'No such thing as an illegal asylum seeker' - Archbishop of York criticises government's Rwanda plan

The Archbishop criticised the plan whilst giving his Easter Sermon at York Minster. Credit: PA

The Archbishop of York has joined the Archbishop of Canterbury in criticising the Government's plans to send migrants to Rwanda.

In his Easter Sunday sermon at York Minster, Stephen Cottrell said he had found it "so depressing and distressing this week to find that asylum seekers fleeing war, famine and oppression from deeply, deeply troubled parts of the world will not be treated with the dignity and compassion that is the right of every human being, and instead of being dealt with quickly and efficiently here on our soil will be shipped to Rwanda".

He said: "We can do better than this. We can do better than this because of what we see in Jesus Christ, the risen Christ, with a vision for our humanity where barriers are broken down, not new obstacles put in the path.

"After all, there is in law no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. It is the people who exploit them that we need to crack down on, not our sisters and brothers in their need. We don't need to build more barriers and cower in the darkness of the shadows they create."

The Archbishop added: "Do we want to continue to be known as a country that opens proper, legitimate pathways for all who flee violence, conflict and oppression, not just those from Ukraine, but also those fleeing other conflicts and the effect of climate change?"

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told his Easter sermon at Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday the policy cannot stand up to the judgment of God.

He said the measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel this week “cannot carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values”.

Archbishop Welby spoke about the government's plan in his Easter sermon. Credit: PA

Earlier this week the government announced plans to curb migrant crossings of the English Channel in small boats, and people who are deemed to have entered Britain by unlawful means since January 1 may be sent to Rwanda where they will be permitted to apply for asylum in the African country.

ITV News exclusively revealed on Friday that Ms Patel had to sign off the new proposal because the most senior civil servant in her department was not convinced the policy would be effective enough to deliver value for money.

The measures have faced a fierce backlash from opposition parties, some within the Conservative Party, and charities.

The UN Refugee Agency opposed the plans and on Saturday Robina Qureshi, director of the refugee homelessness charity Positive Action in Housing, said: “The refugee policy of this country should be clear by now.

“It’s not about saving refugees’ skins, it’s about saving this government’s skin.”

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

The Home Office and Ms Patel defended the plans.

She said she expected other countries to follow the UK’s example, while the Home Office insisted its approach was not in breach of refugee agreements.