UK

Catholics urged to follow Pope’s lead by urging MPs to block migration Bill

Pope Francis has been vocal about defending the rights of migrants (Danny Lawson/PA)
Pope Francis has been vocal about defending the rights of migrants (Danny Lawson/PA) Pope Francis has been vocal about defending the rights of migrants (Danny Lawson/PA)

Catholics in England and Wales are being urged to follow Pope Francis’s teaching on migrant rights and oppose the Government’s tough new asylum seeker law.

The charity Cafod wants its supporters to press their MPs to vote down the Illegal Migration Bill after highlighting the 86-year-old pontiff’s call for “maximum respect” for the “dignity of each migrant”.

Judges on Thursday ruled that a key element of the Government’s Bill – which seeks to deport asylum seekers who arrive via unauthorised routes to their country of origin or a third country such as Rwanda – was unlawful.

Three judges at the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court judgment that said the east African nation could be considered a “safe third country”.

Cafod, the international development arm of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the Bill “represents everything Pope Francis asks us not to be”.

It will send an email on Saturday to thousands of its supporters, urging them to press their MP to vote down the Bill, arguing that it “effectively shuts the door on people who need our protection”.

While the flagship legislation has been passed by the Commons, recent bruising defeats in the Lords mean there is set to be so-called parliamentary ping-pong as MPs consider amendments made in the upper chamber.

In his papal encyclical Fratelli Tutti, published in 2020, Francis said: “No one can remain excluded because of his or her place of birth, much less because of privileges enjoyed by others who were born in lands of greater opportunity.

“The limits and borders of individual states cannot stand in the way of this.”

There are thought to be around four million Catholics in England and Wales, with worshippers taking their lead on moral issues from the Pope’s teachings, which are informed by the Bible and Christian traditions.

Aisha Dodwell, head of campaigns at Cafod, told the PA news agency: “If passed, this inhumane legislation will be a stain on the country’s reputation.

“People fleeing conflict and persecution are dying in their thousands as they try to find safety for themselves and their families.

Illegal Migration Bill
Illegal Migration Bill Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plans to challenge the Court of Appeal’s decision on his stop-the-boats legislation (Yui Mok/PA)

“Yet, instead of recognising the dire situation these people are in, the UK Government is seemingly doing everything it can to make their lives even harder.

“Pope Francis has urged world leaders to build bridges not walls and to welcome, protect and integrate people without distinction.

“But the Illegal Migration Bill represents everything Pope Francis asks us not to be, which is why we are urging Catholics to speak out against the Bill and show we are a country that welcomes people who need our help.”

Cafod said that, while its focus as an aid agency tends to be on overseas projects in more than 40 developing countries, it felt compelled to act on Francis’s call for the world to defend refugee and migrant rights.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to contest Thursday’s legal ruling on his administration’s legislation, which he has dubbed the Stop The Boats Bill.

The Tory Party leader has made preventing small boats of migrants crossing the English Channel one of his top five pledges to the electorate ahead of a likely general election next year, arguing that it is the best way to crack down on human trafficking.

The Bill aims to ensure those who arrive in the UK without permission will be detained and promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.

In an economic assessment published this week, Home Office officials calculated that ministers could spend £169,000 on every asylum seeker forcibly removed to a third country such as Rwanda.

Last year 45,755 people were detected to have made the perilous journey.