People working with migrants in the churches and civic organisations have expressed dismay at the recent comments on immigration by former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who has joined a cross-party group calling for stricter controls.
They say that his approach is based on narrow nationalism, a highly questionable "numbers" game and a failure to address underlying economic and political issues and human stories behind major worldwide shifts in people movements.
Lord Carey argues that his approach, which would put a cap on numbers, is "balanced". He says that migration to Britain has been a "blessing" in some ways, but he suggests in a Times article yesterday that the churches have been too poistive and welcoming in their approach.
The new campaign for tighter controls has been led by Labour’s Frank Field and the Conservatives’ Nicholas Soames.
The launch of the campaign on 8 September 2008 coincided with the publication of a YouGov poll commissioned by anti-immigration lobby group Migrationwatch UK which shows increasing numbers of people wanting to see tight restrictions.
Lord Carey also told the Western Mail that if Britain lacked an effective migration policy right-wing parties would exploit public resentment. But anti-racist campaigners say the reality is the exact opposite: that anti-immigration rhetoric from the main parties feeds extremism, and the kind of public fear seen in opinion polls, rather than assuaging it.
Commenting on former the Archbishop of Canterbury's stance, URC minister Vaughan Jones, who has worked with displaced people for many years and heads up the multi-agency Praxis project in London, said: "The relationship between migration and social, cultural and economic development is extremely complex. Crude, populist and simplistic comments like those of [Lord Carey] add nothing new or helpful to the debate."
Jones continued: "The migrant is not a stranger to the church to be accepted or rejected at our convenience. We are brothers and sisters within a transnational and interdependent global community which transcends the archbishop's narrow and outdated nationalism."
He added: "Ironically, it could be noted that the exclusion of church workers from the list of skilled professions required in this country (balanced migration!) will make it harder for the church to function as the international community that it is."
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said: "Playing a misleading 'numbers game' leaves the real problems behind changing patterns of migration - war, instability, massive inequality, displacement and climate change - unaddressed. Many people uproot because they are forced, and turning a few rich Western countries into policed states will not change that. By blinding us to the human and political needs, it is likely to make things worse."
Times columnist David Aaronovitch has also attacked the alarmist statistics wielded by the group, which Lord Carey claims are "simple" and will add 7 million to the population of Britain in 25 years, according to projections from government figures.
But Aaaronovitch points out that past projections of this kind turned ot to be hopelessly wrong, and that experts in the field regard them as highly fallible.
He declared: "Already about half of those economic migrants who came to Britain from Eastern Europe after 2004 have left. The number of applications for work entries fell by more than 20 per cent between comparable periods in 2007 and 2008. You don't have to be Nostradamus to realise that the coming recession will see that drop further, possibly dramatically. These days even relatively small fluctuations in exchange rates lead to big changes. The predictions, then, are pretty worthless."
The churches in Britain and Ireland have played a significant role in recent years in working for justice for migrants.
The Strangers into Citizens grassroots campaign has called for the regularisation of longer-term unregistered workers. By contrast the Balanced Migration group wants to prevent workers becoming citizens.
Aaronovitch comments: "Our 2015 problem may well not be keeping mobile, motivated workers out, but desperately trying to attract them, not least to look after that other unexpected population surge - in the dependent over-80s. The studies are pretty clear: economic migrants bring with them dynamism, innovation and hard work."
A new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) backs this observation. [See: http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/7687 ]
See also: 'Are immigration controls moral?', by Vaughan Jones - http://ekklesia.co.uk/research/280405immigration