Church leaders call for general election 'sanctuary pledge'

By agency reporter
September 29, 2009

An alliance of citizens and the major church denominations will today visit the Labour Party Conference in Brighton to call on senior politicians to work with them to rebuild public support for sanctuary at the 2010 General Election.

The Church of England, Methodist, Baptist, and United Reformed Churches, Salvation Army and Vincentian Millennium Partnership will join forces with the Citizen Organising Foundation – the UK’s largest civil society alliance – to back the Citizens for Sanctuary campaign ahead of the general election in 2010.

Citizens for Sanctuary was established by the Citizen Organising Foundation to implement the recommendations of the Independent Asylum Commission, and aims to secure justice for people fleeing persecution and to rebuild public support for sanctuary.

At a private meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Citizen and church leaders will share public attitudes research which shows the need for a major ‘hearts and minds’ campaign to secure long-term public support for providing sanctuary to people fleeing persecution.

The alliance will also outline plans for a major mobilisation of their 8 million members to lobby Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) ahead of the General Election, and to urge senior politicians, including Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP, Labour’s Vice Chair for Faith, to work with them to 'save sanctuary'.

The Citizen Organising Foundation, which in recent years has persuaded HSBC, the Westfield retail complex and Boris Johnson to pay low-paid workers a Living Wage and won a commitment to an ‘ethical’ Olympics which delivers a legacy for local people, will train citizens and churchgoers to form delegations and negotiate with their PPCs in over 200 key constituencies across the UK.

These delegations will then meet with their PPCs and ask them to sign up to a ‘Sanctuary Pledge’ – and to meet again six months after the election to review their progress on the Pledge.

In Bournemouth last week, senior Liberal Democrat MPs and policy advisers agreed to work with Citizen and faith leaders on the Sanctuary Pledge, and a similar meeting will take place at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on 7th October.

The final wording of the Sanctuary Pledge is still under discussion, but it is based on the recommendations of the Independent Asylum Commission and is likely to commit PPCs to campaign responsibly, communicate effectively and use appropriate language, support local initiatives that bring together refugee and settled communities, ensure that local schools teach about sanctuary, and end the policy of detaining children and families.

The Rev Dr Rosemary Kidd, Chair of the Churches Refugee Network, said: “We were delighted that the Liberal Democrats agreed to work with us on the Sanctuary Pledge last week, and we hope that we get a similarly positive response from Labour and the Conservatives. There are over 8 million people in our churches in each and every constituency across Britain – over 80 per cent of whom are certain to vote at the next election. The way that the UK treats people who seek sanctuary from persecution is very important to many people in the churches who are actively engaged in offering practical support on the ground, so we hope the political parties will agree to work with us and take the Sanctuary Pledge seriously.”

Jeff Sango, a leader from CITIZENS for Sanctuary who came to the UK from Zimbabwe, said: “My experience is that there is a lot of confusion and some hostility towards people who seek sanctuary in the UK. But for people like me - who had to flee Zimbabwe because of our opposition to Mugabe - if I had not been able to come here, who knows what would have happened to me and my family?”

Jonathan Cox, Lead Organiser of CITIZENS for Sanctuary, said: “Our tradition of providing sanctuary to people fleeing persecution is part of what makes Britain great. We should not forget that we have refugees to thank for inventing the Mini, setting up Marks & Spencer, and bringing fish and chips to the UK. We hope that the Sanctuary Pledge will encourage the people who are looking for our vote at the next election to resist the temptation of pandering to people’s fears and instead build on the positive consensus identified by our public attitudes research - that the British people want the UK to provide sanctuary to people fleeing persecution. This is something that politicians of all parties could and should support. And we hope that citizens and churchgoers across the country will volunteer to meet their parliamentary candidates between now and the election to make the Sanctuary Pledge work.”

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