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Friday, 13 February 2009

Asylum & Sanctuary

 Tinsley House Detention Centre, Gatwick Airport;
close to my own parish

One of synod's brilliant women clergy, Ruth Worsley, introduced a motion on asylum seekers on Friday morning. What at first glance might be considered a rather predictable synod sort of motion was actually inspired by some very valuable and practical work in Nottingham dealing with asylum seekers.

In preparation for the debate, Westminster Abbey had those seeking asylum, and today's synod debate, as the focus for the early morning Eucharist. After communion, synod members were able to meet some London based asylum seekers, and informally chat to them over breakfast in Cheyneygate.

Cheyneygates, as part of the original abbots accommodation in the abbey, and a place of sanctuary, seemed an entirely appropriate place to be meeting those currently seeking sanctuary.

I chatted with Duncan, an asylum seeker from XXXXXXX in Africa. Scars are evident on his head and face. He has been separated from his wife and three children for about 7 years, and though now he has regular phone calls with them, it was not always so, being out of contact for over 2 years at one point. He was part of a political oposition in a country where such 'legal' opposition is crushed by the party that has been in power for over 20 years.

One synod contributor felt that this country's system for asylum seekers could have been created by King Herod after reading Kafka. Another, seeking to allow a couple of Christian asylum seekers to marry, yet prevented currently by the need for banns to be read in another close diocese, is considering a little civil dissobedience to allow Christian marriage to more properly procede.

Although living close to Gatwick, and having visited on a few occasions, I am not personally very actively involved at the detention centre there, as they have a very effective chaplaincy already, and a good Welfare Group.

The motion, strengthened (unusually) by ammendments, was passed almost unanimously, 242 for,  1 against,  1 abstention. A powerful and worthwhile debate.

Alastair Cutting GS101

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