LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Bishops in Great Britain are expressing “deep misgivings” over the Safety of Rwanda Bill, which will send asylum seekers crossing to the UK from the English Channel by boat to the African country.

Parliament has passed the government’s Rwanda bill early on Saturday, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says it is “a fundamental change in the global equation on migration.”

A joint statement by different Christian leaders questions the bill for “the precedent it sets at home and for other countries in how we respond to the most vulnerable.”

“This includes victims of modern slavery and children wrongly assessed as adults, whom we have a duty to protect.  As leaders in Christian churches we wish to express our profound gratitude to those who live out Jesus’s call to feed and clothe the poor, and to welcome the stranger, through their work with asylum seekers and refugees, at times in the face of opposition and prejudice,” the statement says.

It was signed by Catholic Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees for the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales; the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell; the Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun; the Reverend Lynn Green, the General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain; the Reverend Dr. Tessa Henry-Robinson, the United Reformed Church General Assembly Moderator; and Reverend Gill Newton, the President of the Methodist Conference.

The Catholic leaders noted “with sadness and concern the rise in hostility towards those who come to these islands seeking refuge and the way in which the treatment of the refugee and asylum seeker has been used as a political football.”

“We are disappointed that the kindness and support offered by churches and charities to the people at the heart of this debate – those fleeing war, persecution and violence trying to find a place of safety – has been unjustly maligned by some for political reasons. In their response to the tragic attack in Clapham earlier this year, some former Home Office ministers, MPs and other commentators sought to portray churches and clergy as deliberately facilitating false asylum claims,” the leaders continue.

“Like so many in this country, we seek to support a system that shows compassion, justice, transparency and speed in its decisions. We grieve the appalling loss of life in the Channel today,” the leaders say.

“There may be differences between our churches and Government on the means by which our asylum system can be fair, effective and respecting of human dignity, but we do agree that borders must be managed and that vulnerable people need protection from people smugglers,” the statement says.

In a separate statement, McAleenan urged the government to rethink its migration and asylum policy after five people including a seven-year-old girl have died trying to cross the English Channel.

“I was saddened to hear that instead of reaching a place of sanctuary, five human beings tragically drowned in the Channel in their desperate hopes for refuge. May they rest in peace,” the bishop said.

“This awful event underscores the urgent need for comprehensive and compassionate solutions to address the plight of migrants and refugees. I urge the government to rethink its migration and asylum policy and remember that each person has a name, face and story,” he said.

“The passing of the Rwanda Bill last night fails to address the urgent need to ensure that there are more safe and legal routes by which asylum seekers and refugees can reach the UK. I once again call on our government for a more compassionate approach to migration; one that seeks to protect vulnerable lives and support those fleeing persecution and hardship,” McAleenan said.

Follow Charles Collins on X: @CharlesinRome