As bishops within the Church of England with special oversight on asylum and refugee issues, we are deeply concerned about the government’s approach to migrants crossing the Channel.
The bill on nationality and borders currently under consideration by parliament would criminalize not only attempts to cross the border irregularly, nor simply the trafficking of persons, but also those who participate 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 risking trial and imprisonment. This amounts to a criminalization of the Good Samaritan who has not crossed over to the other side, and an affront to justice to put saving lives under any kind of legal sanction. The new “go back” policy, which will see boats forcibly sent back to France, also raises significant moral concerns. It considerably increases the risks at sea and endangers the life of those who attempt the crossing.
It is evident that the trend towards increasing militarization and securitization of the border fails to discourage attempts to cross the channel (as evidenced by the sharp increase in such numbers in the last 24 months). What these measures have instead managed to do is force those trying to make the crossing to employ increasingly risky and dangerous tactics or to rely more on criminal gangs and smugglers. The proposals are not so much undermining criminal activity as by strengthening it as the only option available to asylum seekers in the UK.
If the government’s goal is to deter migrants, the policies to date have been a failure and there is little reason to believe that the new proposals will have more effect. If the goal is to prevent people from using criminal gangs, the problem has only been exacerbated. All the while the crossings continue and are actively being made more dangerous, at greater cost to human lives, by the government’s own policies. It is time for a reassessment that regards serious multilateral approaches to refugees, which promotes safe pathways for the needy 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
[ https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/sep/12/bishops-concerned-by-governments-approach-to-migrant-crossings https://d26toa8f6ahusa.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/30214746/a-quiet-place-part-2-bigs-16.pdf