CAFOD: UK’s Rwanda deportation plan misguided approach to crisis

Reacting to the approval by Parliament early on Tuesday of legislation to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, CAFOD has said it is a “disappointment on many levels”.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy and Communications at CAFOD, described the plan as lacking in compassion and international responsibility.

“At CAFOD, we are disappointed that this bill has gone ahead and we’re disappointed on a number of levels. I don’t think it shows the care and compassion which Pope Francis – and others – call for us to give to those who are fleeing situations of conflict and distress,” he said.

Not only did Thorns highlight the failure of the legislation to heed Christian values and the Pope’s call to “Welcome, Protect, Integrate and Promote” our brothers and sisters on the move, but he also emphasised the disconnect between the bill and the sentiments of the British people, noting the widespread welcome extended to refugees from regions like Ukraine.

“Where we’ve seen people coming from Ukraine or other countries, people have welcomed those refugees,” Thorns remarked, adding “I don’t think it reflects the mood and the situation of the country.”

Distorting the issue

Pointing out that the bill distorts the problematics of the refugee crisis which in reality sees the majority of displaced individuals seeking refuge in neighbouring countries rather than in Europe, the CAFOD Advocacy and Communications Director lamented the UK’s neglect of its duty to support vulnerable populations and called for a more equitable distribution of responsibility.

“We know that the vast majority of people who flee conflict and economic hardship and everything else, they largely go to the countries around the countries they’re fleeing from. They don’t come to Europe.”

He agreed that the legislation’s passage comes at odds with the principles outlined in the new European Union Pact for Asylum and Migration, which emphasizes shared responsibility among member states. The UK is clearly no longer part of the EU, but he criticized the British government’s reluctance to choose humane solutions, particularly in light of its significant resources and potential capacity to assist.

“You know, we are the country with the most resources to help and therefore we should be taking our fair share of burden sharing,” he said.

Asked whether Prime Minister Sunak’s assertion that the proposal would deter migrants from undertaking dangerous journeys rings true, Thorns expressed scepticism and questioned the efficacy of such deterrents.

“If you are in a situation where you are willing to risk your life on these horrendously flimsy boats, that are overpacked, and often without the proper life-saving tools,  I can’t see that this kind of distant potential threat is going to change your mind,” he observed: “And it’s just wrong!”

Respect for dignity

In conclusion, Thorns expressed his belief there can, and should, be legal humanitarian policies to protect vulnerable people.

“I think there can be legal humanitarian routes which enable people to come. Claims can be assessed, as they should according to International Law,” he said explaining that within that kind of framework migrants and asylum seekers can be either welcomed or, at times, if they’re not, accompanied with respect for their dignity according to different solutions.

It really “doesn’t feel right” he added, to prioritize deterrence over compassion while also disregarding international obligations, and to use punitive measures to address the underlying causes of displacement.

“It doesn’t feel like the right thing to do in terms of giving people a different alternative to that awful journey across the channel.”