Welby asylum
Immigration

How many millions of asylum seekers should the UK welcome?

Building on his Easter sermon which condemned (rather robustly) Priti Patel’s plan to send Channel migrants to Rwanda, the Archbishop of Canterbury has written a comment piece for the Telegraph in which he implores the Government to ‘Put humanity at the heart of our asylum system’.

He begins with the stark reality of human suffering:

Behind the headlines about migration policy are human tragedies. A former colleague in Afghanistan called me recently: “I have fled to my village. My brother was shot yesterday. We can’t get food. I must get my sons out – they have no future. Can you help? If not, I will have to send them across the Mediterranean.”

And explains why the UK is a beacon of hope:

Britain still represents the best hope for many like my friend. Our language and culture, reputation for fairness and the rule of law – these are “pull factors” of which we should be proud.

He concedes there is a ‘tension’:

For now, my friend remains in place, as does our dilemma: we cannot take all the world’s refugees, nor can any country. But the global community is currently letting down millions of people seeking refuge. There must be a better way.

And reveals that he agrees with the Home Secretary on some things:

This may come as a surprise, but there is much in migration policy on which the Church of England and the Government agree. The global asylum system is broken. We must destroy the deadly trade of people trafficking. We need innovative solutions to stop the suffering of millions of people – and the devastating deaths in the English Channel, the Mediterranean and elsewhere. We agree on those common ends, which are urgent and compassionate, but we profoundly differ on the means to achieve them.

And he reiterates his Easter Day message:

Like many, I oppose sending vulnerable and traumatised people more than 4,000 miles away without their consent, and paying another country to take them in. People who would have been offered refugee status in the UK will be shipped out without their case being heard – including those with family ties or other links with Britain. The vast majority (98 per cent) of those crossing the Channel apply for asylum and most (61 per cent) are granted it. These are people fleeing war, famine and persecution.

And demands safe and legal routes for them all to journey to the UK:

There are safe means of crossing the Channel, but we refuse to make them available to asylum seekers. There is no safe or legal route for persecuted Christians from Iran to reach the UK, or those fleeing famine in the DRC, or conflict in Sudan. Meanwhile, the people smugglers prosper. People trafficking is an evil crime. We must go after the traffickers and bring them to justice. They are the villains here, not the people being trafficked. We created this system, and it has failed people. We should not use it as the justification for going further down the same path.

He explains his scriptural justification:

So we must ask ourselves: who do we want to be? Jesus Christ’s summary of God’s law is to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. For me, that is the standard by which we must treat those seeking asylum.

And sets out what God’s law translates to in the application of the theology:

The Church of England is not a passive observer of migration policy. Some of my fellow bishops, clergy and worshippers came to the UK escaping persecution or conflict. We welcome and serve asylum seekers at every level of society – from providing housing, food banks, social support and friendship…

And he concludes with an appeal:

Government and Church are not the same, but we must surely all want to put humanity and fairness at the heart of our asylum system. That is why the Church has called for safe and legal routes for asylum seekers, making visas available for humanitarian reasons, and helping families to be reunited.

Not only for those fleeing war, famine and persecution, but also “the climate crisis [which] may see hundreds of millions more people displaced in the coming decades”. He insists: “This is not about “open borders”: it’s about global cooperation to address a global problem, with human dignity at the centre – along with an international commitment to defeat the activities of people smugglers.”

And he warns:

We stand at a crossroads: do we lead the world into a future where rich nations outsource their responsibilities to poorer nations? Or do we lead the world in reimagining a truly global asylum system, where every nation takes its fair share of people – like my friend – desperately in search of safety and a chance of living a good life?

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” I pray that as we seek together to build a new world in the years to come, we keep these words in mind.

It is curious, when you string together the Archbishop’s essential argument (or exhortation, because it isn’t really an argument), that after acknowledging “we cannot take all the world’s refugees”, he then proceeds to plead for the establishment of another “pull factor” (in addition to “our language and culture, reputation for fairness and the rule of law”), which is that of more safe and legal routes of entry into the UK.

Why?

Because “Britain still represents the best hope”.

For whom?

The “millions of people seeking refuge”.

From what?

Specifically, “war, famine and persecution”, and also “the climate crisis”.

So not only thousands of asylum seekers, then, but the millions who may write: “We can’t get food. I must get my sons out – they have no future.”

And what hospitality should we offer?

The provision of “housing, food banks, social support and friendship”.

