Theologian will argue that fair asylum is a touchstone for human rights

By staff writers
9 Dec 2008

A leading British theologian will make an appeal for humanity and justice to be at the centre of the asylum system in a lecture to be given at Westminster Abbey in Central London tomorrow night.

The lecture marks the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, made in1948. It takes place on Wednesday 10 December 2008 at 6.15pm in Westminster Abbey. Admission is free and tickets are not needed.

Canon Nicholas Sagovsky’s talk, entitled 'Asylum: A Touchstone for Human Rights', will discuss the present and future operation of the UK asylum system, and call for the consistent application of human rights throughout as a 'touchstone' of an open and democratic society.

The Rev Dr Nicholas Sagovsky, who is Canon Theologian at the Abbey, has had a long-term interest in the fair treatment of people seeking refuge in Britain, and in the work of the churches supporting vulnerable, displaced persons.

He has been involved in the work of the Independent Asylum Commission, which has in recent years carried out a very thorough investigation of what is happening – and has painted a different picture, and a different case for reform, to the lurid stories appearing in Britain’s tabloid press.

The UK government stands accused by many lawyers, faith groups and human rights advocates of pursuing policies on asylum which are ineffective, lacking in humanity and dignity, and driven by scaremongering and electoral anxiety rather than social justice and democratic accountability.

The Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, recently launched an extraordinary attack on NGOs and lawyers supporting vulnerable asylum applicants, implying that they were twisting the law and suggesting that the right to appeal against Home Office decisions and rules was being exploited.

But campaigners, the Law Society, the religion and society think tank Ekklesia and the churches say nothing could be further from the truth. The need, critics say, is for a fairer and more transparent system.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, is among those who have appealed for compassion in the handling of asylum cases from Zimbabwe recently.

The authorities also stand accused of the mistreatment of people with HIV-AIDS who are also seeking refuge.

Recent official government statistics suggested a slight fall in net overall migration last year.

Westminster Abbey is among a number of churches and religious sites which have offered sanctuary and support to displaced people over the years.

Canon Sagovsky’s lecture on asylum as a touchstone for human rights takes place on Wednesday 10 December 2008 at 6.15pm in Westminster Abbey. Admission is free and tickets are not needed.

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