A STATEMENT signed by more than 1,450 church leaders opposing the UK government’s Illegal Migration Bill has been handed to 10 Downing Street, saying that the government’s proposals are “incompatible with our Christian conviction that all human beings are made in the image of God”.

In the statement, church leaders from across Britain and Northern Ireland say they are “appalled” by the proposals in the UK government’s Illegal Migration Bill to “detain, punish and reject thousands of people seeking safety”, and that they will “foster discrimination and distrust” and cause “immeasurable harm”.

Church leaders are calling on the government to withdraw the legislation, and to honour the UK’s “moral and international obligations” by establishing “safe and accessible routes to enable the UK to play its part in welcoming people in need of safety”. The leaders argue that when two out of three people crossing the channel in small boats have their claim for asylum accepted, rendering them unable to have their claim heard or access a safe route essentially puts a ban on claiming asylum in the UK for many people.

The statement was handed in to 10 Downing Street by representatives from The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church in Britain, the United Reformed Church, Churches Together in England and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. It was initially released in March by senior leaders from The Methodist Church, Baptist Union of Great Britain and United Reformed Church, and has since gathered support from more than 1,450 church leaders in communities across the UK.

The Rev David Hardman, Methodist Public Issues Team leader, said: “If ever there was a contemporary example of ignoring our neighbour and walking by on the other side, this is it. On a moral level, these proposals lack compassion and respect for people’s dignity. On a practical level, they fail to see that punishing people who cross the channel in small boats without offering alternative safe routes will only cause pain and increase the backlog of people who are stuck in unfit accommodation here in the UK. Even whilst some MPs are pushing for further tightening of this cruel approach, we know that we can and must do better than this. Today we call on the government to lead the way to change by creating and implementing new safe routes by which people can come to the UK to seek sanctuary.”

The Rev Steve Tinning, Public Issues Enabler for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said: “Holy Week is not just a week for spiritual reflection; it is a call to political action. On Palm Sunday, Jesus was welcomed with open arms and then betrayed when the price of being part of His movement of justice appeared too costly. On Good Friday, Jesus was laid bare on the cross while the world was exposed for its hostility and violence. On Easter Day death was defeated and the hope of life was declared.

“This Holy Week over 1,450 Christian leaders are saying that the Illegal Migration Bill represents nothing of our Christian values of compassion, hospitality and mercy. It threatens the detention of innocent children, it offers no obligation to provide safe routes for those fleeing war and persecution, and it criminalises and punishes innocent victims. We implore the government to stop stoking fear and cease their jeers of rejection and hostility. Instead, we ask and pray that our nation might set a table and sacrificially make space for the other.”

The Rev Tessa Henry Robinson, Moderator-Elect for the United Reformed Church, said: “In the face of the UK Government’s proposed illegal migration bill, it is essential to remember that our nation’s greatness lies not in turning our backs on those in need, but in embracing our shared humanity and committing to care for all. Across the world’s religions, we find a shared belief in the sacred duty of caring for our neighbours, visitors, strangers, and those seeking help across borders. By upholding these values of compassion and empathy, we can create a society that truly stands out as a beacon of hope for all.”

Representatives from the official ecumenical bodies, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Churches Together in England, also attended the hand-in at Downing Street, representing church leaders from a range of denominations in the UK who signed the statement.

Richard Reddie, Director for Justice and Inclusion for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and Coordinator for the Churches’ Refugee Network said: “It is deeply troubling that the Government continues to weaponise immigration and asylum matters for what appears to be political purposes. We need an immigration and asylum system that treats people with dignity; is integrity-driven, and most of all, fit for purpose. This Bill, among many other things, fails to comply with the obligations found in the UN Refugee Convention, to which we are signatories. I call on the Government to focus more on why people travel than how they travel, and ensure that those who are fleeing danger are treated with hospitality and not hostility.’

The Rev Ben Aldous, Principal Officer for Mission and Evangelism for Churches Together in England, said: “So many churches around the UK are already welcoming refugees and asylum seekers in their communities, through language lessons, community cafes and so much more. We want to see an asylum system that recognises the value that all people can bring to our communities when they are given the chance to integrate and flourish. We urge the government to work with communities to find better solutions for everyone.”

The Illegal Migration Bill passed Committee Stage in the House of Commons on 28 March, and will return for a vote by MPs after the Easter recess.

* Read the full statement and list of signatories here.

* Source: The Methodist Church