It is “absolutely outrageous” to dismiss people as racists if they fear mass immigration, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
As Europe witnesses a record influx of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, Justin Welby said the British people have a “genuine and justified” fear of mass immigration and effects it will have on public services.
In an interview with The House magazine, the leader of the Church of England said: “Fear is a valid emotion at a time of such colossal crisis. This is one of the greatest movements of people in human history. Just enormous. And to be anxious about that is very reasonable.”
He added that there was a particularly big fear in “fragile communities”.
“What happens about housing? What happens about jobs? What happens about access to health services? There is a genuine fear. And it is really important that that fear is listened to and addressed. There have to be resources put in place that address those fears.”
The issue of immigration is also taking centre stage in the debate over the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s European Union (EU) membership, with ‘Out’ campaigners warning that the UK can never retake control of its borders while it remains in the bloc.
Archbishop Welby said that the Church of England will not be taking an official position on the referendum, telling the magazine: “You can’t say, ‘God says you must vote this way or that way’.”
“I don’t think there is one correct Christian view, one way or the other,” he added.
Despite his comments on people’s fears of immigration, however, he still called for Britain to take more Syrian refugees than the 20,000 promised by the Prime Minister.
“We have to play our part. I was in Germany last weekend doing some work with some churches there. The Germans took 1.1 million last year. And it does make 20,000 over several years sound very thin,” he said.
In October last year, 84 Church of England bishops signed a letter calling for the British government to take accept 50,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, leading to one Conservative Member of Parliament to tell them to “preach word of God, not word of The Guardian.”
David Davies, MP for Monmouth, said: “How wonderfully saintly it must feel to sleep at night with an easy conscience knowing you have roundly condemned the wicked politicians and bigots who worry about mass migration without actually having to take difficult decisions yourself and live with the consequences.”
“However, it will not fill the pews,” he added.