Bishops concerned by government’s approach to migrant crossings | Letter

As bishops within the Church of England with a particular oversight of asylum and refugee issues, we are deeply concerned about the government’s approach to migrant crossings of the Channel.

The nationality and borders bill currently before parliament would criminalise not only attempts to cross the border irregularly, nor even simply people smuggling, but even those who take part in the rescue of boats in distress at sea.

This would require those who see asylum seekers at risk to choose between ignoring a moral imperative (also established in maritime law) to assist them, or to risk prosecution and imprisonment. This amounts to a criminalisation of the Good Samaritan who did not pass by on the other side, and an affront to justice to put the saving of lives under any sort of legal penalty. The new “turn back” policy, which will see boats forcibly returned to France, also raises significant moral concerns. It starkly increases the risks at sea and endangers the lives of those attempting the crossing.

The trend of increasing militarisation and securitisation of the border is demonstrably failing to deter attempted channel crossings (as the stark increases in such numbers over the past 24 months aptly shows). What these measures have succeeded in doing instead is forcing those seeking to make the crossing to employ ever riskier and more dangerous tactics or to rely more heavily on criminal gangs and smugglers. The proposals are not so much undermining criminal activity as reinforcing it as the only available option for those seeking asylum in the UK.

If the government’s goal is to deter migrants, then the policies to date have been a failure, and there is little reason to believe the new proposals will have more effect. If the goal is to prevent people using criminal gangs, then the problem has only been exacerbated. All the while the crossings are still happening and are actively being made more dangerous, at greater cost in human life, by the government’s own policies. It is time for a reappraisal which looks again at serious multilateral approaches to refugees, which promotes safe routes for those in need, and which above all values human life and the dignity of vulnerable people.
Rt Revd Paul Butler Bishop of Durham
Rt Revd David Walker Bishop of Manchester
Rt Revd Jonathan Clark Bishop of Croydon
Rt Revd John Perumbalath Bishop of Bradwell
Rt Revd Sarah Mullally Bishop of London
Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin Bishop of Dover
Rt Revd Rachel Treweek Bishop of Gloucester
Rt Revd Christopher Chessun Bishop of Southwark
Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani Bishop of Chelmsford
Rt Revd Tony Robinson Bishop of Wakefield
Rt Revd Vivienne Faull Bishop of Bristol
Rt Revd David Hamid Suffragan Bishop in Europe

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