LEICESTER, United Kingdom – As the UK government pushes controversial legislation banning the settlement of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales is calling on policy makers “to recognize migrants and refugees as people.”

In a new document called Love the Stranger, the bishops offer a list of 24 principles to guide immigration policy, based on “the innate worth of each human person.” The bishops also say, “Nationalist or individualistic tendencies should not be allowed to take hold and prevent us seeing humanity as a single family.”

The document is being released just days after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak introduced the Illegal Migration Bill, which would remove migrants who cross the Channel in small boats from the country and ban them from entering the UK in the future.

“Our starting point as a society must be to recognize migrants and refugees as people. We need to understand their stories, their reasons for leaving their homelands and hopes for building a future here,” said Bishop Paul McAleenan, the Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees for the bishops’ conference.

“We should never view people arriving from elsewhere as a political problem to be solved, but rather as brothers and sisters who we have a responsibility towards, and who greatly enrich our communities,” he said.

“People are driven to leave their countries, sometimes making dangerous journeys or risking exploitation, because of conflict, poverty, oppression, or lack of opportunities. Looking beyond our own borders, we have a duty to help people flourish in their homelands, as well as welcoming those who leave in search of a better life,” the bishop continued.

Love the Stranger emphasizes people’s right to migrate, while acknowledging a nation’s right to control its borders.

“However, the acceptability of such measures is limited to circumstances in which they are clearly required to protect the receiving community. Controls on migration should be exercised with compassion, giving special attention to people who need to leave their country in order to flourish and live in dignity,” the document says.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the bishops’ conference, said Love the Stranger draws together more than one hundred years of Catholic teaching to guide the response to migration in the country.

“While it does not propose detailed solutions to complex problems, it clearly calls for procedures which permit safe and controlled access and a fair hearing to those seeking asylum. Present arrangements in this country are dramatically lacking in both of these requirements,” the cardinal said.

According to the BBC, 45,756 migrants crossed the English Channel to Britain in small boats in 2022.

The Refugee Council said out of all those who crossed the Channel last year, two-thirds would be granted asylum, noting that 48 percent of them were from Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea, Sudan or Syria.

“Applications from all those countries are granted in at least 80 percent of cases and for three – Afghanistan Eritrea and Syria – it is 98 percent,” the charity said.

The Refugee Council pointed out that safe routes for the main nationalities crossing the channel have been drastically reduced – noting that resettlement numbers are 75 percent lower than in 2019 and the number of family reunion visas issued is 40 per cent below the pre-pandemic level.

In Love the Stranger, the bishops also call for the establishment of safe routes, such as resettlement programs and humanitarian corridors, for the passage of refugees.

“It is also important that visa schemes are well managed so that migrants can quickly contribute to the common good of their new communities and so that they and their families are not beset by uncertainty or inhumane conditions,” the document says.

The bishops argue not only would such routes mean migrants would not have to risk their lives at sea, but safe routes would lessen the amount of human trafficking and modern slavery, which “are exacerbated by a lack of accessible alternatives for migration or seeking sanctuary.”

In addition, Love the Stranger calls for the sanctity of life to be prioritized in all border security arrangements and reject measures that unnecessarily place people in danger or deny reasonable assistance to those in need; for the government to avoid the use of immigration detention, arbitrary expulsion and other practices which violate human dignity;  and for the fulfilment of obligations under international frameworks protecting migrants and refugees, such as the Refugee Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Global Compact on Refugees, and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

“The Church in England and Wales is fully engaged with public policy relating to migration, the status of refugees, and tackling human trafficking, in order to promote the dignified treatment of all those who come to our country. Catholic social teaching recognizes the dilemmas that governments face but emphasizes that the dignity of each and every human person must come first,” the document says.

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