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Stop using asylum seekers as political footballs, say churches
The Anglican Bishop Ripon and Leeds and the Christian churches in West Yorkshire have entered the general election debate on migration by urging political parties not to stoke fears about asylum seekers during the campaign.
Some 400 people attended a recent protest in Leeds over the mistreatment treatment of asylum seekers in Britain. Organiser Dave Young told the BBC that churches had serious concerns that the asylum issue was used as a "political football", re-iterating the earlier plea, reported on Ekklesia, made by churches across the UK.
The West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council (WYEC) has called for a ìradical revisionî of current asylum policy. The Council, which represents all the major Christian churches in the county, says that in its own direct experience asylum seekers are often ìdestitute, terrorised and imprisonedî.
In a public statement, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, John Packer, said: "The church leaders of West Yorkshire deeply regret the way in which concern for the needs of asylum-seekers seems to have been replaced by a desire to treat them harshly. All human beings are created by God and should be treated with dignity and generosity of spirit. The greater their need, the more they deserve our compassion and practical help.î
Bishop Packer continued: ìWe call on our political leaders to refrain from exploiting the plight of asylum-seekers and misleading the electorate by confusing the issues of asylum and immigration.î
Asking for a radical change of policy in favour of the persecuted and destitute who come to Britain for refuge, the Bishop added: ìIn the light of the parable of the Good Samaritan, we ask Christians to challenge their political candidates on the treatment of asylum-seekers - and to take their response into account when deciding how to vote.î
Meanwhile in London church leaders are also speaking out. United Reformed Church minister Vaughan Jones, who heads up a multi-agency project, Praxis, which works with people displaced across the capital, said today that ìthe whole experience of the Bible leads Christians to the defence of people in exile.î
Mr Jones, an Ekklesia associate, says that the debate about immigration and asylum is being confused both by politicians and the media. The churches, he declares, must stand up for the truth in the face of misinformation.
The statements of church leaders refusing the anti-immigrant and anti-asylum seeker tone of the general election debate come on a day when Conservative Party leader Michael Howard stands accused by a UN refugee agency representative in Britain of whipping up false fears.
But churches and humanitarian agencies are not just targeting the Tories. They have been critical of the Labour government too. ìThey are saying that politicians of all hues must put justice for the vulnerable above cheap political point scoring,î says Ekklesia research associate Simon Barrow.
Ekklesia, a religious think tank that has been named as one of the top 20 think tanks in the UK by The Independent newspaper, has also announced the launch of a major Westminster Forum, the first meeting of which will tackle immigration policy.
And church figures have joined politicians in expressing alarm at the actions of a Christian candidate who has had to publicly apologize after doctoring photos to support Tory immigration policy.
The full statement from the West Yorkshire church leaders was first published a week ago on Ekklesia.