Viewpoint: Stopping the Boats

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In an opinion piece originally published in Independent Catholic News, Fr Philip Dyer-Perry, Parish Priest at Our Lady of the Rosary in Staines, says that those coming across the channel in small boats, should not be seen as a threat.


Last week, Match of the Day host Gary Lineker faced criticism from the Home Secretary for his comments about the British Government’s proposed changes to the asylum system. He describes it as “an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”. I believe he is right to do so.

Today our country faces multiple challenges – a cost of living crisis, a labour shortage, a restive workforce, the effects of Brexit, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the ongoing economic and human cost of the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, our pre-existing problems, and significantly inequality and climate change have not gone away and are perhaps felt more painfully than ever. The government has obviously got a lot on its plate and is feeling the heat. 

Yet the proposed changes to the asylum system, together with the language that has been used to support them, do nothing to address these challenges. Instead they flagrantly ignore international law, demonise a vulnerable group of people, and offer precious little protection against people smuggling. Indeed, the plan that those arriving in small boats will not have access to modern slavery protection is likely to have the opposite effect. To be able to claim asylum is a fundamental human right – but by not providing any safe routes for people to do so – and now no legal routes too, the proposed law gives no alternative options for those seeking to find refuge on our shores. Confronted by human suffering and loss – all we can say is ‘Stop the boats’.

Let’s be absolutely frank – the only crisis that these measures were ever designed to avert was the chance of the current administration losing the next election – yet there’s no guarantee such a populist stunt will serve its intended purpose. After all, the public have other concerns – like paying the rent, the bills, and putting food on the table. A law that is as unworkable as it is unjust will not impress electors. Yet the language used to justify such a law is perhaps its most dangerous legacy. 

Disappointingly – and for the benefit of those who’d accuse me of being partisan – the Labour party have also done little to stand up for those seeking asylum. Both under Corbyn and Starmer, they have preferred to blow the dog-whistle, also talking of asylum seekers as a problem to be solved and keeping silent in the face of obvious injustice. They have failed to make a stand for this vulnerable group of human beings. 

As a Christian, a Catholic, and a priest, I believe in the equal dignity of all human beings. Every one of us has the right to live, to be safe, to flourish. This applies across the board – to the unborn, the elderly, the sick, and to those who seek safety and shelter far from home. Those coming here from abroad need not be portrayed as a threat to our way of life. With appropriate safeguards and the due process of an efficient and humane asylum system, accessible by genuine ‘safe and legal routes’, they ought to be welcome to live and work in our fundamentally compassionate, tolerant, and diverse nation. 

The government’s proposals are manifestly not ‘lawful, proportionate and compassionate.’


Read other responses to the Illegal Immigration Bill:

From Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) – which includes a template letter if you would like to write to your MP.

From the Jesuit Refugee Service

From Bishop Paul McAleenan


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