The Archbishop of Canterbury has delivered a scathing condemnation of the government’s “immoral” and “cruel” treatment of migrants and asylum seekers.
In a speech to the House of Lords, Justin Welby said that the principle of offering protection to refugees has been “politically degraded” by successive UK governments.
He condemned the government’s “hostile environment” policy of making life difficult for unauthorised arrivals, saying: “A hostile environment is an immoral environment.”
And he denounced home secretary Suella Braverman’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda will fuel people-smuggling, telling peers: “It is not a solution – it is a mistake. It will be a failure.”
The Archbishop condemned the £120m Rwanda plan in his Easter sermon in April as “the opposite of the nature of God”, and later led Church of England in a joint letter calling for it to be scrapped.
In today’s speech, he warned that in the government’s approach to migrants “control has become cruelty”.
He offered stinging criticism of Ms Braverman and prime minister Rishi Sunak as he warned against “harmful rhetoric” that treats those arriving in the UK as “invaders”.
Mr Welby said: “When migrants arrive here, our system is grossly wasteful – in both human and financial terms. Control has become cruelty. Staggering inefficiencies by successive governments trap people in limbo – at incredible expense – in the system for years, unable to build a life or to contribute to society.”
While the UK “cannot take everyone”, the country needs a system “which balances effective, accurate and clear control with compassion and dignity, a system which is based in our history and proper moral responsibilities”, he told peers.
And he quoted the words of Jesus on the treatment of strangers from the Gospel of Matthew: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The Archbishop said it was impossible to separate the Rwanda plan, devised by former home secretary Priti Patel but currently stalled by legal challenges, from “moral arguments”.
“In my sermon on Easter Sunday, I gave my view on this, and shortly after, every one of my colleagues on these benches issued a statement concluding that this was ‘an immoral policy that shames Britain’,” he said. “I stand by those views.
“The government has said the Rwanda policy aims to deter people arriving in the UK through ‘illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods’.
“There is little or no evidence that this deterrence or the hostile environment really works. The government’s own impact assessments say so … Outsourcing our share creates more opportunities for people smugglers to operate in and around Rwanda. It is not a solution – it is a mistake. It will be a failure.”
Mr Welby said there had been a “decades-long downward slide” in the handling of migration by successive administrations.
“When we fail to challenge the harmful rhetoric that refugees are the cause of this country’s ills, that they should be treated as problems not people, invaders to be tackled and deterred, we deny the essential value and dignity of our fellow human beings,” he said.
“The right to seek asylum, and the duty of the global community to protect refugees, has been politically degraded in this country when it should be a positive and a source of pride. I am not only addressing the government front bench here. This has been a decades-long downward slide over successive Labour, Conservative and coalition governments.”
The Archbishop’s comments came amid reports that the government plans to fast-track the removal of asylum seekers from designated “safe” countries, a list that would include Albania.
On Thursday, Ms Braverman joined interior ministers from France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands at a meeting of the so-called “Calais group” of neighbouring countries to discuss efforts to crack down on Channel crossings and bring people smugglers to justice.
But the Archbishop argued that it is “absurd” to expect orderly migration and prevent queue-jumping when there is “no legal queue” for asylum seekers who do not come from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Hong Kong or Syria.
And he said it was “disgraceful” that people fleeing Afghanistan or Syria are having to wait so long to be processed.
He called for the creation of safe and legal routes for people to seek sanctuary in the UK, as well as the expansion of family reunion and community sponsorship schemes and humanitarian visas from a greater number of countries.