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Weekly Blog - 11 May 2024 - Asylum and Migration

 

Small boats and asylum seekers

Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the UK’s opposition Labour Party, was in Dover this week on Friday 10 May, setting out his party’s policy on asylum seekers and small boat crossings of the English Channel ahead of a General Election later this year.  The Labour Party intends to scrap the government’s controversial Rwanda scheme, whereby asylum seekers are moved to Rwanda whilst their claims are processed to act as a deterrent.  The scheme was finally passed in parliament last month after months of argument, and is yet to be fully implemented as a result of legal challenges.  Labour says instead they would use policing methods to crack down on the illegal smuggling gangs, and process asylum claims much quicker. 

Some 6,265 people had crossed the Channel on small boats by 21 April this year, up significantly on the same figure by that date in the previous two years.  In total 29,437 people crossed the Channel in boats in 2023 and 45,755 in 2022.  Since 2018 nearly 120,000 people have crossed the Channel this way.  The process of crossing the Channel in small, unsuitable, unsafe and overcrowded vessels run by brutal people smuggling gangs is tragically dangerous.  Since 2018 at least 72 people have drowned.[1]  In one recent tragic incident five people, including a 7 year old girl, drowned on Tuesday 23 April, when a massively overloaded boat with 112 people in it ran aground on a sandbank off the French coast.  Volunteers with a local migration charity reported that she was a girl they “knew well”.  “We have photos with her, with a big smile in the hope of a better life.”  Her father was wracked with tears and “fell into our arms” when he reached the beach.  He had seen “his little girl die before his eyes”.[2]  For those that survive the brutal people smuggling gangs, and a dangerous journey over the Channel, they face a long period of uncertainty whilst asylum and other applications are processed through an overstretched system, often whilst they are housed in inadequate, sometimes appalling, conditions. 

 

Economic migration

At the same time, both the UK government and business leaders want to attract other migrant workers to boost the UK economy.  Some 71% of UK companies report significant labour shortages in the past year, and 3 in 5 companies want the government to provide more temporary visas to enable workers from outside the UK to come and fill the roles.[3]  Some 373,000 people migrated to the UK for work reasons in the year ending June 2023.[4] The situation has been complicated by Brexit, which has significantly reduced economic migration from the EU since the 2016 referendum, whilst non-EU migration has increased over the same period.  The other primary reasons for migration (beyond work or seeking to claim asylum) are for study or to join family members already resident in the UK.  And of course all these flows go in the other direction too.  Tens of thousands of British citizens move abroad every year for work, study, family and other reasons.  The UK is not alone in this.  Every country in the world is facing the challenges of managing flows of inward and outward migration fairly in an ever more globalised world.  For many developing countries (where poverty, war and climate change are driving much greater levels of migration from their neighbours than anything witnessed in the UK) the issues and complexities are even more acute.

 

What is a Christian approach to asylum and migration?

So, as Christians how are we to approach asylum and migration?  The issue of asylum seekers, refugees and economic migration is one of the areas explored in the Arise Manifesto (Arise’s Christian vision for a better world).  This looks at what the Bible says, and what history teaches us, to guide us in what the church and the world should be doing in this and other areas.  Firstly, we find that any Christian approach must be rooted in God’s love for all people: asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants and the host communities they move into.  God loves all of us, and wants us to work together to meet the needs of all communities fairly.

When it comes to refugees and those seeking asylum, the Bible is clear that those in genuine danger of persecution for their faith, their political views, their ethnicity or other reasons, must be welcomed with open arms.  This does not mean that every person resident in a country in conflict or with an autocratic regime or imperfect human rights is entitled to asylum in another country.  Such a broad definition would cover billions of people around the world.  In most conflict countries, the vast majority of the country is at peace and conflict is confined to a relatively small region.  Similarly, in most countries with autocratic governments and poor human rights standards, ordinary law-abiding citizens are not at risk.  However, residents of areas in countries that are directly affected by conflict, or democratic and rights activists, journalists, or members of persecuted minorities in countries with poor human rights who are directly at risk should absolutely be entitled to asylum (Arise Manifesto, pg 122).  God repeatedly reminds the Israelites that they were strangers and refugees for centuries in Egypt, and now they too must welcome the foreigner and stranger living amongst them.  As the book of Leviticus says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Lev 19:34)  Such people are so often heroes, struggling for democracy, human rights and greater freedoms in their countries and facing real danger as a result of their courageous actions.  They should be honoured, welcomed and supported.  Furthermore, they must enjoy full equal status as citizens, and not face any discrimination of any kind (Arise Manifesto, pg 80). 

