London, UK - November 19, 2008 Immigration Minister Phil Woolas should be publicly investigating his own government's bias against asylum seekers rather than attacking charities, human rights groups and lawyers for giving vulnerable people support, says the religion and society think tank Ekklesia.
"Mr Woolas' claims that there is an 'industry out there' with a vested interest in taking asylum claims and appeals forward, with the implication that people should be denied access to justice because they are from another country and seeking refuge, is false and shameful," says Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.
Vaughan Jones, director of the agency Praxis, which works with displaced people across London, who is also a United Reformed Church minister and an Ekklesia associate, described the statement from the new Immigration Minister as "a disturbing development."
"Asylum seekers and migrants are human beings with rights and it is quite proper and legitimate for the law to defend those rights and for people of good will to advocate for and support people in need, vulnerable to exploitation and potential victims of miscarriages of justice," said Mr Jones.
He continued: "Attacking the defenders of human rights is not the most edifying of stands, although it is regrettably not without precedent.
"There are many highly respected voluntary organisations and faith based organisations operating with integrity and within the framework of the law. Their work is well acknowledged and scrutinised by funders and regulators. Their activities should not be repudiated simply because they take a different stance on migration. A mature debate does not begin with mud-slinging."
Ekklesia's Simon Barrow added: "Governments attack human rights workers when they have something to hide. The UK authorities have been rightly criticised for dawn raids, removal of children and other abuses of justice in relation to people seeking asylum - even refusing to accept the legitimacy of their own numerous legal defeats. It is this that needs public investigation."
NOTES AND CONTACTS
1. Ekklesia is a think-tank, founded in 2002, which promotes transformative theological ideas in public life.
2. It was listed amongst the top 20 think-tanks in Britain in 2005, by the Independent newspaper. It has been profiled by London's Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph.
3. Ekklesia is independent of all church denominations, and operates on a self-financing, not- for-profit basis. It has one of most visited religious websites in the UK, and raises around £250,000 each year for peace, justice and development work.
4. Praxis is a busy centre in East London visited by over 10,000 people each year. It provides advice and support services to migrants and refugees from all over the world, as well as a welcoming meeting place for displaced communities. Find out more at: www.praxis.org.uk
phone: 07771 598097
Director of the agency Praxis
phone: 07958 329 289