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‘Compassion for the most vulnerable’: Bishop thanks protesters who blocked asylum buses | Immigration and asylum

A leading Church of England bishop has praised protesters who managed to thwart Home Office attempts to transfer asylum seekers to the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset.

Using words that could put her in conflict with Downing Street, the right-wing Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, former chaplain to the late Queen and the House of Commons, thanked local people who had blocked the buses and said: “Our Lord showed compassion for the most vulnerable.”

Hudson-Wilkin’s statement, shared with The Guardian, came after a Number 10 spokesperson said the protests were “unacceptable”.

The Bishop of Dover’s words were prompted by the Home Office’s decision to abandon plans to transfer male asylum seekers from Margate, in Kent, which is within his diocese.

Rose Hudson-Wilkin said she wanted to “thank the local people who have stood up for those on their doorstep”. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/Reuters

In late April, protesters blocked a government-commissioned coach being used to try to transport 22 men from Afghanistan and Pakistan who had been living in Margate for seven months. On Thursday it emerged that 15 of the 22 had received letters from the Home Office saying they would no longer be transferred.

Hudson-Wilkin said: “I want to thank local people who have stood up for those housed on their doorstep. Her actions show that there is compassion within the community to care for the most vulnerable people, so that those most at risk are not moved from pillar to post.

“Our Lord showed compassion for the most vulnerable and I am heartened to see this in action in Margate, so thank you.”

The House of Commons home affairs select committee said in February that living conditions at Bibby Stockholm were claustrophobic and that many of the men detained there were experiencing mental health problems. In December, an Albanian national, Leonard Farruku, 27, is believed to have committed suicide on the barge.

Responding to Hudson-Wilkin’s words, a Home Office spokesperson said: “Accommodation is allocated to asylum seekers without the option of choice and asylum seekers can lodge protests if they believe they are not suitable to be moved to the accommodation. Bibby Stockholm, which are fully considered before any decision is made.”

“We are ready to do this again,” said Margate’s Labor mayor Rob Yates following the successful blockade of the Home Office coach. Photography: PA

The successful protest in Margate was organized by the local Labor mayor, Rob Yates. He said: “We tried to avoid shouting or disturbing traffic while blocking the bus, which did not lead to police involvement and hopefully helped the men in the hotel feel safe.

“Looking ahead, we are prepared to do this again. “Community activism is a valid tool when it comes to protecting asylum seekers, and I think in this current climate it is one we should all consider.”

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Hudson-Wilkin, who was born in Montego Bay, has become one of the K of E’s most prominent bishops.

She gained attention as the first black woman to play the role of the Queen’s chaplain and appeared on Desert Island Discs. After being appointed chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, she called for a more civil attitude among MPs and criticized institutional racism within the church.

Number 10 criticized the disruptive tactics on Thursday after a separate group of protesters blocked a bus believed to be taking asylum seekers from a hotel in Peckham, south-east London, to the Bibby Stockholm.

“Clearly this disruption and disorder was completely unacceptable and it is unacceptable that Home Office staff are being prevented from carrying out their work,” a No 10 spokesperson said. “We have always acted to ensure the police have the powers they need to manage protests and addressing disorder. “They have our full support to use those powers to enforce the law.”