President expresses concern about public treatment of asylum seekers

The President of the Methodist Church, the Rev Ian White,has made the following statement:

"The current debate about people who seek asylum in Britaindeserves considered reflection rather than the alarming politicaland journalistic rhetoric seen in some quarters. It can be all tooeasy to forget that those seeking asylum are human beings who havethe right to be treated with dignity and equality at all stages ofthe asylum process.

"The use of language where 'asylum seeker' equates with'terrorist' must be condemned. Everyone who seeks asylum has theright to have his or her claim heard promptly and thoroughly. Theauthorities need to be allowed to judge each asylum application onits particular merits rather than being pressured by populistopinions based on unsubstantiated fear rather than fact.

"What seems clear is that the effects of the four most recentActs of Parliament in this area have made life more difficult forasylum seekers. The Refugee Council has estimated that 100 peopleseeking asylum are now being made destitute each day because of thewithdrawal of benefits, since 8 January, for those who do not claimasylum at their port of entry.

"The dispersal system might work better if people heard howsupport in local communities is central to helping asylum seekersadapt to life in Britain. I have been encouraged in this respect byMethodist congregations offering a practical demonstration of theChristian commitment to welcome the stranger.

"This generous and dedicated work includes churches runningdrop-in centres that provide a social focus for asylum seekers andlocal people to meet each other and learn about each others'cultures. Some churches are running language classes for asylumseekers to help them learn English or improve conversationalskills. Others have made their premises available for groups ofasylum seekers to have religious services in their ownlanguage.

"These stories are to be commended as signs of building bridgesof real hope in communities where asylum seekers are placed. Wewould encourage other churches and community groups to considerways to emulate these good examples.

"This work often includes an inter-faith dimension. Whereappropriate, I would encourage churches to form links with otherfaiths and community groups to build a consensus of support for allwho are placed in our towns and localities. In many placesinter-faith groups or councils of faith exist, some of whom arealready involved in asylum issues. One practical need is to ensurethat all asylum seekers within induction centres, detention centresand areas of dispersal have access to a chaplain of their faith. Myhope is that Methodists will work with members of other Christianchurches and other faiths to help this happen.

"We call on all people of faith and goodwill to challenge theknee-jerk responses to the current situation, both nationally andlocally, to ensure that all asylum seekers are treated withfairness and dignity."