Rhetoric around asylum seekers reaching new lows, bishop tells Home Secretary

Rhetoric around asylum seekers in the UK is “reaching new lows”, a bishop has said, as he warned the Clapham attack should not be weaponised for political aims.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, has appealed directly to Home Secretary James Cleverly to “take the higher ground” in the debate.

In a letter to Mr Cleverly sent this week, and first reported by the Church Times, the bishop criticised the “less than considerate language” used by previous home secretaries.

Describing rhetoric around people seeking refuge in Britain as “reaching new lows”, he added: “Increasingly, those seeking safety and security in Britain are being characterised as dishonest, undesirable and with values inferior to those born in Britain.

“Such language does not arise out of a vacuum. It relates to less than considerate language used by members of the governing party, including former holders of the office of Principal Secretary of State.”

Mr Cleverly’s predecessor Suella Braverman warned of a “hurricane” of mass migration in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year.

The case of Abdul Ezedi, the suspect in the Clapham alkali attack who was turned down twice for asylum before successfully appealing against the Home Office rejection by claiming he had converted to Christianity, has prompted strong debate on how the system works.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman said that during her time in office she “became aware of churches around the country facilitating industrial-scale bogus asylum claims”.

The Church of England has said it is the role of the Home Office, rather than of churches, to assess and vet asylum claims.

While in post as home secretary, Priti Patel spoke of the “persistent failure to enforce our immigration rules with a system that is open to gaming by economic migrants and exploitation by criminals”.

The bishop said he is “especially concerned that, in the year of a general election, language should be moderated”.

He said “tragic stories” such as the Clapham attack “should not be weaponised in service of political aims”.

To Mr Cleverly, he wrote: “As the person who leads on migration policy for our Government, I would like to challenge you to take the higher ground, to refuse to dehumanise people or to collude with those who do so, but return the subject to the proper and sober realm of public policy.”

He invited Mr Cleverly to visit some of the church’s work “with people from the communities about whom you and your colleagues so frequently speak and in relation to whose lives you set policy and propose legislation”.