Church leaders hold emergency debate on asylum seekers - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
March 16, 2005

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Church leaders hold emergency debate on asylum seekers


Church leaders are to hold an emergency debate this weekend calling on the Government to give more humane treatment to asylum-seekers and stop treating them as ëpolitical footballsí in the run up to the general election.

The Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Ripon and Leeds will be asked to support a motion from the Archdeacon of Leeds, John Oliver, calling on bishops in the House of Lords to bring pressure.

The debate follows consultations between the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, John Packer, and churches in Leeds, which have been providing support for asylum-seekers with food, accommodation and legal representation.

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds John Packer recently spoke in defence of Elvis Nduhukire, who was in detention and awaiting deportation.

Bishop Packer signed an open letter from St George's Church, Leeds, calling on the Home Office to reconsider Mr Nduhukire's claim for asylum.

A supporter of opposition candidates in Uganda, he fled after he and his wife were badly beaten and his sister was raped in front of him. His wife, who has stayed in the country, was so badly injured that she was kept in hospital and suffered a miscarriage.

Members of the church have been supporting him, raising money to pay a solicitor to work on the case and pressing the Immigration Service to allow him to stay.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales recentlypublished a guide to the Catholic Church's teaching on refugees and migrants, following a statement by the Catholic Bishop of Lancaster who said that he was scandalised by the treatment of asylum seekers. This week Catholic bishops have also suggested care for asylum seekers should be a key election issue.

The Churches Commission for Racial Justice has continued to point out that "time and again stories are told of how the dignity and humanity of asylum seekers is continually denied by targeting them as scapegoats." A few months ago it strongly criticised Michael Howard's pledge, to pull Britain out of the Refugee Convention should the Conservatives be returned to government, as both 'alarming and dangerous'

A catholic priest also recently risked jail to prevent an asylum seeker being placed in detention when police arrived at his church to take her away.

ìThose who work with asylum seekers tell of dreadful stories of torture and abuse that many have sufferedî, said the Revd Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons, Church Urban officer at Ripon and Leeds diocese.

ìRecent legislation has made it increasingly difficult for those seeking asylum to access appropriate legal services leading to poor decisions being made. As the General Election draws nearer it is vital that these vulnerable people are not used as a political footballî.

The 140 members of the Ripon and Leeds synod will be asked to encourage congregations to make themselves aware of asylum issues and participate in public debate in the light of the Christian tradition of showing hospitality to strangers.

The Synod meets at Harrogate Ladies' College on Saturday from 9.30am and is open to the public.

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