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How would Jesus, Mary and Joseph fare if they sought refuge under the new borders bill?

Woodcut engraving after a drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

24 December 2021


The Independent

Fleeing King Herod, how would the Holy Family fare under Priti Patel’s new Nationality and Borders Bill? 

Vanessa Ganguin writes in The Independent.

Visiting our children’s nativity plays this year it’s been sad to reflect on how Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus would fare if they fled Bethlehem for modern day England rather than Egypt.

Priti Patel’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill currently in the House of Lords is set to punish refugees for taking steps to seek refuge on our island.

Parts of the Bill abandon international treaty obligations to give refugees a fair hearing however they manage to escape here.

The Home Secretary insists such clauses will deter traffickers and make their routes “unviable.”

Yet the recent tragedy of 27 drowning in the English Channel including a pregnant mother and children hasn’t deterred others from setting off across ever more treacherous winter seas – a route which could hardly be less viable.

Refugee charities have unwaveringly pointed out that with no legal, viable routes to seek refuge in the UK in the legislation, many will not have another choice. With no safe route, if they sought sanctuary from a government like King Herod’s threatening them, Jesus’ parents may well have had to put their lives in the hands of people smugglers and their perilous routes.

So how would a carpenter from Nazareth, his wife and newborn child fare if they sought asylum from King Herod under the new Borders Bill?


We won’t dwell on evidential issues around an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream telling him to flee with Mary and their newborn child as King Herod sought to kill him.

The culture of disbelief and initial bad asylum decisions by the Home Office (around half of refusals are overturned) have been well documented.

For instance, having explained that she faced the death penalty in Iran as a convert to Christianity, one Christian asylum-seeker infamously received this insulting reason for refusal: “you affirmed… that Jesus is your saviour, but then claimed that He would not be able to save you from the Iranian regime. It is therefore considered that you have no conviction in your faith and your belief in Jesus is half-hearted.”

For the purpose of this festive look at the Borders Bill, let’s assume that the Gospel of Matthew’s account of King Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents, in which the King of Judea ordered the execution of all male children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem evidences a well-founded fear of persecution with no protection in their home country.

Criminal sentences

As mentioned above, with no safe means to claim asylum until arriving in the UK, Mary, Joseph and Jesus may well have been forced to enter the country with no permission.

The Borders Bill makes both entering and arriving in the country with no permission a criminal offence with a draconian jail sentence of up to four years.

Even if the young family from Nazareth were rescued in the English Channel and brought ashore by the coastguard, the Bill’s Clause 39 would criminalise them. And that’s if their boat had not been pushed back into the treacherous seas with no regard for their safety as the Bill also allows.


The young Judean family would also inevitably find themselves facing the same admissibility hurdles as the vast majority of asylum claimants will under Clause 15. If Mary and Joseph have travelled through other countries, whether on foot, by donkey or more comfortable means, the Bill will rule their claim inadmissible while the Home Office spends six months attempting to remove them to a “safe third state” they have passed through, or indeed any other “safe” country that would agree to take them. This is another divergence from the Geneva Convention on refugees observed since the last century.

Of course, since the UK left the EU without renegotiating the Dublin regulations, removing them to European countries is likely to be a lot harder for the foreseeable future.

Where the Holy Family will be held while their fate remains in the balance is another contentious issue in the new bill.

Accessing justice

MPs voted to allow new reception centres for asylum seekers to be held indefinitely on administrative grounds as they are processed. This could even now be in a far flung refugee colony outside the UK, despite the horrific human and financial cost (£1.8 million per person on average) of offshoring refugees as Australia has been doing.

The Bill also limits access to justice, ie: time to find legal representation and put their case together for detained migrants with a new fast-track process of “accelerated detained appeals” and “priority removal notices” which takes away the right to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal.

Even if the Judean family are eventually allowed to claim asylum, their rights to be housed in the community or to even receive the limited amount of financial support asylum seekers currently subsist will be diminished.

‘Firm but fair’

The Home Secretary calls the Nationality and Borders Bill “the cornerstone of our firm but fair new plan for immigration.”

But even if Jesus’ family’s claim to asylum was accepted in such circumstances, they would not be able to find peace. Instead they would face the uncertainty and mental torture of limited financial support and having to reapply or face removal every 30 months for the next decade.

Such a precarious ten year path to eventual settlement and integration into society might impact Joseph’s ability to find work as a carpenter or Christ’s ability to go to college. There is much research on the long-term trauma of such a precarious route to settlement.

Family separation

The Bill also restricts those granted such limited status from being reunited with their families.

Often, families send one member ahead to make the risky journey to seek protection, in the hope that the most vulnerable, such as women and children, may join them later. If Joseph was able to make the perilous journey and jump through all the new hoops, Mary and Jesus would be stopped from joining him. In fact, according to the Refugee Council up to 3,500 people would be unable to join family members, 90% of them women and children.

So as MPs and peers enjoy their Christmas parties this year, I hope they dwell on the human consequences of such callous clauses in the Borders Bill.

And if Santa Claus is visiting them from Lapland without the freedom of movement he previously enjoyed pre-Brexit, let’s hope he’s been granted his Frontier Worker Permit this year…