Friday, 26 March 2010

Faith & civil society leaders challenge political parties to end the detention of innocent children in Yarl’s Wood

Leaders from eighteen of the most powerful religious and civil society organisations in the UK joined with refugees and former child detainees in Westminster yesterday to call on the Home Secretary and his opposition counterparts to back a major new campaign – the Sanctuary Pledge – and make an election commitment to supporting policies that will end the detention of children for immigration purposes.

Senior leaders from the organisations supporting the Sanctuary Pledge, including Bishop Patrick Lynch (Catholic Bishops’ Conference), Vivian Wineman (President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews), Rev’d Jonathan Edwards (General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain), Bishop Christopher Chessun (Church of England), Barbara Nalumu (London Citizens) and Margaret Beringer (Trustee of the Mothers’ Union) signed letters to the Home Secretary and the principal spokespeople on Home Affairs in the other mainstream political parties.

The letter asks each spokesperson to outline what steps their party would take, if elected, to reduce sharply and, ultimately, end the detention of children and families. It also requests that they meet a delegation of leaders from the Sanctuary Pledge campaign to discuss practical steps that can be taken to end child detention following the election.

The Sanctuary Pledge calls on Prospective Parliamentary Candidates from the mainstream political parties to commit to rebuilding public support for the provision of sanctuary to refugees in the UK, and to work to end the detention of innocent children and families for immigration purposes. The campaign has provided Obama-style community organising training to citizens in 200 battleground constituencies so they are able to persuade their Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to support the Sanctuary Pledge, and hold them to account after the election.

Rev’d Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said:
“We are particularly concerned about the detention of children and young people. There is overwhelming evidence that holding children in detention centres is damaging to their physical and emotional wellbeing. Children are particularly vulnerable, and no matter where they are from, we all have a duty to protect them from harm. We encourage politicians from all parties will sign the Sanctuary Pledge and commit to ending the detention of children.”

Margaret Beringer, Trustee of the Mothers’ Union, said:
“Mothers’ Union tackles family issues and fights poverty and injustice across the world through its 3.6 million members - some of whom have faced displacement from or within their own countries. The Sanctuary Pledge is important in supporting children and families who have faced injustices, oppression and terror at home and seek sanctuary in the UK. Mothers’ Union believes that children should not be detained for immigration purposes and that politicians must address the issue of sanctuary responsibly during their General Election campaigning.”

Lorin Sulaiman, who was detained as a child, said:
“I came to the UK as a child with my family to seek sanctuary from the regime in Syria which persecuted us because we are Kurds. We were detained by the Home Office for 10 days. Not once, was I asked if I was ok – it felt like no one cared. At 14 I should have been playing with my school friends. Instead I was locked up and prevented from going outside. We were released, and have been granted permission to stay in the UK. I know that politicians don’t really want to lock up innocent children – and that is why we are asking them to support the Sanctuary Pledge.”

Barbara Nalumu, a leader with London Citizens and CITIZENS for Sanctuary, said:
“An election is coming up and this is the time when ordinary citizens have the power to ask the people seeking election as MPs to listen to the issues that they care about, and take action. I am one of hundreds of people across the UK who live in a marginal constituency and will be asking all of the people who are asking for my vote to sign the Sanctuary Pledge. I encourage all citizens of good will to do the same.”

You can view photos of the launch here.

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