Church of England leaders have said the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is an “immoral policy that shames Britain” – with the first flight set to depart today.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York – as well as 23 other bishops – have written a letter to The Times that claims no attempt has been made to “understand the predicament” of those affected.
After two legal challenges failed, a plane is scheduled to leave for the Rwandan capital of Kigali later, but it is unclear how many asylum seekers will be onboard.
Their letter says: “Whether or not the first deportation flight leaves Britain today for Rwanda, this policy should shame us as a nation.
“The shame is our own, because our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have for centuries.”
Religious leaders have called for “evil trafficking” to be combatted by the provision of safe routes for refugees trying to reach the UK, adding: “Deportations and the potential forced return of asylum seekers to their home countries are not the way.”
It comes days after the Prince of Wales described the Conservatives’ policy as “appalling”, and after Imam Qari Asim, the senior imam at the Makkah Mosque in Leeds, said it “challenges our human conscience and compels us to speak up for human dignity”.
The Archbishop of Wales and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster have also criticised the policy – as have charities, human rights groups and the UN High Commission for Refugees.
Three further legal challenges are expected to be heard at the High Court on Tuesday. These are being brought by people who face being removed on the first flight.
The government has said it is aiming to deter people from making dangerous Channel crossings from France in flimsy small boats run by smugglers.
A government spokesman said: “We welcome the court’s decision in our favour, and we will now continue to deliver on progressing our world-leading migration partnership which will help prevent loss of life and break the business model of vile people smugglers.
“Rwanda is a safe country and has previously been recognised for providing a safe haven for refugees – we will not be deterred in delivering our plans to fix the broken asylum system which will ultimately save lives.”
Last year, more than 28,000 people crossed the Channel in small boats – more than three times the number seen in 2020.
More than half were either Iranian or Iraqi, with people from Eritrea and Syria also making crossings, according to Home Office figures.