UK not ‘doing its bit’ for refugees, says archbishop amid Rwanda plan criticism

The Most Rev Stephen Cottrell raised his concerns in Parliament.

19 October 2022

The UK is not “doing its bit” in the face of the global refugee crisis, the Archbishop of York has said, amid criticism of the Government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The Most Rev Stephen Cottrell raised his concerns in Parliament as he pressed the Conservative frontbench over steps being taken “to play our part” in helping those needing sanctuary.

The Tory administration has faced widespread criticism and legal challenges over its bid to send migrants to the east African nation in an effort to stop the ever-growing number of small boat Channel crossings.

Speaking in the House of Lords, the senior church leader said: “The UK’s population, about 67 million, is five times that of Rwanda at about 13 million.

“Yet Rwanda, which is a country far poorer than us, as has already been pointed out, hosts one refugee for every 90 people whereas the figure here is one refugee for every 500 people.”

He added: “I do not think I can put my hand on my heart and say that the UK is doing its bit in a global crisis.

“I wonder whether the minister would like to say what we are going to do to play our part in taking refugees here.”

98th Archbishop of York enthroned
The Most Reverend Stephen Cottrell (Danny Lawson/PA)

Responding, Home Office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom said: “It is fairly self-evident what we have been doing for refugees.”

He pointed out the UK had taken in people from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.

Separately, Lord Sharpe said Britain’s asylum system was costing taxpayers about £2 billion a year.

Defending the Rwanda policy, he added: “This is about asylum seekers arriving from safe countries, and about trying to put the criminal gangs out of business.”

But former Scottish Conservative leader Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links said: “The minister knows that I am among a number on these benches who are deeply uncomfortable with this policy and with some of the language used, even by those at the top of the Home Office, in discussing it.

“Surely the hundreds of millions of pounds already spent and earmarked for implementing this policy in future would be better spent here, speeding up the systems and processes at the Home Office so that decisions are made fairly and in good time and those in genuine need receive the security they deserve, while those with no grounds to remain are returned to their countries of origin and not a land they have no link to.

“I ask him to take this suggestion back to the department.”

Lord Sharpe said: “I understand the strength of feeling, so of course I will be more than happy to take my noble friend’s suggestion back to the department.”

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