Archbishop condemns 'ungodly' Rwanda asylum scheme as Home Office concerns made public

17 April 2022, 07:25 | Updated: 17 April 2022, 15:29

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has hit out at Priti Patels' Rwanda asylum refugee plans.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has hit out at Priti Patels' Rwanda asylum refugee plans. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

The Archbishop of Canterbury has condemned the Government's "ungodly" plan to send migrants thousands of miles to Rwanda, as it was confirmed the Home Office's most senior civil servant has concerns about the value for money of the scheme.

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In his Easter sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, Justin Welby criticised Priti Patel's plans to ship those who have made the perilous journey in small boats across the Channel thousands of miles away.

The proposals have been slammed as "evil" and "cruel", with the UN Refugee Agency raising concerns about Britain's plans, claiming it's a breach of international law.

An exchange of letters published by the Home Office on Saturday night showed the department's Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft warned Home Secretary Priti Patel that although it was "regular, proper and feasible for this policy to proceed", there was "uncertainty surrounding the value for money of the proposal".

But issuing a rare ministerial direction compelling the plans to go ahead despite the concern, Ms Patel said that "without action, costs will continue to rise, lives will continue to be lost".

The Home Office has continued to defend its proposals.

Conservative MPs have backed the plans, claiming the small boats issue is important to constituents.

But the archbishop said there are "serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas".

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In his Easter sermon, the Archbishop said: "The resurrection of Jesus is not a magic wand that makes the world perfect.

"But the resurrection of Christ is the tectonic shift in the way the cosmos works. It is the conquest of death and the opening of eternal life - through Jesus, a gift offered to every human being who reaches out to him."

He continued: "Let this be a time for Russian ceasefire, withdrawal and a commitment to talks. This is a time for resetting the ways of peace, not for what Bismarck called blood and iron. Let Christ prevail. Let the darkness of war be banished.

"And this season is also why there are such serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas.

"The details are for politics. The principle must stand the judgment of God, and it cannot. It cannot carry the weight of resurrection justice, of life conquering death. It cannot carry the weight of the resurrection that was first to the least valued, for it privileges the rich and strong.

"And 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."

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The senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England also addressed the cost-of-living crisis in his Easter Sunday speech.

He also recognised that families are waking up "cold and hungry" as we face the greatest cost-of-living crisis "we have ever known".

The Russian's barbaric invasion of Ukraine and the devastating loss from the Coronavirus pandemic will also be addressed.

Earlier, former child refugee and Labour peer Alf Dubs said ministers would face opposition in the Lords over the Rwanda asylum plan.

In an interview with The Guardian, Lord Dubs said the Government was attempting to "ride roughshod" over international agreements.

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He said: "I think it's a way of getting rid of people the Government doesn't want, dumping them in a distant African country, and they'll have no chance of getting out of there again.

"I think it's a breach of the 1951 Geneva conventions on refugees. You can't just shunt them around like unwanted people."

Ms Patel has defended her "world-class" plan, claiming it will become a "blueprint" for other European countries, such as Denmark.

"There is no question now that the model we have put forward, I'm convinced, is world class and a world first, and it will be used as a blueprint going forward, there's no doubt about that," Ms Patel said.

"I would not be surprised if other countries start coming to us direct on the back of this as well."