Christian leaders issue election challenge on asylum
Church leaders in West Yorkshire have united together in calling upon candidates in the General Election to avoid raising false fears and misleading voters over the issue of asylum seekers.
It follows an emergency meeting on the subject  last month.
In a strongly worded statement to coincide with the formal announcement that the general election is to be held on May 5th, the West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council (WYEC), which represents all major Christian denominations, has called for more humane treatment of asylum seekers and has challenged candidates of all political parties to ërefrain from exploiting the plight of asylum seekersí during campaigning.
The WYEC statement by bishops and church leaders will be read out at the start of a protest over the plight of asylum seekers in Millennium Square Leeds next Sunday, April 10, organised by St George's Church in Leeds and Leeds Churches Together in Mission.
The ëAct of Witness of Witness for Asylum Seekersí is expected to attract hundreds of Christians protesting against the use of asylum seekers as a ëpolitical footballí.
It will be led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer who is the current Chair of WYEC and attended by other signatories to the WYEC document.
The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds  John Packer recently spoke in defence of an asylum seeker Elvis Nduhukire, who was in detention and awaiting deportation. The bishop signed an open letter  from St George's Church, Leeds , calling on the Home Office to reconsider Mr Nduhukire's claim for asylum.
Among the speakers at the event will be a local church member, Said Rahim, who has been granted refugee status. Organiser of the protest, Dave Young of St Georgeís Church. Leeds said, ìWe have objections to and serious concerns about the way the asylum issue is being used as a political football by sections of the media and by political parties in the run up to the General Election, and we believe that God is calling us to speak out against the injustices asylum seekers face.
"We are inviting Christians across denominations to come and stand together for one hour in a public act of witness to our faith, through prayer and worship to God, and to protest against these injustices.î
In the statement issued today, April 5, by the West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council (WYEC), leaders of the major Christian churches in the county say that people fleeing from torture, false imprisonment or death threats deserve compassion and practical help and not the harsh treatment they currently experience.
ìWe call on political leaders,î says the statement, ìto refrain from exploiting the plight of asylum-seekers and misleading the electorate by confusing the issues of asylum and immigration. We ask for a radical revision of asylum policy so that asylum-seekers are no longer made destitute, terrorised and imprisoned.î
The full text of the statement is as follows:
ìThe Church Leaders of West Yorkshire deeply regret the way in which concern for the needs of asylum-seekers seems to have been replaced by a desire to treat them harshly. Contrary to what we hear in the media, most asylum-seekers are people fleeing torture, false imprisonment or even the threat of death in their own countries.
ìAll human beings are created by God and should be treated with dignity and generosity of spirit. The greater their need, the more they deserve our compassion and practical help.
ìWe call on our political leaders to refrain from exploiting the plight of asylum-seekers and misleading the electorate by confusing the issues of asylum and immigration. We ask for a radical revision of asylum policy so that asylum-seekers are no longer made destitute, terrorised and imprisoned.
ìIn the light of the parable of the Good Samaritan, we ask Christians to challenge their political candidates on the treatment of asylum-seekers ñ and to take their response into account when deciding how to vote.î
Rt Revd John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, CHAIR OF WYEC
Rt Revd David James, Bishop of Bradford
Rt Revd Stephen Platten, Bishop of Wakefield
Revd Ernie Whalley, Regional Minister for Ministry, Yorkshire Baptist Association
Rt Revd Arthur Roche, Bishop of Leeds
Rt Revd Walter Jagucki, Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain,
VICE-CHAIR OF WYEC
Revd Michael Townsend, Chair of Leeds District
Revd Peter Whittaker, Chair of West Yorkshire District
Pastor Mike Love, Pastor of the Word of Life Church, CHAIR OF LEEDS CHURCHES ñ TOGETHER IN MISSION
QUAKER (RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS)
Eva Pinthus, Representative of Yorkshire General Meeting
Lt-Col. Jack Hassard, Divisional Commander for Yorkshire
UNITED REFORMED CHURCH
Revd Arnold Harrison, Moderator of Yorkshire Synod