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English priest risks jail to protect asylum seeker

A priest who says he is prepared to go to prison to stop an asylum seeker being returned to Rwanda, has managed to get the case reviewed after he prevented her detention by police.

Ekklesia reports that Fr Richard McKay would not allow police and immigration officials to enter his church - St Nicholas of Tolentino Church in Bristol - when they came to detain Josette Ishimwe last week.

Ms Ishimwe, 23, saw her parents hacked to death in Rwanda and is seeking refuge in his church to avoid being sent back to the country. She came to the UK after escaping the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and settled in Bristol.

In an attempt to avoid deportation, she has been taken in by Fr McKay, who says she has won the right to have her case reviewed.

"I have been informed by my solicitor that Josette's case will now come up for judicial review," he said. "Obviously she's relieved about this as the threat of deportation has been temporarily taken away and at last there seems to be some progress."

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said two officers had gone to the church last week in support of immigration officers, but that a decision had been taken not to arrest her at that time.

Fr McKay would not allow police and immigration officials to enter the church when they came to to detain her on Thursday.

He said at the time: "I realise that by stopping them entering I am breaking the law but I also have a duty to protect parishioners."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We are not able to discuss individual cases but if she has failed her appeal she will be expected to leave the country."

Catholic priest will risk jail to protect asylum seeker (Ekklesia 1/11/04)

Clifton Diocese: St Nicholas of Tolentino, Bristol

2 Nov 2004