The head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has strongly attacked the British government’s highly controversial plan to fly some asylum-seekers to Rwanda as "against the nature of God".
Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, said in his Easter sermon he believes that sending asylum seekers abroad poses "serious ethical questions".
The UK government’s deal with Rwanda, worth £120 million (€144 million) and announced on Thursday, would see asylum-seekers arriving "illegally" in Britain being flown thousands of miles to the east African country.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed the move would stop "vile" people-smugglers from sending migrants on dangerous voyages across the English Channel.
"There are such serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas. The details are for politics and politicians. The principle must stand the judgement of God and it cannot," the archbishop said.
"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."
Under the plan, migrants arriving in Britain on unauthorised boats crossing the English Channel or as stowaways would be picked up by the UK government and relocated 6,400 kilometres to Rwanda. It’s not clear what would happen to them afterwards.
The UK Home Office (interior ministry) has again defended the plan.
"The world is facing a global migration crisis on an unprecedented scale and change is needed to prevent vile people smugglers putting people’s lives at risk and to fix the broken global asylum system," a spokesperson was quoted as saying.
"Rwanda is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers. Under this agreement, they will process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention, national and international human rights laws."
The plan has the support of some politicians from the UK’s ruling Conservative Party, citing the concerns of constituents about migrants arriving on English shores in small boats.
But opposition politicians and refugee groups across the UK have criticised the plan as inhumane, unworkable and a waste of public money. The UN’s refugee agency said it was "firmly opposed" to such arrangements.
Some newspapers reported on Saturday that the policy risked being disrupted amid a threatened "mutiny" by civil servants charged with implementing it. Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel reportedly had to issue a special procedure to override the concerns of officials.
But AFP heard from one man whose testimony suggested the plan could be a deterrent.
For Tahsin Tarek, a 25-year-old glazier from Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan in Iraq, who is saving to finance a new trip to Europe, the British announcement is a game-changer.
"I’m going to think about another country," the young man told AFP on Saturday, for whom "living here and enduring the difficulties here is better than living in Rwanda".
"I don’t think anyone is going to accept this decision and go live there. If they give the refugees a choice between being deported to Rwanda or their country, they will choose their own country."
The UK government says 255 migrants were detected crossing the English Channel from France on Saturday, in seven small boats.
Its asylum policy has been complicated by Brexit. In leaving the European Union, the UK also left the bloc’s Dublin scheme, which allows countries to return asylum seekers to an EU state they passed through. It has since been struggling to reach new agreements with countries willing to accept those it wishes to deport.
According to the House of Commons Library, the UK received six asylum applications per 10,000 residents in 2020, compared to 11 applications per 10,000 people across the 27 EU countries.