Faith leaders call for UK asylum law changes to protect persecuted

More than 1,000 people signed the letter urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to rethink his plans

Migrants are escorted to the shore in Kingsdown, Kent, southern England, after being intercepted by a lifeboat in the English Channel. PA

More than 1,000 faith leaders have called on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to keep the door open to those fleeing persecution and reconsider major changes to asylum laws.

Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist leaders from across Britain have signed the letter expressing concern about the Nationality and Borders Bill.

The signatories say they are “horrified and appalled” at the potential repercussions of the planned law, which would make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally.

The law seeks to introduce life sentences of those organising illegal entry to the UK. Other measures proposed would clear the way for “pushbacks” of small boats trying to cross the English Channel and setting up migration processing centres outside Britain.

Urging Mr Johnson to make substantial changes, the letter adds: “While there is still conflict and injustice in the world, there will always be desperate people needing to seek sanctuary from war, persecution and suffering. We cannot close our door on them, but this Bill does just that.”

They call for the government to abandon plans to criminalise and restrict the rights of those coming to the UK by crossing the English Channel using small boats or on lorries, a policy they say is made “without a basis in evidence or morality”.

They urged the Government to establish safe and legal routes through the Bill, calling on Mr Johnson to show “political leadership” and be “compassionate and ambitious” in his plans.

The Rev Steve Tinning, from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, helped to write and organise the letter.

“The horror of the war in Ukraine brings the reasons why the government must reconsider this bill into sharp focus” he said.

“It would bring shame on the UK to criminalise refugees who make dangerous journeys from Ukraine to reach safety here in the UK.”

The UK government is under pressure to reduce the numbers of people trying to cross to the UK by small boat, which topped 28,000 last year, more than trebling the previous year’s record total.

A Home Office spokesman said the government had a “proud history” of supporting people in need and that was not about to change. He said the planned law would deliver the “most comprehensive reform in decades”.

“For the first time, we will be able to differentiate between those who arrive here through safe and legal routes and those who arrive here having had the opportunity to claim asylum already in a safe country,” he said.

“This Bill reduces the incentives for people to make dangerous and lethal crossings and introduces a maximum sentence of life behind bars for evil people smugglers. Our policy is aimed at preserving life.”

Updated: February 28, 2022, 6:41 AM