Archbishop of Canterbury slams government's Rwanda plan

Archbishop of Canterbury slams government’s Rwanda plan for asylum seekers as ‘the opposite of the nature of God’ and calls on Boris Johnson to ‘take responsibility for our failures’ in Easter sermon

  • Justin Welby will give the Easter sermon at Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday
  • He is set to say Easter should be a time for ‘repentance and renewal’, not for ‘sub-contracting our responsibilities’, in reference to the Rwanda plan
  • Those who are deemed to have entered Britain by unlawful means since January 1 may be sent to Rwanda under the government’s proposed migrant scheme
  • However, it has drawn criticism from a number of rights groups and the UN

The Archbishop of Canterbury is set to slam the government’s Rwanda plan for asylum seekers as the the ‘opposite of the nature of God’ tomorrow. 

In his Easter sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, Justin Welby will say that Christ’s resurrection should be a time for ‘repentance and renewal’, not for ‘sub-contracting our responsibilities’.

The Government announced this week it plans to provide failed asylum seekers, including those crossing the Channel in small boats, with a one-way ticket to Rwanda, where they will have the right to apply to live in the African country. 

The Archbishop will also call for a ceasefire in the Russian war on Ukraine and speak of his concern for families struggling during the cost-of-living crisis and for those bereaved by Covid-19.

In his 8.10am sermon, the Archbishop will say: ‘The resurrection of Jesus is not a magic wand that makes the world perfect.

The Archbishop of Canterbury (pictured in Kent on Friday) is set to slam the government’s Rwanda plan for asylum seekers as the the ‘opposite of the nature of God’ tomorrow

‘But the resurrection of Christ is the tectonic shift in the way the cosmos works. It is the conquest of death and the opening of eternal life – through Jesus, a gift offered to every human being who reaches out to him.’

He will continue: ‘Let this be a time for Russian ceasefire, withdrawal and a commitment to talks. This is a time for resetting the ways of peace, not for what Bismarck called blood and iron. Let Christ prevail. Let the darkness of war be banished.

‘And this season is also why there are such serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas.

‘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.

‘And it cannot carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values, because 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.’

Boris Johnson’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has today been slammed as an ‘egregious breach of international law’ and ‘really unacceptable’ by the United Nation’s refugee agency. Pictured: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the command room at the ‘Maritime rescue coordination centre’ in Dover, Britain, April 14, 2022

Migrants wait to disembark at the Port of Dover after being rescued while crossing the English Channel, in Dover, Britain, April 15, 2022

Speaking about the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic, the Archbishop will say: ‘Families across the country are waking up to cold homes and empty stomachs as we face the greatest cost-of-living crisis -we have known.

‘The rise in the cost of power and fuel, of basic foods, indeed in the cost of living, will be the first thought of the day and they will feel overwhelmed by the pressures.

‘For others it will be the continued deep sense of loss of someone from Covid, or during Covid, to whom they could not say a proper farewell.’

Reflecting on what the resurrection means for us as individuals, the Archbishop will say: ‘In dying for us, God sees and knows the wounds that cause us so much pain.

‘He hears the cry of the mothers in Ukraine, he sees the fear of boys too young to become soldiers, and he knows the vulnerability of the orphans and refugees.

‘Closer to home, he sees the humiliation of the grandparent visiting the food bank for the first time, the desperate choice of parents in poverty and the grief and weariness of the pandemic.’

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby performs the Washing of The Feet ceremony during the Maundy Thursday service at the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, in Kent,

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (left) carries a wooden cross during the Walk of Witness at St Mary’s Church, Sellindge, Kent, as he carries out his Holy Week engagements

On Saturday, a peer suggested that the Government’s plan may breach the Geneva conventions, a peer has suggested. 

Former child refugee and Labour peer Alf Dubs said ministers would face opposition in the Lords over the plan unveiled by Home Secretary Priti Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week.

In an interview with The Guardian, Lord Dubs said the Government was attempting to ‘ride roughshod’ over international agreements.

He said: ‘I think it’s a way of getting rid of people the Government doesn’t want, dumping them in a distant African country, and they’ll have no chance of getting out of there again.

