Churches mobilise to change attitudes around asylum

By staff writers
June 12, 2009

This Sunday (14th June) congregations across the country will remember and pray for persecuted people seeking sanctuary in the UK as well as for the workers at the UK Border Agency.

The initiative comes at the start of Refugee Week, part of a new movement called Citizens for Sanctuary, which aims to restore public support for Britain’s tradition of providing sanctuary to people fleeing persecution.

Campaigners say that the election of two BNP MEPs and votes for other anti-migration parties have highlighted the need to rebuild the general public’s understanding of, and support for, sanctuary.

The BNP are renowned for debasing and deliberately confusing the term ‘asylum’ in their campaign materials and a recent survey by the Red Cross highlighted a significant lack of knowledge amongst many in the UK about the numbers seeking asylum.

Next week, the House of Commons Standing Committee for the Health Bill will consider an amendment which would reinstate access to free secondary healthcare for asylum seekers.

Citizens for Sanctuary is focusing on rebuilding widespread public support for sanctuary in the UK by calling on ordinary citizens, celebrities, businesses and community leaders to do their bit to ‘save sanctuary’.

They are asking all faith groups to join the movement. Jonathan Cox, Lead Organiser of Citizens for Sanctuary said: “We are encouraging churches to remember refugees in their prayers. Our hope is that thousands of people across the country will hear the prayer and think about what they can do when they leave church to help to save sanctuary.”

Father John Clark will be using the prayer at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Joseph Catholic Church in South London. Father John said: "We should not forget that Jesus Christ was a refugee. I wonder how Mary and Joseph would be treated if they were to seek sanctuary here today? We must remember in our prayers the refugees who need our protection, but also the civil servants who have to make life-or-death decisions on our behalf."

Development Chaplain Tim Clapton will also be using the prayer at Milton Keynes Mission Partnership. He said: "I am really happy the Churches of Milton Keynes are taking part in the collective prayer for people seeking sanctuary and for those making the life-and-death decisions at the UK Border Agency. It's more important now than ever for us to celebrate the diversity of our communities and our proud tradition of offering sanctuary for people fleeing persecution."

The collective act of prayer is one of a series of national and local events taking place across the country to mark the launch of the campaign. Other activities include the publication of a new booklet, 10 Ways for Citizens to Save Sanctuary, to help citizens to do their bit, and the premiere of the Saving Sanctuary photography exhibition at the Celebrating Sanctuary festival on the South Bank on 14th June.

Citizens for Sanctuary has been instigated by the Citizen Organising Foundation - a diverse alliance of grassroots faith and community institutions in the UK which represents over half a million members.

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