The Jubilee Centre Blog

Morality or Mercy for Asylum Seekers?

Alan White   Posted: 28 November 2008

Keywords: Government & Foreign Affairs,

Once again, we see that what starts as points made about asylum and immigration policy quickly dissolves into people talking at cross purposes.

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, made a plea in his Temple Address to the Evangelical Alliance at The Royal Society for us all to show more mercy as an expression of loving our neighbour. He said “’mercy’ is the very characteristic of neighbourliness. To be a good neighbour requires us both to show and to exercise mercy.” He quoted the example of Mrs Sunami who was diagnosed as dangerously ill with cancer: “Although her visa had expired by the time she was taken ill, her solicitor made representations for her to stay in the UK on compassionate grounds. If she was returned to Ghana she would not have the funds for treatment. The seriousness of her condition was such that without treatment her health and life would be at risk.” Without the necessary treatment, Mrs Sunami died within two months of being sent back to Ghana.

The Archbishop went on to challenge the Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, for his criticism of the NGOs and law firms that represent asylum seekers in their appeals against decisions to refuse them leave to stay.

Today, Mr Woolas defended his remarks on Radio 4’s Today programme, saying “I don't accept the central charge that being tough is being immoral." He added "I think the morally right thing to do is to have an efficient and fair immigration and asylum system."

The Archbishop criticises a lack of mercy, the reply focuses on morality and lauds toughness.

Those of you who have read our book Asylum and Immigration by Nick Spencer will have noticed that this is another example of blurring the nature of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Clearly, the Bible has a lot to say about loving our neighbours and there are considerable insights for us in how Israel was to treat the foreigner in their midst, with obligations in both directions dependent upon the level of integration sought by that foreigner. On this latter I’d recommend, in addition to Asylum and Immigration, our report The Status and Welfare of Immigrants by Jonathan Burnside for an excellent exposition.  As he concludes:

‘An ethical approach to race relations and immigration that is informed by Biblical law would transcend both left-wing and right-wing policies in favour of a positive immigration policy that places an emphasis on assimilation and at the same time seeks to preserve national identity.  True love for the alien means a commitment to his welfare and to the national identity of his adopted country.’


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