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Posted on Wed 15 June 2022

The Telegraph - Asylum Seekers: Morals, Politics and the Church

Many of the people attempting to land on these shores in small boats come from at least one safe country. There can be little doubt that some are genuinely fleeing torture and imprisonment but, equally, there are many who are simply economic migrants, wish to join extended family here or are young men avoiding conscription. Those arriving in this way, having paid smugglers considerable sums of money, are generally not amongst the poorest refugees. The poorest often find refuge in countries nearest to theirs. This is why Pakistan hosts millions of Afghans and Lebanon millions of Syrians.

Whatever their reasons for migrating, churches and Christians have an obligation to provide for their material, spiritual and social needs since the Bible tells us to love the stranger. This does not mean being naïve about those who say they are adopting the Christian faith and seeking baptism. Again, there are many who are sincere in their desire but also some who may be cynically exploiting churches to further their asylum cases or, worse, using their ‘conversion’, as in the case of the Liverpool bomber, to conceal even more sinister motives.

Churches, indeed, others of faith, have the right, even the duty, to contribute to the debate about immigration, especially its moral aspects and any sensible government should be attentive to such contributions. They cannot, however, second guess the government on specific policies which must take account of multiple factors, including the impact of immigration on educational, medical and social services, as well as on social cohesion and public order. These policies can, of course, like others, be criticised but religious leaders should refrain from demonising politicians unless it is crystal clear that they are acting from ulterior motives and not out of concern for the public good. In the world of realpolitik, difficult decisions have to be made in balancing the claims of one group against another: in this case the continuing welfare of those already here with those pressing their claims to come here. 

The exponential increase in those coming in small boats is putting intolerable pressure on counties like Kent to provide, for example, for unaccompanied children and, in times of austerity, on the public purse generally. Attempts to prevent them from leaving the Continent have failed, as have other means to deter people from undertaking such dangerous journeys. Although not every aspect of successive Australian policies in processing asylum cases of arriving ‘boat people’ offshore should be emulated, they do seem to have deterred people from making these dangerous voyages across the Banda and Arafura seas. The case for offshore processing of those arriving here is strong because of the difficulty in removing anyone, once they have reached these shores. Rwanda has, of course, a terrible past with the genocide of its Tutsi population but it has since rebuilt itself as relatively stable and prospering nation, though not without some human rights and regional concerns. There could be a number of possibilities for those who have arrived in the U.K. from a safe country and whose claims may be assessed in Rwanda. Those found to have a valid case can, as envisaged, be given refuge there. Both the U.K. and the international community must ensure that their fundamental rights are respected and that they are treated humanely. The UNHCR can, of course, also establish procedures in Rwanda for processing those already there for further resettlement in third countries willing to accept them. For my part, I do not discount the possibility of some claims to settle in the U.K. being upheld during assessment in Rwanda. It is high time also for there to be a new international agreement about asylum seekers and refugees. Europe and the U.K. do not have a moral monopoly in accepting everyone wishing to come here. Other richer nations should also take their due share, including those in the Arab League and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation since so many of the asylum seekers come from their member states. For its part, U.K. foreign policy should be focussed on promoting an end to regional conflicts and the abuse of fundamental freedoms, as well as on the development and prosperity of poorer nations so that people so should want to remain at home, while being free to travel for business, education and leisure.

Michael Nazir-Ali

June, 2022. Published by the Telegraph

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