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LEICESTER, United Kingdom – On the same day the United Kingdom planned to start deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, the bishops of England and Wales reiterated their belief that the policy is “shameful.”
In April, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that certain asylum seekers arriving in the UK would be sent to Rwanda, in central Africa.
The Conservative leader said the plan was aimed at single men illegally crossing the English Channel on boats and would provide “safe and legal routes for asylum while disrupting the business model of [human trafficking] gangs.”
The first group was scheduled to depart the UK on Tuesday.
“The UK’s plans to forcibly deport to Rwanda some of those seeking refuge in our country is shamefully illustrative of what Pope Francis has called the ‘loss of that sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters on which every civil society is based’,” the prelates said in a statement published on the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
Over 10,000 people have arrived in Britain by crossing the channel in small boats, with 138 arriving on Monday, according to the BBC.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told BBC Breakfast the Rwanda plan is a “key part of our strategy for tracking the appalling people smugglers who are trading in people’s hopes and dreams.”
Rwanda has said it would resettle any applicant who could prove their refugee status, although several refugee agencies have questioned the human rights record of the East African country.
Truss told the BBC the UK government would “follow through” on making sure refugees had a safe future in Rwanda.
In their statement, the English and Welsh bishops refuted the government’s claim that the plan was a good one for asylum seekers.
“The plan is presented as a humanitarian response to combat people trafficking and smuggling yet the result will compound the suffering of those who are already victims. Crime is defeated by confronting the perpetrators not by punishing victims. This scheme will increase the difficulties of those hoping for a new beginning, and it does nothing to address the problems which cause people to flee their home,” the statement said. “Migration is a complex issue, but it is not resolved by delegating our roles and responsibilities to other countries.”
The bishops’ statement added the “starting point” of any policy should be “the innate dignity of every person, created in the image and likeness of God.”
“Whether or not the flight to Rwanda takes off today we are now in a new situation. With greater force we insist that asylum seekers are not commodities for profit, nor are they problems to be rejected and deported by government,” the statement continued.
The Catholic bishops statement came the same day the bishops of the Church of England published a letter in The Times saying the Rwanda asylum policy “should shame us as a nation.”
“Rwanda is a brave country recovering from catastrophic genocide. The shame is our own, because our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have for centuries. Those to be deported to Rwanda have had no chance to appeal, or reunite with family in Britain. They have had no consideration of their asylum claim, recognition of their medical or other needs, or any attempt to understand their predicament,” said the letter, signed by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and all the other bishops of the Church of England.
The letter notes that many of the asylum seekers “are desperate people fleeing unspeakable horrors.”
“Many are Iranians, Eritreans and Sudanese citizens, who have an asylum grant rate of at least 88 percent. These are people Jesus had in mind as he said when we offer hospitality to a stranger, we do it for him. They are the vulnerable that the Old Testament calls us to value. We cannot offer asylum to everyone, but we must not outsource our ethical responsibilities, or discard international law — which protects the right to claim asylum,” the Anglican bishops write.
“We must end the evil trafficking; many churches are involved in fighting this evil. This needs global cooperation across every level of society. To reduce dangerous journeys to the UK we need safe routes: the church will continue to advocate for them. But deportations — and the potential forced return of asylum seekers to their home countries — are not the way. This immoral policy shames Britain,” the letter concludes.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome