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Friday, January 1, 1999 Published at 16:58 GMT


Church head: 'Tolerate refugees'

Dr Carey: Jesus was a refugee

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for more tolerance of refugees.

Dr George Carey: When we welcome the stranger, we welcome Jesus
Dr George Carey spoke after warnings earlier this year that the UK immigration service - faced with a record number of asylum seekers in 1998 - is heading for overload.

The UK Government later defended its immigration policies in light of Mr Carey's comments, calling for a "less emotional" debate about asylum than currently took place.

Famous refugee

In his New Year message, delivered at the Refugee Council in South London, Dr Carey said Jesus was "history's most well-known refugee", and Christians had a duty to welcome strangers.

"Of course, the presence of strangers can make us nervous or even angry," the primate of the Anglican church said.

"Some instinctively think of refugees as 'scroungers' and newspaper headlines sometimes whip this fear into hostility."

[ image: Refugees should be treated with compassion, said Dr Carey]
Refugees should be treated with compassion, said Dr Carey
Dr Carey pointed out: "Probably history's most well-known refugee was a baby called Jesus.

"Shortly after his birth, the Bible tells us, his family had to flee to Egypt, a refugee from political powers that were determined to destroy him.

"And the Christian faith has a special place for the stranger, the ones we may not yet understand, those different from ourselves.

"When we welcome the stranger, the outcast, the refugee, we welcome Jesus himself."

He added that refugees fleeing persecution and war only reluctantly left their homeland, and often brought "rich gifts" to their new countries.

He said he hoped Britain would continue to be "as open and as generous as possible".

Asylum system 'encourages abuse'

Home Office Immigration Minister Mike O'Brien later defended the government's immigration policy, saying it had inherited an asylum system which did not work and so was introducing a new Bill in a few weeks to create an efficient system to decide cases fast.

He told Radio 4's The World at One that the debate should take place on a "less emotional" plain.

Mike O'Brien: Introducing the "most fundamental reform" of the asylum system
"The asylum system at the moment does not help genuine refugees and it encourages economic migrants to abuse the system.

"The abusive asylum seekers are the worst enemy of the genuine refugees because they undermine public support for the asylum system.

"We need a balanced and consensus approach to restoring integrity to the asylum system. We should support genuine refugees fleeing for their lives but deter economic migrants who undermine public support for asylum."

A "very tough line" - withholding benefits until such recognition took place - was needed to deter those seeking to abuse the system and the rules must be made tougher against such people, he added.

System overload

In September immigration officials warned that mounting numbers of asylum seekers are threatening to overload the system.

According to Immigration Service Union figures, 4,215 asylum seekers arrived in this country in July - the third highest monthly figure ever recorded.

Officials said it was predicted that the numbers of asylum seekers in 1998 would exceed the 1995 record of slightly less than 44,000.

The government has already unveiled its proposals to speed up the system for dealing with asylum seekers to make it "firm, fast and fair".

At the moment it can take two years or more to process an application for asylum. Although the vast majority of applicants are turned down, many disappear before they can be deported.

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