Churches told how to offer protection to asylum seekers - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
February 26, 2005

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Churches told how to offer protection to asylum seekers

-26/02/05

While the major political parties use migration and refugee issues as a political football in the run up to a UK general election expected in May, the leading church body working for racial justice has challenged the anti-asylum consensus by publishing fresh Guidelines for Churches Offering Asylum Protection.

The new guidelines have been revised and edited by the Rev Arlington Trotman, a Wesleyan Holiness Minister, and published by the ecumenical Churchesí Commission for Racial Justice (CCRJ), of which he is executive secretary. They were launched yesterday at the Swanwick assembly of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, which gathered 300 church representatives from across England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

The Anglican bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev John Gladwin, has commended the Guidelines as an important statement on a sensitive question. ìThe paper is clearly sympathetic to offering support and help to people who are threatened with deportationî, he says.

Describing how the document sets out the theological roots and contemporary history of offering sanctuary to those fleeing for safety, Bishop Gladwin adds that ìit fully and frankly sets out both the moral questions this [stance] raises and the practical difficulties involved.î

ìHowever, its commitment to offer a way of help to people who have no other means of support in the face of manifest injustice is to be welcomedî, the bishop declares. ìChurches that are ministering among people who are living with the problems of asylum and refugee status need to be aware of these issues in both principle and practice.î

The Rev Myra Blyth, who is moderator of CCRJ and former assistant general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, also offered a strong endorsement of the Guidelines.

She said: ìThey offer invaluable material for reflection and prayer, having been carefully developed both to respect the desire of Christians to be law-abiding citizens and also to respect the calling of the church everywhere to be a place of welcome, refuge and compassion to those who are persecuted, marginalized and misunderstood.

The Guidelines acknowledge that the questions facing the UK about asylum policy occur in the context of over 30 million people forcibly displaced people living in exile from their countries of origin. But they point out that Britain ends up facing only a fraction of the problem.

ìThe Christian calling to love mercy and act justly means that sanctuary is an act of practical compassion which stands firmly within the Jewish and Christian traditionsî, says Myra Blyth.

Churches across the world are expressing the desire for concerted action to support asylum seekers and refugees. They are concerned about the rise in racism, the misinformation and alarmism spread by tabloid newspapers and groups like Asylum Watch, and the temptation facing politicians to tap into populist ëanti-foreignerí sentiment for electoral gain.

The Guidelines have been published at the same time as the United Reformed Church has called on its members and others to help in the fight to prevent Edneth Gotora, a refugee who escaped a nightmare of persecution in Zimbabwe, from being sent back.

The Rev Arlington Trotman, commented: ëPeople with deep trauma or mental or physical abuse including rape are frequently deported without a fair hearing in or even access to the immigration courts. This is because their applications have been fast-tracked or the statutory four days for case preparation because of severe cuts in Legal Aid are insufficient.î

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, the Most Revd Mario Conti added: ìIt may be a Christian duty at times to thwart attempts to deport people and to offer them accommodation in Church buildings.î This most helpful booklet records not only the sound practice of offering sanctuary but provides guidelines for Churches and communities contemplating its practice. It is to be recommended.î

ìThough sanctuary has only moral and ethnical, but no legal force in the UK and Ireland, in circumstances of a serious threat it might be seen as the only option for saving peoplesí lives,î Mr Trotman continued. ìChurches are encouraged to consider sanctuary on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution, a serious threat to family life, and when there is a basic denial of justice and compassion.î

Guidelines for Churches Offering Asylum Protection is available for £4.99 from the CTBI Churchesí Commission for Racial Justice. Phone 01733 325002 or write to info@ctbi.org.uk. Asylum Voices, a book which details the first hand experience of asylum seekers, is also available from CTBI.

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