Archbishop calls for 'safe routes' to the UK

The Archbishop of Canterbury is calling on the government to ensure "safe routes" to the UK after the first flight scheduled to take failed asylum seekers to Rwanda was grounded following legal action.

"To reduce dangerous journeys to the UK we need safe routes: the church will continue to advocate for them," Archbishop Justin Welby said on Twitter.

"But deportations — and the potential forced return of asylum seekers to their home countries — are immoral and shame us as a nation." 

It echoes the criticism voiced in a joint letter signed by Welby, the Archbishop of York and all 26 bishops serving in the House of Lords that was published in The Times

"The shame is our own, because our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have for centuries," the Church leaders said.

Tuesday's deportation flight was stopped at the 11th hour following an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel has refused to back down despite strong criticism. She said that the government "will not be deterred from doing the right thing and delivering our plans to control our nation's borders". 

Writing in The Independent, the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler said the policy was "deeply regrettable".

"We have a rich history of providing sanctuary to those around the world fleeing war and persecution, and it is intolerable to see us abdicate both our moral responsibility and commitment to international law," he said.

A different position has been taken by Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester and now member of the Catholic Ordinariate. 

Writing in The Telegraph, he said, "These policies can certainly, like others, be criticised, but religious leaders should refrain from demonising politicians unless it is crystal clear that they are acting from ulterior motives and not out of concern for the public good.

"In the world of realpolitik, difficult decisions have to be made in balancing the claims of one group against another: in this case the continuing welfare of those already here with those pressing their claims to come here.

"The exponential increase in those coming in small boats is putting intolerable pressure on counties like Kent to provide, for example, for unaccompanied children and, in times of austerity, on the public purse generally."