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Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby tells Parliament that refugee offer should match moral obligation

by Cara Bentley
Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury Official Portrait House of Lords.jpg header3.jpg - Banner image
House of Lords

The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken about Afghan refugees in the House of Lords, asking: "Will the Government confirm that their policy will reflect moral obligation and not be controlled by numbers?"

Since the Taliban took over, thousands of people have tried to leave Afghanistan, with many remembering what their rule was like before - with women and girls not allowed to go to school or work and religious minorities persecuted brutally. 

Boris Johnson has announced that 2,000 Afghan people have already been resettled in the UK and that 5,000 will be able to in the first year of a bespoke resettlement scheme. 

Speaking in the House of Lords, Most Rev Justin Welby raised the matter of the persecution of Christians and what he sees as a "moral obligation" to let people from Afghanistan live in the UK. 

He said: "We rightly remember the courage, suffering and sacrifice over the last 20 years, and the courage being shown by our ambassador and the service people in Afghanistan at the moment, together with their colleagues and reporters. When we look back, I remember a cathedral, full for the funeral of a soldier: family and many colleagues silent in dignity, some wounded, mourning their loss.

"The failure we face today is not military or diplomatic: they did all they could. It is political. Recovery and hope will come to Afghanistan with us supporting commitment to the neediest and most desperate. We have proven capacities in soft as well as hard power."

Archbishop Justin also called on the Government not to split families apart by restricting numbers: "We owe an absolute, lavishly generous moral covenant to all those who are at risk because they served with us in Afghanistan or took seriously our frequently professed commitment to its future, women and girls included. An Afghan refugee, now a UK citizen said to me this week, 'families in such times of trouble belong together'. His words are not politics but humanity. This is about morals not numbers. Will the Government confirm that their policy will reflect moral obligation and not be controlled by numbers?"

He went on to say that the UK must engage in dialogue with Pakistan, "learning afresh the religious and cultural literacy which is essential to effective work" so that extremist groups do not gain momentum there. 

Justin Welby also said that the country must help religious minorities in Afghanistan, he said: "We must renew commitment to freedom of religion and belief everywhere, a point not much mentioned so far. That will count in Pakistan and Afghanistan for Christians and religious communities such as Shia, Hindus, Jains, Ahmadis and Sikhs. A WhatsApp, from a Christian in Afghanistan yesterday, asked for support there and in Pakistan. Memorably, it said, 'I am willing to die for Jesus, but I do not want to die forgotten'."

The Government has included religious minorities on its list of prioritised people, along with women and girls, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban and who therefore will be more likely to be offered to settle in the UK. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury ended: "for those who served there. It is a time for prayerful humility - and for us to display generosity, virtue, and courage. Rebuilding our reputation in such ways will give many others hope as well."

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