Migrants are escorted by military personnel after being rescued while crossing the English Channel in Dover, England, May 1, 2022. English and Welsh bishops said the U.K. government is unfairly punishing the migrants for the crimes of trafficking gangs by sending the them to Rwanda to have their asylum applications processed. CNS photo/Henry Nicholls, Reuters

UK punishing asylum-seekers, bishops say

By  Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service
  • May 12, 2022

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND -- The U.K. government is unfairly punishing English Channel migrants for the crimes of human traffickers by sending the migrants to Rwanda to have asylum applications processed, said the English and Welsh bishops.

In a May 9 statement, the bishops said a plan aimed at keeping people from entering England illegally by small boats failed to treat the migrants justly and to honour “their dignity as human persons.”

“Our Christian faith demands that we respond generously to asylum-seekers, whose dignity must be protected and upheld,” the statement said.

“Those seeking refuge in the U.K. should be provided with safe routes for travelling, have the opportunity to tell their story, be listened to and have their cases assessed justly. We keep in mind that there is no illegal asylum-seeker — to claim asylum is a human right.”

The asylum-seekers, the bishops said, are not criminals.

“People smugglers and modern-day human traffickers profit from the desperation and misery of refugees. We fully support their prosecution. It is imperative, however, to make a clear distinction between victims and those who exploit them. Crime is defeated by confronting the perpetrators, not by punishing the victims.”

Speaking to journalists May 9, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said the statement was accepted unanimously by the bishops at their plenary assembly in Cardiff, Wales, May 2-6.

He said the plan, introduced through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, was wrong because it outsourced the responsibility of the government to process claims for asylum to another country.

“Clearly, we accept the complexity of these processes. We clearly accept the weight of responsibility on (the) policy maker,” said Nichols, president of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference. He said the Act failed “to provide due process for the testing of claims.”

“Policy should not be aimed at mistaken targets,” he said. “We suggest that the Act threatens to criminalize people who have been victims ... and has the potential to start a process by which they could be deported.”

The 120 million-British-pound deal with Rwanda means all single men who arrive by small boats on U.K. shores will be sent some 6,500 km away while their asylum claims are processed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that the plan is “morally right,” because he believes it will reduce the risk of migrants drowning as they attempt to cross the stretch of water between England and France. He also seeks to disrupt the business model of human traffickers, who charge migrants large sums of money for passage in a boat.

The majority of migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, who attempt to enter England illegally by this route have already passed through several safe European countries where they could have claimed asylum.

In 2021, more than 30,000 migrants entered England illegally by crossing the Channel, but others died trying, with 27 drowning on one occasion in November.

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