Archbishop of Canterbury: UK migration bill is morally wrong


LONDON — The head of the Church of England on Wednesday condemned a British government bill that would dramatically curb migrants’ ability to seek asylum in the U.K., calling the policy “isolationist, morally unacceptable and politically impractical.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby made a rare appearance in Parliament to oppose the legislation. He told the House of Lords, Parliament’s unelected upper chamber, that the government’s proposal was a “short-term fix” that risked causing great damage to the U.K.’s reputation.

The legislation bars asylum claims by anyone who reaches the U.K. by unauthorized means, and compels officials to detain and then deport refugees and migrants “to their home country or a safe third country,” such as Rwanda. Once deported, they would be banned from ever re-entering the U.K.

Britain’s Conservative government says the measure would deter tens of thousands of people from trying to cross the English Channel in small boats each year in hopes of reaching the U.K. But critics, including the United Nations’ refugee agency, have described the legislation as unethical and unworkable, and some allege it would violate international law.

The bill passed the House of Commons last month. It was on a second reading Wednesday in the House of Lords, where it faces strong opposition. The Lords can amend the legislation but not block it.

Welby, who is also the spiritual head of Anglican churches worldwide and presided over King Charles III’s coronation, said international protections for refugees were “not inconvenient obstructions to get ’round by any legislative means necessary.”

He added that it was wrong for the U.K. to leave the responsibility of accommodating refugees up to other countries, often much poorer ones.

“Of course we cannot take everyone and nor should we, but this bill has no sense at all of the long-term and the global nature of the challenge that the world faces,” Welby said. “This nation should lead internationally, not stand apart.”

Britain’s government has urged the House of Lords to back the bill, which it says “is designed to meet the will of the British people.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to “stop the boats” carrying asylum-seekers across the Channel and made that one of the key focuses of his time in office.

More than 45,000 people, including from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, arrived in Britain in small boats last year, up from 8,500 in 2020.


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