LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Another leading Catholic organization has condemned the British government’s proposed Illegal Migration Bill, which would ban migrants crossing the English Channel from seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.
The Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) said it was “profoundly concerned” about the bill, which has drawn criticism from migration advocates and human rights organizations.
“This Bill, if passed, will not only deny those people fleeing war and persecution their right to seek safety in the UK and apply for asylum, but will punish them, based on how they came here, not whether they need protection. This would amount to an asylum ban,” CSAN said in a March 16 statement.
“The Bill would: Remove the right to seek refugee protection in the UK for those who arrive irregularly. Breach the UN Refugee Convention, of which the UK is a founding signatory. Fail to provide the safe routes we need now. Leave thousands of men, women, and children in limbo, detained, and denied a fair hearing.” the statement continued.
The organization noted that the Bill ignores Home Office data which shows that most people who cross the English Channel are people escaping torture and conflict from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria.
“Most people who make the crossing are granted asylum following rigorous checks. There are very few safe routes for refugees to come to the UK. This Bill would be turning our back on the global common good and adding to the burden on poorer countries, which receive most refugees,” the statement said.
Earlier this month, Sarah Teather, The Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, said the proposed legislation is the latest measure aiming to punish refugees for the realities of being forcibly displaced.
“Refugees travel however they can and there are vanishingly few formal routes for them. To deny sanctuary to people who need it based on their mode of arrival is grotesquely cruel and cravenly dishonest,” she said in a statement.
Teather served as a member of the UK Parliament from 2003-2015 and was Minister of State for Children and Families from 2010-2012.
During her time in government Teather led the negotiations to stop the detention of children in the immigration system, and later chaired a parliamentary group focused on support for refugees, including the issue of detention.
“As the former coalition Children and Families Minister I’m particularly appalled by the reported plans to begin wholesale detention of children. Once upon a time the Conservative Party recognized that this policy inflicted long term damage on young lives and vowed to stop the practice. If this commitment is abandoned now for headlines, it will mark a dark day indeed,” she said.
According to the BBC, 45,756 migrants crossed the English Channel to Britain in small boats in 2022.
According to the Refugee Council, out of all those who crossed the Channel last year, two-thirds would be granted asylum.
The Council said 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.
On March 14, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales published a new document called Love the Stranger, which lists 24 principles to guide immigration policy, based on “the innate worth of each human person.”
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.
The government has given no timeline for when it expects the Illegal Migration Bill to be passed by Parliament.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome