The Illegal Migration Bill is the Government’s attempt to reduce the high number of people that cross the Channel on a small boat in order to seek asylum in the UK. The bill was passed through the House of Commons on Wednesday (26th April) by 289 votes to 230 and will now move into the House of Lords.
What will the bill mean for asylum seekers?
The Illegal Migration Bill will result in anyone arriving in the UK through unauthorised means being prevented from claiming asylum. Those who arrive through means such as small boats, will be detained and removed to a “safe country”, such as Rwanda. Anyone who is removed will be blocked from returning or seeking British citizenship in the future.
If passed in the House of Lords, the bill will take away the temporary protections that are in place for suspected victims of modern slavery or human trafficking if they arrive by unauthorised means. It would also allow for children to be detained for up to 72 hours.
What does the bible say about asylum?
While the words “asylum” and “refugee” never feature in the bible, the word “foreigner” or “stranger” do many times.
Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy (books of Hebrew law) all contain commands to care for foreigners and treat them fairly. Leviticus 19:33-34 says: “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
Throughout the Bible, God’s people are very familiar with having to seek safety in foreign lands. In the New Testament we see Jesus’ family seeking refuge in Egypt after King Herod gave orders for all the fist-born sons in Bethlehem to be killed.
In Matthew 25, Jesus stated “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (v35). When asked by his followers when they saw him in need, Jesus responded: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v40). And so, we know the way that we treat “foreigners”, i.e. asylum seekers and refugees, is a direct reflection of how we treat Jesus.
In light of all of this, how should we view the Illegal Migration Bill?
There is no denying that small boats crossing the Channel is a large problem that is only increasing. In 2022, 45,746 people made the dangerous crossing, and there were a high number of fatalities of people attempting the journey. A deterrent is needed to save lives and prevent people-smuggling gangs benefiting from people’s desperation and vulnerability.
However, the question remains: is dubbing every person that enters the UK on a small boat “illegal” really an appropriate and effective response?
The prejudices and assumptions that come with the word “illegal” fail to reflect asylum seeker’s vulnerabilities and desperation. With very few safe and legal ways to seek asylum in the UK, we cannot claim to be compassionate while closing the door to people who reach our shores in need of help.
To treat the foreigner well, to give them shelter and clothing in the way that the Bible instructs, means that we must give all asylum seekers a fair chance to prove they are in need. Of course, to allow anyone to come and go as they please would be an unworkable approach to immigration policy. But to deny all those who arrive on small boats the ability to be granted refuge in the UK, without concern for why they risked their lives to do so in the first place, is to be a country lacking in empathy.
Instead, we need a firm system that speeds up decision making processes once asylum seekers reach the UK; we need more safe routes for people from various countries and situations to seek asylum here; and we need better negotiations with countries on the continent about how to tackle people-smuggling gangs.
As we engage with immigration and asylum policy, and seek a system that is fair, let’s be people that remember we are all foreigners on this earth looking forward to the day we arrive at our eternal home (1 Peter 1:17).