Churches Together speak up for asylum seekers

 Asylum Seekers came to Portcullis House in Westminster yesterday, to tell MPs, media and the Churches why they flee to Britain: their clear message was they come in search of safety and not benefits. Instead they meet a depressing welcome and some women said that what they faced here was a further form of torture, on top of what they had already survived. They spoke at the launch of a book, Asylum Voices, published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and prepared by its Commission for Racial Justice (CCRJ). Sometimes harrowing stories were shared, tears were shed and thanks given to those who do stand up for refugees and asylum seekers. One man, a journalist from the Cameroon said he came for safety after 7,000 people were killed in his village in one week. Another woman from Nigeria described being separated from her young children while she spent four months on arrival in detention. She said: 'The day they released me, I was dancing, I was so happy. I'm not bad, I'm good. I say that God can come and judge me.' Asylum Voices - experiences of people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom contains interviews from 146 people from 37 countries. Many of the stories show asylum seekers have fled their country in fear of their lives. One man from Nigeria said: '(He) came to my area to buy men to stand in support of him, to vote for him...I did not want to vote for him, so I talked with some of the men around me (and) they said, "It's not a good thing to go and vote for this man, he's a dictator." Because of this they sent men to arrest me. They took me to prison. There they tortured me. Some other people there died as a result of beating. I almost us (out) through the back door... They made a fake passport and said I should be going out of the country, and made the arrangement. They were looking for me. They came to my house, they arrested my wife and my kids, two boys, seven and eight. They killed them.' Bishop Roger Sainsbury, retired Anglican bishop of Barking and former Moderator of CCRJ hoped Asylum Voices would hange public opinion, particularly young people. 'The churches must listen to asylum seekers,' he said. The 73pp anthology of asylum seekers' experiences is aimed at policymakers. 'And especially we want the media to read it because the media are responsible for so much misinformation about asylum seekers labelling them as faceless, bogus cheats,' said the Revd Arlington Trotman, Secretary of Churches' Commission on Racial Justice. The Revd Nezlin Sterling (one of the presidents of churches Together in Britain and Ireland) set out the reasons why churches must speak up for asylum seekers: 'If Jesus the "stranger" were physically among us today he would have some harsh words to say...we would hear his voice above the noises of the politicians and the media, saying justice, mercy, compassion, love, endurance and perseverance. CTBI calls on the public, the media and politicians to allow the spirit of compassion to inform both discussion and policy.' Neil Gerrard MP for Walthamstow commended Asylum Voices for enabling asylum seekers to speak for themselves. He welcomed the churches' attempt to confront the myths surrounding asylum seekers, and to let the truth be heard. Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr David Hope, Archbishop of York and one of the presidents of CTBI, has written: 'Asylum Voices is an enormous challenge both to faith communities and other agencies concerned with providing support for those seeking asylum in Great Britain. The whole issue receives enormous media attention at present, yet what is so often missing from coverage is a broad presentation of the range of experiences that lead people to seek asylum in the first place. For many interviewed for this book it is not the prospect of streets paved with gold but rather streets that are safe to walk which led them to make the often perilous journey to these shores. The welcome that they have received has at times been marked by respect, dignity and help. Sadly there have also been misunderstandings leading to frustration and a sense of injustice. It will be important for all concerned with these issues to hear these voices and to allow them to shape future action and policy.' Asylum seekers were invited by churches to share their experiences at launches yesterday in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh and today in Belfast.

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