Shropshire Star

No evidence of ‘industrial-scale’ conversion of asylum seekers, says Archbishop

Justin Welby said the Home Office had told him it has no evidence to back up the accusations.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

There is “no evidence” to support claims the Church of England is “subverting the asylum system” by allowing spurious conversions to Christianity, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

The Church has been accused in recent months of allowing “industrial-scale” baptisms of migrants to assist with their asylum claims, allowing them to claim they would be persecuted in their home country because they are now Christians.

But speaking on Times Radio on Thursday, the Most Rev Justin Welby said he had seen “no evidence” of this occurring, only “assertions”.

He added: “We wrote to the Home Office and they said they had no evidence to show us.”

The accusations followed claims by former Anglican vicar Matthew Firth, who told The Daily Telegraph he had “put a stop to the conveyor belt and veritable industry of asylum baptisms that was going on”.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
More than 3,500 people have crossed the Channel in small boats already this year (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Noting that in the last 10 years there had been only 15 baptisms in Mr Firth’s parish of people who may have been asylum seekers, the Archbishop said: “If that’s industrial-scale, we have got a small idea of industrial production.”

Mr Welby’s comments come after he and other Anglican bishops voted with other peers to again amend the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill on Wednesday.

The Government’s defeat in the Lords means the legislation will now return to the Commons on April 15 and will not pass before Easter – meaning any flights deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda have also been delayed yet again.

The decision not to schedule further votes on the legislation before the Commons rises for the Easter recess on Tuesday led shadow minister Stephen Kinnock to claim the Conservatives were “running scared” and “blocking their own Rwanda Bill”.

However, ministers have sought to blame Labour for the delays, with Dame Andrea Leadsom telling LBC on Thursday she was “disgusted that Labour tried to stop it in the Lords last night yet again”.

State Opening of Parliament
The House of Lords voted to amend the Rwanda Bill again on Wednesday, meaning the passage of the legislation has been delayed until after Easter (Leon Neal/PA)

She added: “We’re absolutely determined to get that Bill through. It’s coming back to the Commons on April 15 and we will be overturning the seven amendments in the Lords that we’ve already overturned once this week. We will do it again for the sake of what this country needs, which is to stop illegal migration.”

Sir Keir Starmer said his party is committed to stopping small boats crossing the Channel.

He told Channel 5’s Jeremy Vine: “There’s no ifs or buts. It’s a massive problem and… it gives this sense of having lost control of our borders.

“What I wouldn’t do… is to grandstand or just try and find headlines in relation to gimmicks that won’t work. I think the Rwanda gimmick is a gimmick that won’t work.”

He said it is “not impossible” to take down the people smuggling gangs, highlighting his plan to work with international law enforcement agencies on the issue.

“Those boats that are being used across are being made more or less to order,” Sir Keir said. “They’re being stored in warehouses in Europe, they’re being brought to the coast in France and people are getting in them. It is not impossible to take down a business model like that. I know it because I’ve done it before.

“But until we do that, we don’t have a foot in the door to deal with this. We’ve got to stop these boats, stop people getting here in the first place, and that means taking down the gangs that are running this vile trade.”

He also pointed to Labour commitments to process asylum claims quicker to get people out of hotels and work on returns agreements to send migrants back.

According to Home Office figures, 3,529 people arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel in small boats in the year to March 19, only slightly down on the 3,683 who arrived in the same period last year.

On Wednesday, police were called to reports of a man with suspected stab wounds after he arrived on a boat at Dover Western Docks shortly before 1pm. Kent Police said he alleged he had been assaulted on a beach near Calais before making the crossing and details have been passed to the French authorities.

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