A leading religious figure in Essex has slammed the Government's policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Right Reverend Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, has signed a letter saying the government’s Rwanda policy “shames Britain”.

The first flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda will take off this evening.

The letter to The Times says: "Sir, whether or not the first deportation flight leaves Britain today for Rwanda, this policy should shame us as a nation.

"Rwanda is a brave country recovering from catastrophic genocide.

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"The shame is our own, because our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have for centuries.

"Those to be deported to Rwanda have had no chance to appeal, or reunite with family in Britain. They have had no consideration of their asylum claim, recognition of their medical or other needs, or any attempt to understand their predicament.

"Many are desperate people fleeing unspeakable horrors. Many are Iranians, Eritreans and Sudanese citizens, who have an asylum grant rate of at least 88 per cent.

"These are people Jesus had in mind as he said when we offer hospitality to a stranger, we do it for him.

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"They are the vulnerable that the Old Testament calls us to value.

"We cannot offer asylum to everyone, but we must not outsource our ethical responsibilities, or discard international law — which protects the right to claim asylum.

"We must end the evil trafficking; many churches are involved in fighting this evil.

"This needs global co-operation across every level of society. To reduce dangerous journeys to the UK we need safe routes: the church will continue to advocate for them.

"But deportations — and the potential forced return of asylum seekers to their home countries — are not the way.

"This immoral policy shames Britain."