THE Government’s Nationality and Border’s Bill continues its Parliamentary ping pong this week, returning to the House of Lords for a third time before returning once more to the Commons. The Bill has had a rough passage in the Lords with its plans to offshore asylum seekers and introduce a two-tier refugee system. Even in the House of Commons a number of senior Conservatives voted against the Government at its last reading, reflecting the unease surrounding the plans.

The most headline grabbing of the proposals has been the Home Secretary’s announcement of the Rwanda deportation policy. On Easter Day, the Archbishop of Canterbury criticised the policy in his sermon, saying: “The details are for politics and politicians. The principle must stand the judgement 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.”

In his comments, Justin Welby was following the lead of our own Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, who said: “The whole idea of declaring asylum seekers’ claims as inadmissible is wrong. Where asylum seekers arrive from, or how, is irrelevant in international law. It is also wrong to apparently punish those seeking asylum. It is the traffickers who need to be targeted and brought to justice for their terrible crimes.”

For both Justin Welby and Paul Butler the issue at hand is one of fundamental principle rooted in, but not limited to, a Judeo-Christian understanding of how to welcome the “stranger” or “alien”.

In the Old Testament the word that means a ‘resident alien’ or immigrant, gēr, appears almost 50 times in the first five books of the Bible. The command to welcome the stranger is repeated 37 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and is expanded upon in the New Testament by Jesus who suggests how we treat the stranger, naked and hungry, will form the criteria of the final judgement.

Alongside Biblical principle is the practical application of the policy and who it ends up criminalising. As Labour’s Yvette Cooper has noted, the Home Secretary says that this policy will deter boats and traffickers, but there is no evidence of a deterrent nor has there been any success in cracking down on the criminal gangs that are at the heart of this problem. Over a five year period the number of prosecutions for human trafficking and non-sexual exploitation has fallen from 59 in 2015 to just two in 2020.

There is little doubt that the Rwanda policy is red meat for red top tabloids, timed to impact upon local elections and shore up the fortunes of the Conservative Party.

But it will come at a cost that tears at our nation’s soul, outsourcing our moral obligations and further brutalising our politics.

  • The Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas' Church in Durham Market Place