Backing Rwanda policy is not un-Christian, Archbishop of Canterbury told

Justin Welby - Carl Court/Getty Images
Justin Welby - Carl Court/Getty Images

Supporting the Government’s policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is not un-Christian, leading religious thinkers have told the Archbishop of Canterbury.

They have argued that it is legitimate for the Government to offshore asylum seekers in Rwanda to deter other migrants from making dangerous Channel crossings in small boats.

In the report by Policy Exchange, a centre-right think tank, John Finnis, a Catholic philosopher, said there was nothing unethical or morally dubious about the policy.

Nigel Bigger an Anglican priest and Oxford professor, said care for a stranger, as the Gospels required, could involve settling asylum seekers in Rwanda.

Dr Michael Nazir Ali, a former Anglican bishop of Rochester who has since joined the Catholic Church, said the case for offshoring migrants who arrived illegally in the UK was “strong” because of the problems in removing them once they had crossed the Channel.

Citing the Australian Sovereign Borders operation to place illegal migrants in Nauru and other islands, he said that policy had succeeded in deterring asylum seekers from making dangerous sea journeys.

The comments come ahead of a Lords debate, convened this Friday by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, in which he is expected to criticise the Rwanda policy. He has said subcontracting the UK’s responsibilities to Rwanda is “the opposite of the nature of God”.

Prof Bigger said church leaders including the Archbishop risked implying that they supported open borders and appeared to overlook the significance of the unlawful nature of the Channel crossings.

“By making it quite clear that those who attempt to enter the UK illegally will not be granted asylum here, the Government’s policy aims to remove the incentive that motivates the criminal and dangerous smuggling of people in vulnerable boats across the Channel and it thereby promises to save lives,” he said.

“Such a policy may be firmly deterrent and it may disappoint illegal asylum seekers by denying them permanent residence in the UK, but it is not lacking in care or compassion. Nor does it obviously violate human dignity. Love can be tough without ceasing to be love.

Prof Finnis said the Archbishop’s proposals for “safe and legal” routes would not resolve the problem because there were far more refugees than the UK could possibly admit and every disappointed applicant would continue to have the option of unlawfully crossing the Channel.

“If the Archbishop and his many fellow objectors thought about the matter more carefully, they would realise that the policy they prefer is deeply unfair and wrong,” he said.

“The only reasonable, humane and fair scheme  of accepting refugees into the UK is one that systematically blocks irregular asylum-seeking arrivals from safe countries while systematically welcoming resettlement of genuine, UNHCR-identified refugees.”