If the national moral obligation should extend to the provision of housing, food, health care and education to anyone who desires “a chance of living a good life”, in what sense does this not constitute the mother of all ‘pull factors’, and swiftly become the ‘open borders’ policy which he insists he is not proposing?

Isn’t it rather important, indeed, pressingly crucial to distinguish asylum seekers and genuine refugees from those who simply desire a better life? Certainly, there is nothing wrong with the aspiration to a better standard of living, and there are valid economic arguments to be made for opening more safe and legal routes for skilled and unskilled migrants who may (for example) fill seasonal vacancies on farms or work in hospitality or residential and health care. But is it really down to the UK taxpayer to subsidise economic migrants, whose sole objective is to leave France or Iran or Sudan or the DRC (or Burundi, Somalia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan) and seek a better life in the UK?

The Archbishop talks of our international obligations, but what of the Government’s obligations to national sovereignty and border control? Or does he think these are otiose ‘Little Englander’ concepts, if not nationalistic and profoundly un-Christian hindrances to the ‘new world’ of multiculturalism and equality he seeks to build?

Welby asylum

In support of (if not designed to coincide with) the Archbishop’s article is one written by the Rev’d Arun Arora in The Northern Echo, entitled ‘The Government policy that tears at the nation’s soul’. He expounds his theology:

..the issue at hand is one of fundamental principle rooted in, but not limited to, a Judeo-Christian understanding of how to welcome the “stranger” or “alien”.

In the Old Testament the word that means a ‘resident alien’ or immigrant, gēr, appears almost 50 times in the first five books of the Bible. The command to welcome the stranger is repeated 37 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and is expanded upon in the New Testament by Jesus who suggests how we treat the stranger, naked and hungry, will form the criteria of the final judgement.

Again, there is no distinction between asylum seekers or economic migrants: all are simply ‘strangers’ or ‘aliens’, and the obligation (/command) is to welcome them.

How many?

All of those who are “fleeing war, famine and persecution” and “the climate crisis”.

So millions, then?

Well, as many as may want “a chance of living a good life” in the UK, because “Britain still represents the best hope”.

But this is not an ‘open borders’ policy. No, it absolutely isn’t an open borders policy: “it’s about global cooperation to address a global problem, with human dignity at the centre.”

Never mind that the UK has been cooperating with the French for the past 20 years, paying €62.7 million in 20221-22 alone “to help France expand its enforcement and technological capabilities”, apparently to very little effect. The Archbishop’s solution is to stop paying the French altogether and fulfil our own national obligation to welcome anyone who wants to come.

But (sorry to reiterate) this categorically is not an ‘open borders’ policy.

The UK is £2 trillion in debt, and running an annual deficit of around £300 billion. There are British citizens who live in cramped and damp bedsits and can’t afford to heat a single room or feed their children or get a GP’s appointment. There are around 4,000 homeless veterans of the Armed Forces sleeping on the streets or in cars. There are more than six million people on the NHS waiting list. Around eight million people have a housing need. Some 832,000 children are dependent on food parcels, with 900,000 being taught in ‘supersized’ classes of more than 30.

Each and every one of these represents a great, if not desperate need.

Yet to these the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks we should add (indeed, facilitate the arrival) of millions of asylum seekers (who may well be economic migrants).

Perhaps you object to the word ‘millions’?

How many, then?

999,999? 500,000? 100,000?

And what happens, then, when that upper limit is reached?

Do we say, “Sorry, but I know Jesus says ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’, but we just can’t afford to give you a house, and food, and free health care, and free education to your children”?

“Of course not,” the Archbishop (and the Rev’d Arun) would say. “We must welcome all who are naked and hungry, because this will form the criteria of the final judgement.”

This is the economic illiteracy masquerading as Christian socialism. The Archbishop doesn’t specify an upper limit because there is none. He talks about international cooperation, but concedes “Britain still represents the best hope”. It is a de facto ‘open borders’ policy, because Jesus doesn’t like insularity.

“God’s law is to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself.” For the Archbishop of Canterbury, “that is the standard by which we must treat those seeking asylum”, who may be economic migrants, but that doesn’t matter.

For many others, that is the standard by which we must treat those who live among us first, for the commandment is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves; not more than we love ourselves. Human compassion flows naturally from the individual to the family, and from the family to community, and from the community to the region, and from region to nation. And then, certainly, the world’s wealthiest nations should aid the world’s poorest. But if you open the UK’s borders and give ‘refuge’ to unlimited migrants, the result will be societal tensions, the rise of ‘ghetto villages‘, and eventually civil disorder.

But do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.