Bishop of Durham speaks in debate on transfer of asylum seekers to Rwanda

On 6th February 2023, the Bishop of Durham spoke in a debate on the Government’s use of a Memorandum of Understanding rather than a treaty as the vehicle for the agreement with Rwanda on the transfer of asylum seekers, highlighting the stance of the House of Bishops against the policy and the government’s responsibility towards children and the vulnerable:

The Lord Bishop of Durham: I declare my interest in RAMP as laid out in the register. The Lords Spiritual as a whole chose to speak out against the transfer of asylum seekers to Rwanda. We did not do this lightly, knowing the privileged role we hold in the life of our nation, but the memorandum of understanding brings into question fundamental issues about individual rights, our commitment to international law and our moral standing as a nation. It is because of these deep and important questions that I believe the use of an MoU was highly inappropriate.

The Government, in response to the International Agreements Committee in 2020, said that MoUs are used primarily for “technical or administrative matters”, but in this instance, we are talking about the transport of vulnerable people thousands of miles away, before and without considering their claim to asylum. This is not technical or administrative; these are men, women and children, to whom we owe a duty of care under international law. With such far-reaching implications, parliamentary scrutiny and debate should have been facilitated, whether or not the Ponsonby rule, or subsequently the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, applies to non-treaty agreements. Let me also add that a monitoring board which has yet to meet and which sets its own work plan is not a sufficient level of oversight for an agreement of this nature.

I finish by briefly mentioning our responsibility to children. When announcing the Rwandan partnership, the then Home Secretary said that it would operate as a scheme mainly for single male migrants. However, we now know that Ministers are considering whether families seeking asylum at our borders will be subject to this deportation, the possibility of which I must say I find intolerable. Surely it would be unacceptable for any such extension not to be ratified by Parliament. If the Government do decide to include children in the scheme, which I implore them to simply disregard, they must commit to bringing it before this House. Children deserve the highest level of legal safeguards, in both the letter and spirit of the law.


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