Safe legal routes that are genuinely open for all potential asylum seekers and refugees to enter countries should be created where these are lacking.  Systems for processing asylum claims should be massively improved, and laws reformed, to ensure a swift decision for all applicants.  This allows those who are genuine to settle quickly, and a swift return for those whose claims are not legitimate.  The quality of accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees whilst their claims are being processed should be dramatically improved.  Governments should also work together internationally to coordinate, manage and share applications fairly between receiving countries, and to use every legal means to crack down and end the evil of people trafficking gangs.

Welcoming refugees and asylum seekers is not necessarily the same as also being completely open to mass economic migration and permanent resettlement of large numbers of people.  It simply is not practical to give every person in the world the right to live in any country in the world wherever they choose.  States would struggle to manage such large flows, and maintain stability for the benefit of all.  There have to be some limits, and such a process needs to be managed in a fair and effective way (Arise Manifesto, pg 122).  These are highly sensitive and difficult areas, but there has to be some sort of debate and national consensus established in each country on what an appropriate level of economic migration should be.  Otherwise, despite the very best efforts, this so often becomes a huge and unhealthy point of tension, resentment and instability, with inter-communal conflict so easily whipped up and exploited by radicals and popularist politicians.  We have seen this in the US, Europe, Latin America and many other parts of the world in recent decades.  Concerns about migration have led many otherwise moderate, tolerant and fair minded people to vote for more and more extreme right-wing anti-immigration parties.  This in turn has created further tensions.  The democratic norms in previously long stable democracies have been dangerously undermined by the unscrupulous populist leaders of such parties. 

Instead of simply relying on economic migration and cheap (and often badly treated) overseas labour, all nations should first be looking to fill gaps in their labour market by educating, training and developing the skills of their own population (Arise Manifesto, pg 183).  They also need to provide much better salaries and working conditions, to attract domestic workers (Arise Manifesto, pg 143 – 144). 

None of this means that developed nations have no fundamental moral obligation to economic migrants, they absolutely do.  This should be outworked through their global policies.  Developed countries should be providing generous, good quality aid, focused exclusively on poverty relief, at least at the internationally agreed level of 0.7% of gross national income, to help tackle the desperate poverty that drives so much economic migration in the first place (Arise Manifesto, pg 199 – 204).  Even more importantly, in their foreign policies they should support efforts to reduce and end conflict; the struggle for democratic and human rights reform in countries (Arise Manifesto, pg 119 – 124); efforts to reduce poverty and support developing nations to boost their economies (Arise Manifesto, pg 190 – 194); and efforts to help developing nations address the global environmental crises (Arise Manifesto, pg 257 – 259).  Such efforts are the quickest way to tackle the root causes of injustice, conflict, poverty and environmental crisis, which drive both asylum claims and mass economic migration. 

So, whether it is refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants or underpaid workers in their own country, there are multiple steps that governments can take to tackle the challenges of asylum and migration and support all these groups, steps that are based on a Christian approach of compassion and love for all.

 

Find out more

Find out more about how governments can address issues of asylum and migration in the Arise Manifesto.  This report is Arise’s big picture, researched, Biblical, holistic and practical vision for a better world.  It looks at what the Bible says, and what we can learn from the best data and the world’s leading experts on the five major areas of evangelism, discipleship, social justice, development and the environment.  It then draws these lessons together into a practical road map for the changes we need to see in our world, which the Arise movement campaigns to achieve.

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[1] How many people cross the Channel in small boats and how many claim asylum in the UK?, BBC, (10 May 2024), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53699511

[2] Girl, 7, among five dead on Channel migrant boat, BBC, (Apr 2024), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-68880671

[3] 38% of business report labour shortages holding back growth, CBI, (12 Oct 2023), https://www.cbi.org.uk/media-centre/articles/38-of-business-report-labour-shortages-holding-back-growth-cbipertemps-employment-trends-survey-1/

[4] Migration Statistics, House of Commons Library, (26 Mar 2024), https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06077/SN06077.pdf

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