‘I think it’s a breach of the 1951 Geneva conventions on refugees. You can’t just shunt them around like unwanted people.’

It comes as it was reported that Ms Patel took the rare step of issuing a ministerial direction to overrule concerns of civil servants about whether the concept will deliver value for money.

As part of the plan designed to curb migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats, those 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.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the claimed use of the ministerial direction by the Home Secretary was only the second deployment of the power within the Home Office in the past 30 years.

The Home Office declined to comment on the matter when approached by the PA news agency.

Migrants travelling to the UK on small boats will be put on jets and sent to Rwanda while their applications are processed. Pictured: A map detailing the plan proposed by the Prime Minister

Speaking to Times Radio on Saturday, shadow prisons minister Ellie Reeves said: ‘The UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) has come out really, really strongly condemning the Government’s proposals, as have many organisations, and it seems the Government’s own civil servants have expressed huge misgivings about the plans, which seem to be completely misguided.’

The Labour politician said: ‘The Government is going to be paying £120 million upfront before any asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda.

‘Asylum seekers are saying it won’t deter them from crossing the Channel.

‘We are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis so it doesn’t seem the right way to be spending money on an unethical and unworkable scheme that won’t deter people from coming over.’

She later added: ‘The whole system needs looking at again, so rather than making sweeping statements – these announcements that are completely unworkable and incredibly expensive – what the Government actually needs to do is get to grips with the system and put in place a system that actually works, increase prosecutions and clamp down on criminal gangs.’

But Ms Patel said Denmark could be among those to reproduce the UK Government’s ‘blueprint’.

‘There is no question now that the model we have put forward, I’m convinced is world class and a world first, and it will be used as a blueprint going forward, there’s no doubt about that,’ Ms Patel said.

‘I would not be surprised if other countries start coming to us direct on the back of this as well.’

The Home Secretary said Copenhagen was in talks with Rwanda as well, adding the Council of Europe ‘have also basically said they are interested in working with us’.

The Home Office denied its approach was in breach of refugee agreements.

But Lord Dubs, who came to the UK from then Czechoslovakia on one of the Kindertransport trains in 1939, told The Guardian there would be legal challenges and opposition by peers.

‘If (Ms Patel) says she’ll get rid of the lefty lawyers’ claims, well, I think she may have another thing coming. My understanding is that they’re going to have real difficulties in getting this through anyway,’ he said.

A view of facilities at Hope House, a hostel in Nyabugogo, the Gasabo district of the capital city Kigali, in Rwanda – where migrants shipped from Britain will initially be taken

On Friday, the United Nations also criticised the proposal as an ‘egregious breach of international law’. Gillian Triggs, a UNHCR assistant secretary-general, said the agency ‘strongly condemns outsourcing the primary responsibility to consider the refugee status.’ 

Put to her that Australia had effectively deployed a similar tactic to cut migration numbers, Ms Triggs said: ‘My point is, just as the Australian policy is an egregious breach of international law and refugee law and human rights law, so too is this proposal by the United Kingdom Government.

‘It is very unusual, very few states have tried this, and the purpose is primarily deterrent – and it can be effective, I don’t think we’re denying that.

‘But what we’re saying at the UN refugee agency is that there are much more legally effective ways of achieving the same outcome.’

She said attempting to ‘shift responsibility’ for asylum seekers arriving in Britain was ‘really unacceptable’.

Ms Triggs pointed out that Israel had attempted to send Eritrean and Sudanese refugees to Rwanda, but that they ‘simply left the country and started the process all over again’.

‘In other words, it is not actually a long-term deterrent,’ she added.

In response to the UNHCR, the Home Office insisted to the MailOnline that ‘Rwanda is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers.’ It noted that the UNHCR has previously sad the country is safe for refugees.

‘Under this agreement, Rwanda will process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention, national and international human rights laws, and will ensure their protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or being returned to the place they originally fled,’ the Home Office’s statement said. 

‘There is nothing in the UN Refugee Convention which prevents removal to a safe country’,’ it added.

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