Bishop Lynch says Home Office billboards are "inappropriate" and calls for compassion

The bishop who oversees migration for the Church has strongly criticised the new Government campaign against illegal immigration, saying it is “inappropriate” and calling for compassion.

Bishop Patrick Lynch, the bishop for migration for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, spoke out last Friday about the Home Office “Go home or face arrest” mobile billboard campaign targeting illegal immigrants in several London Boroughs.

“This mobile billboard campaign is a very inappropriate way to discourage illegal immigrants from staying in the UK, not least because the message that is often received is that all immigrants and foreigners are unwelcome in the UK,” he said.

“Ten years ago most illegal immigrants were actually failed asylum seekers. While much of the backlog of cases has now been dealt with, there are some families – including children who have been born here – and individuals still in this situation. It was with these people in mind that many people supported the idea of an amnesty. These cases need to be dealt with compassionately, especially when there are children involved.”

Bishop Lynch added: “Nowadays, the vast number of illegal immigrants are people who overstay the terms of their visas, especially students. With over 250,000 overseas students coming to UK educational institutions every year, the best way to reduce overstaying and the number of illegal immigrants is to work closely with the various sponsoring bodies, especially the educational institutions and insist that they are more robust in their procedures.”

The posters read: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest. Text HOME to 78070 for free advice, and help with travel documents. We can help you to return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention.”

Labour MP Diane Abbott, whose Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency is part of the campaign, said. “It is akin to scrawling ‘Paki go home’ on the side of buildings. I don’t believe this policy is going to achieve anything besides stoking fear and resentment.”

It is understood that the Liberal Democrats, partners in the coalition, were not consulted over the campaign.