CHURCH leaders in West Yorkshire have urged the authorities to improve the system for asylum seekers in Britain.
Catholic and Anglican bishops are among the Christians who say that the lives of asylum seekers are blighted by prejudice, poverty, a flawed legal process and the threat of deportation.
They used yesterday, Ash Wednesday, to issue a statement of support for asylum seekers and urged people to adopt the Christian tradition of hospitality and help those most in need.
They called on the Government to allow asylum seekers to work in an attempt to ease levels of destitution.
Signed by various church leaders, including the Anglican Bishops of Wakefield, Bradford, and Ripon and Leeds, the Catholic Bishop of Leeds and a series of Nonconformist groups, the statement said: "We wish to express our concern at what appear to us to be aspects of inhumanity in the official processes undergone by asylum seekers."
It added: "We express our support for the hundreds of volunteers who generously give their time and resources to assist the stranger in need."
The church leaders, who spoke out from the New North Road Baptist Church in Huddersfield town centre, claimed:
The prejudiced attitude towards asylum seekers is demeaning to them and to those expressing the bigotry;
The lack of material support for asylum seekers, and the policy with forbids them from working, causes unacceptable levels of destitution;
The legal process invites injustice by failing to allow asylum seekers to express themselves;
And the manner of deportation of failed asylum seekers can be degrading, inhumane and traumatic.
They said "selfless giving" by voluntary and faith groups was in contrast to the Government's approach, "which has become a cause for national shame".
The statement quotes passages from the Bible to demonstrate their Christian message.
And the leaders have urged the public to become involved in projects across West Yorkshire which assist asylum seekers. These include:
Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern (Beacon), which offers care and hospitality, friendship and accommodation.
Bradford Immigration and Asylum Support (Biasan), which meets weekly and offers a homework club for children.
Leeds-based Church Action on Poverty, which has been sending postcards to detained asylum seekers.
Leeds Asylum Seeker Support Network, which offers English lessons, befriending and accommodation.
Manuel Bravo Project, based in Leeds, which offers legal advice. The group was named after a Leeds asylum seeker from Angola who committed suicide in a detention centre.
Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, which works with the estimated 3,000 destitute asylum seekers in Leeds.