Faith leaders urge Prime Minister to reconsider sweeping asylum reforms

More than 1,000 leaders from around the country have written to Boris Johnson.

28 February 2022

More than a thousand faith leaders have called on the Prime Minister to reconsider sweeping asylum reforms, urging him not to “close the door” on those fleeing persecution.

The Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain Zara Mohammed, the Bishop of Dover Rose Hudson-Wilkin and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams – as well as rabbis, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist leaders – are among 1,028 from around the country who have signed a letter to Boris Johnson expressing concern about the Nationality and Borders Bill.

In the letter, they say they are “horrified and appalled” at the potential repercussions of the Bill, which will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and introduce life sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country.

The proposed legislation is going through Parliament and due to enter the final stages in the House of Lords.

Urging Mr Johnson to make substantial changes to the Bill, the letter adds: “While there is still conflict and injustice in the world, there will always be desperate people needing to seek sanctuary from war, persecution and suffering. We cannot close our door on them, but this Bill does just that.

“We assert that the values that bind UK citizens together, especially those concerning human dignity and life, will be fundamentally damaged by this Bill.”

They call for the Government to abandon plans to criminalise and restrict the rights of those coming to the UK by crossings the English Channel using small boats or on lorries, a policy they say is made “without a basis in evidence or morality”.

They urged the Government to establish safe and legal routes through the Bill, calling on Mr Johnson to show “political leadership” and be “compassionate and ambitious” in his plans.

Reverend Steve Tinning, who is from the Baptist Union of Great Britain and helped to write and organise the letter, said: “The horror of the war in Ukraine brings the reasons why the government must reconsider this bill into sharp focus.

“It would bring shame on the UK to criminalise refugees who make dangerous journeys from Ukraine to reach safety here in the UK.

“Schemes ready to resettle thousands of refugees from these situations are desperately needed – as are laws that enable, not prohibit, child refugees and vulnerable adults being reunited with their family here in the UK. As a nation we must uphold compassion, human life and dignity, not criminalise those who are already victims.”

Ms Mohammed said many provisions in the Bill are “deeply concerning for faith communities”.

She added: “We must, therefore, not abandon our moral obligation to ensure safe passage for those who need it, to have a fair and equitable asylum process and protect nationality as a right, not just a privilege.

“We have a duty to uphold the UK’s proud tradition as a nation made all the richer by those who come here to build a better life, or seek sanctuary from persecution.”

Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism, said: “I’ve listened to heart-rending accounts of the journeys of young asylum seekers desperate to be reunited with relatives in this country.

“The Nationality and Borders Bill proposes that we close the door on them, cruelly leaving them without any opportunity for safety and a future.

“We cannot let this happen. I implore the Government to open safe passages and not discriminate against those who, in vital need of sanctuary, find whatever way they can to reach a place of refuge.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Government has a proud history of supporting people in need, including those in Ukraine, and that is not about to change.

“The Nationality and Borders Bill, which has already been backed by MPs, will deliver the most comprehensive reform in decades to protect the vulnerable and ensure fairness in our asylum system.

“For the for first time, we will be able to differentiate between those who arrive here through safe and legal routes and those who arrive here having had the opportunity to claim asylum already in a safe country.

“This Bill reduces the incentives for people to make dangerous and lethal crossings and introduces a maximum sentence of life behind bars for evil people smugglers. Our policy is aimed at preserving life.”

More from Perspective

Get a free copy of our print edition


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

Your email address will not be published. The views expressed in the comments below are not those of Perspective. We encourage healthy debate, but racist, misogynistic, homophobic and other types of hateful comments will not be published.