Churches dismayed at Tory plan to leave Refugee Convention

 The main churches in the UK have expressed their grave concern at Conservative leader Michael Howard's pledge to withdraw Britain from the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees. In a keynote speech to the Conservative Party's conference in Bournemouth, Howard promised that if his party came to power pledged today that he would abandon the international agreement under which member states of the United Nations provide protection and safety for those fleeing persecution and in many cases certain death. Speaking to the rather subdued annual gathering, Mr Howard said: "In week one, Michael Ancram will signal Britain's intention to pull out of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention." Secretary of the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice (part of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland) the Revd Arlington Trotman said: "It is absolutely alarming and dangerous, that the Tories could even contemplate refusing to protect desperate, frightened and often violently abused men, women and children. This is particularly alarming at a time when significant numbers of people are fleeing persecution and the real threat of death because of the "war on terror" and its consequences, and because of civil instability in so many other parts of the world." In an almost contradictory statement, Mr Howard said: "We have a proud tradition of giving refuge to people fleeing persecution, and welcoming families who want to settle here and work." Mr Trotman continued: "Withdrawal from the Refugee Convention would mean that Britain would not maintain that cherished tradition because the Tories would have denied a place of safety and support to the most vulnerable people." "The Convention offers a measure of protection to those seeking refuge, but CCRJ believes that, as Christians and people of faith, Britain has a moral duty to offer compassion, justice, and at the very least a modicum of peace to those who are oppressed and pushed out of their homelands," said Mr Trotman. "As the minimum "guarantee" that tortured and abused people would eventually find safety, the Convention needs to be strengthened, not weakened or abandoned." Churches Together in Britain and Ireland is the umbrella body for all the major Christian Churches in Britain and Ireland. It liaises with ecumenical bodies in Britain and Ireland as well as ecumenical organizations at European and world levels. Source: CTBI

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