Asylum report aims to dispel media 'untruths'

02 November 2006

CHURCHES must challenge racist attitudes towards asylum-seekers, says a new Church of England report, published this week. It suggests that churchgoers should offer practical help to asylum-seekers in their area, including spare rooms for emergency accommodation, and blankets or food.

A Place of Refuge, produced by the Mission and Public Affairs Council, was commissioned after a General Synod debate in February last year, which called for a more positive approach to asylum-seekers. It sets out to dispel eight common misconceptions about them. The UK is not flooded with asylum-seekers, it says. The claims that many asylum-seekers live off benefits, have superior housing, and saturate the job market are also dispelled.

The report, written by Hannah Skinner of the William Temple Foundation, calls on churches to dispel these "harmful untruths", which are often perpetrated by the media.

At its launch, Dr Nicholas Sagovsky, Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey, commended the report as a study tool for churches. He said its spiritual message should not be ignored: how to deal with the suffering experienced by many asylum-seekers and refugees.

A spokesman for the Churches Commission for Racial Justice welcomed the report, and reported that many asylum-seekers joined churches.

The Bishop of Southwark, Dr Tom Butler, who is vice-chairman of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, stressed that the report provided an informed and humane contribution to the debate rather than tackling political questions about immigration.

A bishop and a diocesan synod have also linked statements about asylum to the new report. The Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Kenneth Stevenson, said this week that election promises to crack down on immigration would make asylum-seekers' lives even harder. He called on both the Conservative and Labour Parties to rethink their policies.

Lincoln's diocesan synod approved a motion on Saturday, encouraging an engagement "with issues relating to immigration, migrant workers, asylum-seekers and social cohesion, and to offer appropriate practical support" . It also called for Christian principles to be part of the formulation of immigration policies.

A Place of Refuge: A positive approach to asylum-seekers and refugees in the UK (Church House Publishing, £5.99; 0-7151-4071-X)

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