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Gazette letters: Learning from Sunny, thanks and Brexit

PUBLISHED: 08:30 26 October 2019

Sunday 'Sunny' Ogunwobi at Downs Baptist Church. Picture: CLLR IAN RATHBONE

Sunday 'Sunny' Ogunwobi at Downs Baptist Church. Picture: CLLR IAN RATHBONE

Archant

Thank you for the excellent feature on Downs Baptist Church on its history of standing up against injustice, writes Ian Rathbone, former chairman, Ogunwobi Family Campaign.

In 1994, a Nigerian family, Sunny and Bunmi Ogunwobi and their three young children, under threat of deportation by the John Major government, sought sanctuary in Downs Baptist Church. It was to last more than three years.

A group of Christians and local people from around Hackney banded together to form a Defence Campaign, led by myself as chairman.

Sanctuary in churches as a legal principle, "immunity to arrest afforded by a sovereign authority", was ended around 1623 in England.

So the only protection we could give was ourselves, standing around the family as a moral protection, of being in a prayer meeting. The authorities could come at any time, but they would have to break up the prayer meeting.

At that time there was a history of people being taken from their homes or work, sometimes violently, by immigration officers and treated badly before being bundled onto a plane.

We had no reason to believe they would not do the same to Sunny, Bunmi and their three children (all born in the UK). But they never came.

The local community were very supportive, dropping in food, writing letters, signing petitions. The local police told us they did not want to be involved in taking the family. Hackney Law Centre gave free legal support and encouragement.

Diane Abbott MP and then Labour leader of Hackney Council John McCafferty also gave strong support, along with the Bishop of London - and US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson visited the sanctuary.

The family obtained indefinite leave in the first three months of the new Labour government in 1997, helped by Diane Abbott.

Thank goodness that Steve Latham, the then minister of Downs Baptist Church, was willing to allow the sanctuary to take place - and even went public with a lengthy food fast in support. "Love the stranger" is a strong Christian message, along with "love your neighbour as yourself".

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And our message from Hackney is much the same - we welcome those from elsewhere in the world and accept them into our community.

The Ogunwobi family situation highlighted the inhumane treatment of people from elsewhere in the world, but we are seeing it all return with the treatment of the Windrush generation, the "hostile environment" to migrants, the unpleasant rise of the hard right.

The challenge today is that we all need to reflect on what is happening right now in our country and be prepared to consider taking action to protect those who cannot be heard - mostly because, just like then, the government and others of today are not listening.

Just a belated letter to thank all those who came to my assistance when I suffered a stroke outside Stoke Newington police station on July 30, writes J Harvey.

I have since made a complete recovery. All the best.

The silly children in this do-nothing Parliament have brought Parliament into further contempt because when faced with a deal for leaving the European Union, they voted to postpone a decision, thus risking Britain leaving without a deal which some claim they do not want to do, writes Christopher Sills, Dunsmure Road, Stamford Hill.

The deal is not perfect but is a sensible compromise which everyone can live with and should have been supported by all MPs who believe in democracy.

No doubt some remainer MPs will use the situation to try and prevent Brexit, but all they will do is create uncertainty and cause further economic damage and cause people to lose their jobs.

Any request for an extension of article 50 will have to be approved by all other members of the EU and there are clear signs that some are realising giving an extension will just give MPs another excuse to postpone their decision which is in nobody's interest. I hope the European Union will say enough is enough and refuse point blank. Unless MPs back down, Britain will leave without a deal.

Some people believe that Britain should stay in the European Union. Please could one of them explain to me why the European Union had to approve the takeover of Greene King, a company operating entirely in Britain, with the British government having no say? It does not make sense to me.

European Union approval is stupid because loading the company up with debt will inevitably lead to job losses in spite of what the company says. As the company is a significant employer in Britain, Parliament should insist in the next week that the British government should look at this seriously. If they do not act before October 29 it will be too late and it will be another example of this do-nothing Parliament.

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