Christian protest camp outside Westminster begins

By agency reporter
30 Sep 2008

Two Christian campaigners from Manchester have begun a 2-week protest camp outside the Houses of Parliament to call on MPs to help change UK policies that are making refused asylum seekers destitute.

Ben Gibbs says, “We are deeply concerned about the destitution suffered by thousands of refused asylum seekers who are denied support or the right to work in the UK, but are unable to return to unsafe home countries. The way that refused asylum seekers are being treated in this country is disgusting. Our government is basically trying to starve people into submission and force them out of the country when they're terrified of returning home.”

The protest is in support of the Still Human Still Here campaign, a coalition of refugee agencies, human rights organisations and church groups campaigning to end destitution for refused asylum seekers until they are granted leave to remain in the UK or can return home safely.

Ben Gilchrist adds" “The policy of deliberate destitution is both inhumane and ineffective. Our aim is to convince MPs of the need for policy changes to stop such destitution. We want to help change minds in Westminster, and help raise awareness of this vital issue. People need to know the truth about what's happening. If people can't return home, they should be given the means to live until they are either able to return safely, or granted leave to remain here.”

Web designer Ben Gibbs has set up a website, www.asylumstories.co.uk, to document the real-life stories of asylum seekers talking about their experiences of the system and a blog for the protest at http://asylumstories.co.uk/protest/. The two Ben’s are arranging to meet their MPs while camping outside Parliament and other MPs concerned about the issue. They are also inviting supporters to come and pray and campaign with them during their stay.

They will be surviving on the contents of a Red Cross Food Parcel while protesting as refused asylum seekers get no food or money to buy food and often their only source of food are Destitution Projects facilitated through the goodwill and charity of faith and community groups working together with the British Red Cross who provide a basic food parcel each week. Ben and Ben have been inspired in this by the Boaz Trust a Christian project working with Destitute Asylum Seekers in Manchester and have previously issued this action as an Endurance Challenge to encourage people to live the life of a refused asylum seeker for one week, in order to give people just a small insight into how these people experience poverty in the UK.

Ben Gibbs explains: “Some of the stories I have heard from asylum seekers are deeply upsetting - people are desperate and some are profoundly depressed. It has certainly confirmed for me just why we are fighting this campaign: using destitution to starve people into returning to an unsafe home country is inhumane. It is to our shame that people are deliberately made hungry and homeless in a prosperous country like the UK. I was amazed at how dignified and good-humoured the people I met were, even in this abject poverty.”

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