Primus: ‘Stop the Boats’ bill is cruel and shameful

March 10, 2023

In response to the publication this week of the Illegal Migration Bill, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church has joined calls for the UK Government to think again over its “cruel and shameful response to people urgently seeking sanctuary and hope”.

The Most Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness, expressed his dismay at the divisive language being used as part of UK Government policy, and said Jesus did not make a distinction between those who were deserving mercy and those who were not.

Said the Primus: “In the years since I was first elected as Bishop, I have seen a definite shift in how politicians respond to the challenges that arise when groups of people, fleeing war, genocide, famine, and other dangerous situations arrive in the UK. When I first became Bishop, the language of “blocking” refugees, of “sending them back” was restricted to small groups who blamed many of society’s issues on immigration.

“In 2023, that language is now present at the heart of government, as we witness a British Prime Minister stand behind a podium emblazoned with the slogan ‘Stop the boats’. The effect of recent proposals from the UK Government, in the words of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees ‘would be to deny protection to many asylum seekers in need of safety and protection, and even deny them the opportunity to put forward their case. This would be a clear breach of the refugee convention and would undermine a longstanding, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud.’

“It has been said time and time again, by me and by many others: to be a Christian is to love our neighbour, and when asked “who is my neighbour?” Jesus shows us through the parable of the Samaritan that our neighbour is the one who is in need and the one who shows mercy in our time of need. Jesus says to us directly and unequivocally: “Go, and do thou likewise.”

“Jesus did not make a distinction between those who were deserving and those who were not. Jesus did not give us an approved list of groups who are entitled to mercy.

“For the UK Government to criminalise the very act of fleeing danger or economic disaster, then punish people for that crime by sending them away to whatever fate awaits them, is not being a good neighbour. This Bill is not merciful. It is not kind, and it does not solve any issues. It denies the basic human rights of our neighbours and ships the problem off to other countries. It is a cruel and shameful response to people urgently seeking sanctuary and hope.

“I urge the UK Government to think again. Whether you are people of any faith or of none, the moral imperative to offer a hand to those who have no other choice is clear. I am not a politician, but it seems to me that if you want to stop people dying in small boats crossing the channel, then provide a safe passage.

“Create a safe way to seek the safety of our shores so that we can begin the careful and generous process of establishing who needs the security of the UK. We must not turn our back and send people away.”