Churches call for end to detention of child asylum seekers

Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Church leaders have called on people to send an extra card this Christmas, to Immigration Minister Phil Woolas MP, asking him to end the detention of children in the asylum system.

The Rev David Gamble, President of the Methodist Conference, criticised the Government for making Britain the only country in Europe which locks up children of people who have had their asylum claims declined.

"Every year hundreds of children are sent to detention centres. Most of them are under five years old and many of them are locked up for more than a month. Holding innocent children in detention centres can never be justified," he said.

The Rev Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said many Christians support projects that offer help to people seeking sanctuary and "know the pain caused by present policies".

"On average each household in Britain sends 76 Christmas cards each year, and we are asking people to send just one more to let Phil Woolas know that what we really want for Christmas is an end to the detention of children," he said.

Revd John Marsh, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, commented: “Policy makers have a difficult job – we understand that. But research has shown that detaining children can damage their mental and emotional well-being.

"We pray that during this season of goodwill the Government will have a change of heart.

"Other countries manage without detaining children, so why should Britain be any different?”

The three Churches are supporting the Sanctuary Pledge, which asks all General Election candidates to agree not to use the issue of people seeking sanctuary as a political football during the election campaign.

People should send their cards to Phil Woolas MP at the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF and can find tips for drafting their Christmas message at www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/childrenindetention.

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