The Archbishop of Canterbury says the deaths of four people after their boat capsized in the English Channel is a reminder that refugees attempting to reach England are human beings with individual lives.
Most Rev Justin Welby expressed his view in a tweet after the boat, carrying at least 43 people, sank off the coast of Kent. Archbishop Welby wrote:
“I’m praying for the victims of today’s terrible events in the Channel. It’s another reminder that debates about asylum seekers are not about statistics, but precious human lives. May God comfort those who mourn, those who survived and all those who work to save lives at sea.”
The tragedy comes a day after the Prime Minister set out a five-point plan promising more staff to tackle the backlog of asylum claims.
The plans include setting up a new unit to monitor small boats crossing the English Channel and a pledge to double the number of caseworkers who can process claims.
Other proposals include housing up to 10,000 people who are waiting for their claims to be processed in disused holiday parks in a bid to end the use of hotels.
There are also plans for Parliament to set an annual quota for refugees coming to the UK.
Rev Steve Tinning who is Public Issues Enabler for the Baptist Union has been speaking to Premier about the plans:
“We're incredibly concerned. There are some good things within it – nobody wants to see desperate people risking their life at sea to seek sanctuary in the UK and we’re really keen that things are done to prevent those lives being risked and lost. But the vast majority of it is extremely concerning.
“Every individual needs to have their right to be heard, because even people coming from Albania may be coming for perfectly good reasons that are legitimate. Particularly those that are the victims of modern slavery. We need to be able to hear their case, to see if they are truly vulnerable, or whether indeed, their claims are spurious and that they need to be sent back.”
On the issue of housing asylum seekers in disused holiday parks, Rev Tinning said:
“I'm in favour of getting asylum seekers out of these hotels, it's expensive, and by and large, they're not places that are conducive to a proper welcome of those seeking sanctuary. But inevitably, I am nervous about the prospect. There is anxiety about whether or not these places are truly suitable to accommodate a good number of people.
“I do think there needs to be a solution to move people away from hotels and to save money, I’m just nervous about the implementation of it in this way.”
So far this year, more than 40,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Channel in small boats – 35 per cent of those have arrived from Albania.