How Christians Should Respond to Rwanda

The first deportation flight fulfilling the government’s plans to send refugees arriving in the UK to Rwanda is scheduled for this week.

When speaking publically, I do try to understand all sides of the argument. I don’t believe in a migration free-for-all there needs to be appropriate controls; but I can’t avoid concluding that UK asylum policy is driven by a divisive assumption that refugees are aliens, they are too numerous, and they come here to take what belongs to us.

As Christians, we must seek God’s heart on the issues.  Let’s search for the truth of the situation and not be scared by the rhetoric. For instance, the UK takes a relatively small number of the asylum seekers arriving in Europe.  In 2021, per head of population, we took the 18th largest intake. France takes at least three times more refugees than us, and Germany four times.

More importantly, shouldn’t we remember they are human beings?  They have been forced to leave their homes and seek a safe haven. Safety is a basic human need, and the Bible frequently reveals God’s heart of compassion for the displaced and unsettled. Leviticus 19, amidst a raft of instructions relating to justice, says in verses 33 and 34:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

And then, of course, both Matthew and Luke record Jesus telling us to: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

This is powerful and uncomfortable stuff.  

Last week I visited Calais with a group of cross-party Parliamentarians on a trip arranged by the Refugee, Asylum, and Migration Policy project, of which I’m a member.  

There I met people whose stories would break the strongest of us. They have escaped war and persecution, made a long and miserable journey – often via the lawless, dangerous state of Libya – crossing the Mediterranean (one Sudanese young man I spoke to had witnessed 42 of his companions die in the attempt), then through Europe to Calais where their tents and sleeping bags are destroyed every couple of nights by the police.  The possibility of being sent to Rwanda will not deter these people from attempting the last leg of the journey.

I also fear that those wanting to come here because of family, linguistic and cultural ties, will simply try to get back again from Rwanda, thereby creating a more lucrative and far more dangerous market for the traffickers.  

So how do we stop those lethal boat journeys across the channel?  It seems obvious to me: If we provide safe routes to the UK, we will end the demand for dangerous ones. For those from Sudan who were the majority we met in Calais, there is no safe route to the UK. Yet 95% of Sudanese asylum applications are granted refugee status here, indicating that they are not economic migrants but refugees requiring protection.

There are tens of thousands of Ukrainians seeking sanctuary in the UK.  But I didn’t see any Ukrainians sleeping rough in Calais, waiting to take a dangerous boat journey over the Channel.  Why not? Well, because we have provided Ukrainians with a safe route, to apply from mainland Europe for refuge in the UK.  It’s not perfect, but it’s safe. So there’s your answer.

We spoke to Calais’ local conservative MP who was clear that there was support in France for refugees to claim asylum in the UK from centres in France.  If the UK government picked up the phone to the French government, it could open a conversation that would end the smugglers’ business model overnight, giving us that chance to treat refugees the way we would wish to be treated if we were in their position.  As the people of Ukraine can testify, you never know when it could be you and your children…

It would also be vastly cheaper than paying for private flights and accommodation to send people four thousand miles away. But the government won’t consider this option, and I am afraid I can only conclude that it is pursuing current policy purely as a vote winner.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to pray for wise leadership and a government that seeks just and proportionate solutions.  This does not mean we should accept everyone who arrives on our shores.  But we should certainly heed Jesus’ warning in Matthew 25, to those he will send away on the last day:

I was a stranger and you did not invite me in….   Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.  

Written by: Esther Jolliffe

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