LEICESTER, United Kingdom – It is “absolutely essential” that we recognize that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper in the ongoing immigration debate in the UK, says a leading Catholic archbishop.
Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark, whose archdiocese extends from South London to England’s southern coast, said politics has to be at the “service of the dignity of the human person.”
Wilson spoke to the Catholic News podcast of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales after the launch of Caritas Southwark.
His remarks came as the British Parliament is considering the Illegal Migration Bill, which would ban migrants crossing the English Channel from seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.
According to the BBC, 45,756 migrants crossed the English Channel to Britain in small boats in 2022. The Refugee Council claims that out of all those who crossed the Channel last year, two-thirds would be granted asylum, with many coming from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea, Sudan and Syrian.
“A few months ago I visited the lifeboat station at the port of Dover and heard of the incredible work they have been doing to rescue people who have taken an incredible decision to try and escape persecution, hardship, war in many cases and cross the Channel,” said Wilson.
“It was incredible to hear the testimonies of those who work on the lifeboats in Dover. They simply said, ‘Our mission has always been and will always be to save people in danger at sea. We don’t ask who they are or where they’re from.’ I was really, really impressed by that,” the archbishop said.
“And they faced a lot of criticism the lifeboat association, the RNLI [Royal National Lifeboat Institution], and to my mind they are doing and incredible work, as are the Churches and the different community organizations that work to welcome and support refugees in that part of the world,” he continued.
“And this has been a sort of great controversy and there are great political issues at stake here, which to me really don’t face the crucial issue, which is we have people before us who are in desperate need. And if we lose sight of the desperate need of the people, we lose sight of our conscience as a country,” Wilson added.
Human rights experts say the proposed legislation could violate both the European Convention on Human Rights – which is not a European Union treaty, and by which the UK is still bound – and the United Nations Refugee Convention.
The Conservative government has also come under fire for its plan to send many of the asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing, despite the African country’s spotty human rights record.
Wilson said the issues surrounding asylum seekers arriving in the UK “need humane resolution, not simply isolating people or cutting them off or rejecting them or transporting them elsewhere.”
“That doesn’t help anybody. Global solutions need countries to speak to each other and they need partnership, and they need compassion that puts into practice real solutions, not simply knee-jerk reactions that seemingly solve a problem at the expense of the dignity of human life. That to me is just preposterous,” the Southwark archbishop said.
“I think the key response is to cut through politics – politics matter, of course they do – but politics have to be at the service of the human person, and the dignity of the human person,” he said.
“Politics that isn’t at the service of the human person is inauthentic. Of course, there are other considerations in all of this – I appreciate that, I am not naïve – but when a person is in need the presenting requirement is that we reach out to them. That to me is the fundamental truth of the gospel, that when a person is in need, my response as a Christian – my response as a human being – is to reach out in love and in support.”
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome