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Friday, December 2, 2016
Would Brunel have been one of today's Living Ghosts?
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 Many of us here in Bristol recently celebrated the 200th birthday of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one our most celebrated engineers and someone who came so close to being voted as THE greatest Briton. Fireworks exploded over the Avon Gorge in Bristol, which is spanned by one of Brunel's iconic creations, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, as thousands of people remembered the colossal achievements of one of their own. Another recent event in Bristol that attracted a lot of interest was the launch of Living Ghosts South West, Church Action on Poverty's campaign on behalf of the increasing number of destitute asylum seekers in our midst, the so-called 'Living Ghosts'. Few people realise that Brunel's father Marc was a French royalist and naval officer who escaped the 'Reign of Terror', a particularly brutal period of French history following the 1789 Revolution, which led to the death of many innocent people. Indeed, Brunel's mother Sophia, who was English, was imprisoned in France for a while during her engagement to her future husband. "Brunel's father was one of many French émigrés at that time who were forced to flee for their lives", said Sue Ingham, Secretary of the Clifton Diocese Justice and Peace Commission, "who by one means or another, finally settled in this country. I cannot help but draw parallels with a number of asylum seekers today, who escaping similar situations of turmoil and war, finally seek refuge here and yet who are refused and left without any resources." Sister Liz Ferrie emphasised the positive contribution that asylum seekers make to our society. "Marc Brunel was knighted for his contribution to British engineering, to say nothing of the success of his son, whose bi-centenary we are so proudly celebrating this year. Would Marc Brunel be made welcome today?" David Maggs, of the Churches' Council for Industry and Social Responsibility, spoke of the significant number of people who have expressed interest in the 'Living Ghosts' campaign nationwide as well as a growing number who are backing initiatives in the South West, saying, "These include a lot of people who haven't been involved in asylum issues before but who have been deeply moved by hearing the 'Living Ghosts' tell their stories." Church Action on Poverty's Campaign Statement, which has the support of church leaders in the region, states that it is inhuman and unacceptable that some asylum seekers are left homeless and destitute and that the threat of destitution be used as a method to pressurise refused asylum seekers to leave the country. It points out that many asylum seekers who have had their cases refused have no safe route to return or have travel documents which cause logistical problems for removal, and claims that there are also many cases where people are unjustly refused asylum. "The Statement reminds us of society's international and moral responsibilities towards all those who come here, and the importance of respecting their uman dignity", said Sue Smailes, member of the Clifton Diocese Committee for Racial Justice, adding: "We should offer the same respect to people who come here that we ourselves would expect if we found ourselves in the same situation. This is at the heart of our Christian faith and makes it impossible for us to ignore the plight of these people". Parish Priest of St Nicholas of Tolentino in Bristol's inner-city, Father Richard McKay spoke of his personal experience and support for a number of refused asylum seekers in the Clifton Diocese, forced into becoming virtual 'Living Ghosts'. "Not only is it completely unacceptable from a moral point of view to knowingly make people destitute but it is also completely unrealistic to expect all refused asylum seekers to return to their countries of origin. For example, a small change in the law allowing asylum seekers to work would have a huge impact on the quality of their lives, and the Church Action on Poverty campaign, amongst other changes being sought, is quite right to press parliament for a change here." The Church Action on Poverty 'Living Ghosts' Campaign in the South West is coordinated by the Clifton Diocese Justice and Peace Commission and the Churches' Council for Industry and Social Responsibility.
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