Bishop speaks of brush with police over asylum seekers

The Bishop of Bradford has told of how he was nearly arrested by the police last summer during a search for a family of asylum seekers.

Speaking to the Church Times, Bishop David James said he had been sheltering the family in his home because he feared that the mother might have committed suicide if left alone.

Bishop James said that last summer police and immigration officials surrounded the home of Canon Sam Randall, the bishop’s Officer for Church in the World, in Keighly. The police came at 6 am looking for the family but they were staying on the other side of Bradford in an empty vicarage.

The bishop said that he took the family into his own home out of concern for the mother, who believed that if she killed herself then her children would be allowed to stay in the UK.

Bishop James told the Church Times, “When the police arrived at my house, with two immigration officers, one of them said to me that if I had not been a bishop, they would have arrested me. I think that, before I had explained the situation, they perceived me as obstructing their work.

“The vicar of this family, the parishioners, and I all believe this family is genuinely in need of asy-lum. The vicar said how the family have been treated worse than they would have been where they had come from. They had been treated so badly, with slow response from those offering legal advice. But the family have settled here. The children, who are seven and eight, speak English, and can’t remember the country they have come from.”

In a debate in the House of Lords last week on the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, the Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee said that borders should be places of hospitality, not hostility.

“I imagine that most of us want to believe that a border can be a meeting place. Therefore, I imagine that most of us would rather not be debating a Bill which is predicated on a pathology of suspicion, and a predetermination towards exclusion rather than welcome,” he said.

He added that people settling in the UK brought “very necessary aptitudes, energy, and skills, such as the Prime Minister has indicated will be absolutely vital if this country is to be able to respond to an upturn in the economy when it comes”.

He told peers that the proposed Bill did not address the problem of the continued detention of children and families, nor the problems of families made destitute and children taken into care by the Asylum and Immigration Act.

The new Bill, he warned, could exclude people involved in politics, trade unions and faith based activities from entering the UK.

He claimed there was a growing “culture of conformity” that goes against the culture of cosmopolitanism.

“We do not need to encourage new arrivals to be clones of the majority population.”