Archbishop of Canterbury backs shake-up to 'broken' asylum system ahead of showdown over Rwanda Bill

20 March 2024, 00:10 | Updated: 20 March 2024, 00:15

Faith leaders have backed proposals for a major shake-up
Faith leaders have backed proposals for a major shake-up. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The Archbishop of Canterbury is among several faith leaders to have backed a shake-up to the "broken" asylum system, ahead of a parliamentary showdown over the Rwanda Bill.

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Migrants would be eligible to work in the UK after six months of waiting for an asylum decision and given free English language education as soon as they arrive in the country under fresh recommendations.

The proposals are part of a report by the independent Commission on the Integration of Refugees (CIR), which also calls for the reinstatement of a refugees minister in government.

The Most Rev Justin Welby was joined by Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Rabbis Josh Levy and Charley Baginsky in calling for the changes.

It comes on the same day that the Rwanda Bill is returning to the House of Lords, after MPs rejected all of their amendments on Monday.

With Easter recess starting next week, the legislation is unlikely to pass before the break if the Lords maintain their resistance.

But Rishi Sunak is still hoping to get the first flights to Kigali off the ground by the spring, with Downing Street urging peers to "work with the government".

Read more: MPs reject Rwanda Bill amendments as Sunak faces fresh battle with Lords over migrant plan

Read more: Rwanda wants slow start to deportations - as spring deportations look unlikely as bill stalls in Parliament

Sunak maintains hope of spring Rwanda flights after seeing off Lords’ challenges

The Archbishop said: "In a world of rising conflict and instability, we agree that immigration must be managed and controlled, small boats must be stopped, and traffickers must be caught.

"Receiving communities especially must be supported and not feel used. That makes it easier for our natural generosity to be expressed, and for our unity to grow and not be threatened.

"It's widely acknowledged that our asylum system is broken - it needs rebuilding with compassion, dignity and fairness at the centre.

"This requires thoughtful, well-informed consideration which promotes collaboration and common ground, not division."

The report references analysis from the London School of Economics, which suggests that migrants could bring in a net economic gain of £1.2 billion over five years.

A survey of refugees and asylum seekers carried out for the commission suggests there is "untapped potential" in Britain, the CIR said.

Around one in three respondents had a bachelor's degree or equivalent but the same number said they were unable to use the skills they learned as part of their qualification.

The same number said language was the most significant barrier to work yet more than one in five have been unable to access English classes due to waiting lists.

MPs rejected amendments to the Rwanda Bill on Monday
MPs rejected amendments to the Rwanda Bill on Monday. Picture: Parliament TV

The report says the government should "make people in the asylum system eligible for general employment after six months of waiting for their asylum decision" and this should "not be limited to the jobs on the shortage occupation list."

It also calls for people in the asylum system to be made eligible for shortage occupation list jobs from day one and for consideration of a "government-backed finance scheme" to help refugees set up businesses.

Ed Kessler, chairman of the commission, said: "Our work over the last couple of years, listening to people from across the country, commissioning research and exploring these issues has provided a rich insight into what is clearly a broken system.

"It's expensive, inefficient and damaging for refugees and Britain.

"But amongst the debris were findings that gave us real hope and inspiration for a very different system. One that supports refugees, communities and wider society to thrive.

"One that our political leaders can realistically embrace."

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