Church leaders call for action on migration following Channel tragedy

The Archbishop of Canterbury said a safer system is needed.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Church leaders have pushed for a “better system” for migrants after a capsized dinghy tragedy in the English Channel left dozens of people dead.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, described the deaths of at least 27 migrants off the coast of France as a “devastating loss of human life”.

“Praying for all those suffering agonising grief today,” he said on social media.

“We need a better system based on safety, compassion, justice and co-operation across frontiers. This cannot go on.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and leader of Catholics in England and Wales, called it a “terrible loss” that should invoke a “tragic summons to action”.

Posting on Twitter, he added: “This event illustrates graphically both the ruthless evil of the traffickers and the desperation of those trying to escape poverty, conflict or persecution in search of a better life.

“Every one is a child of God, with an innate dignity and worth.

“Focused international co-operation, safe routes to sanctuary and joint efforts to tackle poverty are all needed in the face of a global flood of desperate humanity.”

The Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson-Wilkin – whose diocese is a popular arrival spot for migrant boats – has spoken about her “rage” after Wednesday’s tragic event and called for the issue of migration to stop being used as a “political football”.

The former chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons told BBC Radio Kent: “I am feeling a deep inner rage that the world continues to allow this to happen, couched with political rhetoric as to whose fault it is.

“This is all our fault, we must all take responsibility.”

Meanwhile, human rights experts have rallied against the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which contains a number of measures to crack down on asylum attempts, following the crossing deaths.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, labelled the Bill “draconian”.

“This new policy will further exacerbate the asylum system and continue to punish and exclude people seeking safety,” he said.

Rebecca Niblock, a specialist in international criminal law and human rights at law firm Kingsley Napley, said: “Boris Johnson’s suggestion that the tragic deaths in the Channel show the necessity of accelerating the measures within the Nationality and Borders Bill is a disingenuous claim.

“While international law imposes a duty to rescue persons in distress at sea, the Nationality and Borders Bill seeks to provide immunity to those who fail to comply with their duties under international law.

“In practice it will protect border officials engaged in pushing back boats in the Channel whose actions could result in deaths at sea.”

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