UK's Patel defends Rwanda plan and challenges critics to offer better idea

Home Secretary said that anyone who criticises the controversial plan should come forward with their own solution

Migrants arrive at Dover Port after being picked up by Border Force on April 16. Getty
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British Home Secretary Priti Patel has challenged opponents of her plan to send migrants to Rwanda to come up with a better idea to tackle small boat crossings in the Channel.

Writing a joint article in The Times with Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta, Ms Patel repeated that her controversial plans were “bold and innovative".

“We are taking bold and innovative steps and it’s surprising that those institutions that criticise the plans fail to offer their own solutions,” Ms Patel and Mr Biruta said.

On Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury called the UK government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda “the opposite of the nature of God”.

In his Easter sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, Justin Welby said Britain should not be “subcontracting our responsibilities” on migrants and refugees arriving in England.

The government plan, announced on Thursday, has drawn opposition from politicians, charity groups, the UN and religious groups.

Under the new proposals, asylum seekers who try to enter the UK through the English Channel route from France will be flown to Rwanda in Africa on a one-way ticket.

The government hopes it will create a deterrent for the thousands of people who risk their lives crossing the channel in small boats.

Numbers sent to Rwanda will not be capped and successful claimants would “build a new life in that dynamic country”, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Alf Dubs, 89, a campaigner for refugees who escaped Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia as part of the Kindertransport rescue in 1939, said he and colleagues in the House of Lords would oppose the “awful, shocking” plans.

Mr Welby said: “The details are for politics. The principle must stand the judgment 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 subcontracting 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.

“And this season is also why there are such serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas."

The archbishop also called for a ceasefire in the Russian war on Ukraine and spoke of his concern for families struggling during the crisis in the cost of living crisis and for those bereaved by Covid-19.

“Let this be a time for Russian ceasefire, withdrawal and a commitment to talks," Mr Welby said. "This is a time for resetting the ways of peace, not for what Bismarck called blood and iron.

"Let Christ prevail. Let the darkness of war be banished.

“He hears the cry of the mothers in Ukraine, he sees the fear of boys too young to become soldiers, and he knows the vulnerability of the orphans and refugees.

“Closer to home, he sees the humiliation of the grandparent visiting the food bank for the first time, the desperate choice of parents in poverty and the grief and weariness of the pandemic.”

In criticising the new policy, Mr Welby has misunderstood the government’s plans to send migrants to Rwanda, said Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg.

“I think he misunderstands what the policy is trying to achieve and that it isn’t an abandonment of responsibility," Mr Rees-Mogg told Radio 4. "It is in fact a taking on of a very difficult responsibility.

“The problem that is being dealt with is that people are risking their lives in the hands of people traffickers to get into this country illegally.

"Now, it’s not the illegal bit of it, it is the encouragement of people traffickers that needs to be stopped.

“Ninety per cent of people coming are young men who, by coming via people traffickers, are jumping the queue for others.

“They are in doing so, not only risking their lives but supporting organised crime. What we need to do is focus on legal routes into this country, of which there are quite a number."

Mr Welby was joined in his criticism by the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, who used his Easter Sunday sermon at York Minster to describe the policy as “depressing and distressing”.

“We can do better than this," Mr Cottrell said. "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.

“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?”

Mr Rees-Mogg suggested the plans may also be an opportunity for Rwanda.

“What is being done is providing an opportunity for Rwanda because it will provide Rwanda, a country that needs support and has gone through terrible troubles … and the Rwandan story is almost an Easter story of redemption, isn’t it?” he said.

“Of a country that suffered the most appalling and horrific genocide and is now recovering and, therefore, the UK supporting it must be a good thing.

“It helps people come through legitimate routes and I think the aim of the policy — within Christianity, intention is always very important — and the intention of the government is to do good.”

The policy has had some support from Conservative MPs who say the issue of small boats crossing the Channel is high on the list of priorities for their constituents.

But the Tory MP for Sutton Coldfield, Andrew Mitchell, said that although he had “enormous sympathy” with the government, the policy was unlikely to achieve its aims.

“What I’m worried about with the Rwanda policy is it won’t achieve what they are after, Mr Mitchell said.

"It’s also likely to be horrendously expensive and we have to have a great care at this time for taxpayers’ money.

“The public are right to say we do not want feckless benefits seekers masquerading as economic migrants trying to come to our country illegally and without permission and, of course, we all sign up to that.

“And if they’re processed here, and they’re found not to have a case for asylum, then, by all means, send them off to a third country that will take them.

“But the danger is that we won’t be doing what we have always done since the 16th and 17th century, with the Huguenots, through the Syrians, as I said, under David Cameron, through the Ukrainians now.

"We won’t have been a beacon in a terrible and difficult world for those fleeing persecution who can always rely upon the Brits — where they are genuinely fleeing persecution — to come to the rescue.”

Updated: April 18, 2022, 12:33 AM