rwanda, is the opposite of the nature of God who himself took responsibility for our failures.”

Last Thursday, prime minister Boris Johnson announced the creation of a new Migration and Economic Development Partnership between the UK and Rwanda. Under the plans, any individual who has entered the UK illegally since January 2022 and has not sought asylum in a safe third country could be deported to Rwanda, where they will be granted the right to settle in the east African country.

Johnson argued that the scheme would provide a “safe and legal” route for asylum seekers and would disrupt the business model of criminal gangs who engage in the “barbaric trade” of transporting vulnerable migrants across the English channel.

The government’s plan has received intense criticism. More than 160 charities including the Runnymede Trust and Hope not Hate signed an open letter to Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel describing the policy as “shamefully cruel”.

The letter questions Rwanda’s human rights record, adding that the UK government as recently as January 2021, raised concerns over “continued restrictions” in areas such as civil and political rights and press freedom.

The UNHCR has opposed the move, accusing the government of wanting to “shift asylum responsibilities” and “evade international obligations”.

Former Conservative minister John Redwood defended the government and criticised Welby, accusing the archbishop of heightening political divisions.

“So what is the Archbishop’s proposal on how to stop the lucrative and illegal trade by people traffickers? Why does he want to live with law breaking and dangerous voyages?” the MP for Wokingham wrote on Twitter.

“I thought the Easter message was love conquers all. We should forgive and reconcile. Could the Archbishop help do that instead of sharpening political divisions?”

The UK government is expected to pay £120mn to Rwanda in the first instance. Charities have said that the cost of running the scheme could be as much as £1.4bn.

Last week, the home secretary issued a rare ministerial direction in a bid to over-rule civil servants’ concerns over the value of the scheme.

Correspondence between permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft and Patel, published by the Home Office on Saturday, revealed the extent of his concerns, with the senior civil servant questioning whether the scheme would act as a deterrent.

“Value for money of the policy is dependent on it being effective as a deterrent”, he said. “I do not believe sufficient evidence can be obtained to demonstrate that the policy will have a deterrent effect significant enough to make the policy value for money,” he wrote.

In her response, Patel argued that the cost of the asylum system stood at more than £1.5bn a year, adding that “without action, costs will continue to rise, lives will continue to be lost.

Despite the “high cost of the policy”, Patel said that there were “potentially significant savings to be realised from deterring people entering the UK illegally”.

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