Archbishop of York condemns Government's 'depressing and distressing' Rwanda plan for refugees

The Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell has labelled the Government's plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as "depressing and distressing" in his Easter sermon.

Making an address at York Minster this morning, the Archbishop condemned the Government's policy by contrasting it to the example of Jesus Christ.

He told the congregation: "He shows us what we should strive for, which is why, among so many other things that trouble our world at the moment, it is so depressing and so distressing this week to find that asylum seekers fleeing war, famine and oppression from deeply troubled parts of the world will not be treated with the dignity and compassion that is the right of every human being, and instead of being dealt with quickly and efficiently here on our soil, will be shipped to Rwanda.

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"We can do better than this. We can do better than this because of what we see in the Risen Christ a vision for our humanity, which breaks barriers down - not new obstacles put in the path."

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell has criticised Government plans to send asylum seekers to live in Rwanda.Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell has criticised Government plans to send asylum seekers to live in Rwanda.
Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell has criticised Government plans to send asylum seekers to live in Rwanda.

The Archbishop of York is second in the Church of England to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has also made similar criticisms of the Government's Rwanda policy this morning.

Archbishop Cottrell said: "There is, in law, no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. It is the people who exploit them that we need to crack down on, not our sisters and brothers in their need.

"We don’t need to build more barriers and cower in the darkness of the shadows they create."

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He said he was asking the same question of himself that former Archbishop of York William Temple raised during the Second World War - "what sort of nation do we want to be?"

He said: "So this is my question this Easter day: Do I want to be part of a nation that is hopeful, enterprising, that cares for those in need; that supports those who are in poverty because they can’t afford the heating, or food for the table and offers them genuine help?

"Do we want to be a nation that seeks to build and make peace, not merely enjoy it; that builds an international consensus about what it means to live alongside our neighbour?

"Do we want to continue to be known as a country that opens proper legitimate pathways for all who flee violence, conflict and oppression – not just those from Ukraine, but also those fleeing other conflicts and the effect of climate change?

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"Do we want to be known for the robustness of our democracy where those in public life live to the highest standards and where we can trust those who lead us to behave with integrity and honour?

"The question of who is my neighbour, the question of how we live together, of what kind of country are we, the question of how I live my life with integrity, is all answered by the mystery of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."

In a Radio 4 interview on Sunday morning before his sermon, the Archbishop of York described the Government's plan as "appalling" and "unethical".

"This seems to me to be entirely tackling the wrong end of the problem," he said.

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"The people traffickers will carry on trafficking people, whatever we do, and we must crack down on them, but the people who come to us need to be dealt with, with dignity and compassion.

"I think actually the government is out of tune with British people at the moment. I think what's happened in Ukraine has been a wake up call for us. British people have shown incredible generosity in wanting to open their homes to Ukrainian refugees. We now need to make that step of understanding that... people coming from Syria and Yemen are in just as much need as the people in Ukraine and need to be treated with the same dignity and the same compassion."

When asked by the interviewer whether some Christians "might think this is a bold plan for dealing with the pull factor of dangerous crossings".

Archbishop Cottrell replied: "Well if they are, I've not met them yet. When it was announced, I think everyone was thinking, 'Is it April 1 again - can this be real?'"

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The interventions by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York come as it was confirmed the Home Office’s most senior civil servant has concerns about the value for money of the scheme.

An exchange of letters published by the Home Office on Saturday night showed the department’s Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft warning Home Secretary Priti Patel that although it was “regular, proper and feasible for this policy to proceed”, there was “uncertainty surrounding the value for money of the proposal”.

But issuing a rare ministerial direction compelling the plans to go ahead despite the concern, Ms Patel said that “without action, costs will continue to rise, lives will continue to be lost”.

Earlier this week the Government announced plans to curb migrant crossings of the English Channel in small boats, and people who are deemed to have entered Britain by unlawful means since January 1 may be sent to Rwanda where they will be permitted to apply for asylum in the African country.

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The measures have faced a fierce backlash from opposition parties, some within the Conservative Party, charities, and religious figures.

In his Easter sermon on Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said “sub-contracting out our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do well, like Rwanda, is the opposite of the nature of God who himself took responsibility for our failures”.

The archbishop said there are “serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas”.

He said: “The details are for politics. The principle must stand the judgment of God, and it cannot. It cannot carry the weight of resurrection justice, of life conquering death. It cannot carry the weight of the resurrection that was first to the least valued, for it privileges the rich and strong.”

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A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of supporting those in need of protection and our resettlement programmes have provided safe and legal routes to better futures for hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.

“However, the world is facing a global migration crisis on an unprecedented scale and change is needed to prevent vile people smugglers putting people’s lives at risk and to fix the broken global asylum system.

“Rwanda is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers. Under this agreement, they will process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention, national and international human rights laws.”

The policy has enjoyed some support from Conservative MPs, who say the issue of small boats crossing the Channel is high on the priority list for constituents.

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Ms Patel said she expected other countries to follow the UK’s example, suggesting Denmark could be among those to reproduce the Government’s “blueprint”, while the Home Office insisted its approach was not in breach of refugee agreements.

In his letter, Mr Rycroft warned the Home Secretary: “I do not believe sufficient evidence can be obtained to demonstrate that the policy will have a deterrent effect significant enough to make the policy value for money. This does not mean that the (measures) cannot have the appropriate deterrent effect; just that there is not sufficient evidence for me to conclude that it will.”

But Ms Patel said it would be “imprudent in my view, as Home Secretary, to allow the absence of quantifiable and dynamic modelling – which is inevitable when developing a response to global crises influenced by so many geopolitical factors such as climate change, war and conflict – to delay delivery of a policy that we believe will reduce illegal migration, save lives, and ultimately break the business model of the smuggling gangs”.

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