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‘Create safe routes for refugees’ says bishop after Tilbury discovery

22 August 2014


Death scene: Tilbury Docks in Essex, where one man died and 34 illegal immigrants were rescued, on Saturday.

Death scene: Tilbury Docks in Essex, where one man died and 34 illegal immigrants were rescued, on Saturday.

THE discovery of 35 migrants at Tilbury Docks on Saturday morning, screaming and banging on the container in which they had been locked for 18 hours, should alert Britain to its "proud and honourable tradition of offering sanctuary", the Bishop of Bradwell, the Rt Revd John Wraw, said on Tuesday.

The migrants, believed to be Sikhs from Afghanistan, are aged from one to 72, and include 13 children. One man, Meet Singh Kapoor, a 40-year-old father of two of the children on board, was found to be dead. On Tuesday, Essex police confirmed that a man had been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, and of facilitating illegal entry into the UK.

On Tuesday, Kamaljit Singh Mataharu, of Grays Sikh temple, a translator used by the police, told ITV News that conditions inside the container had been "horrendous. . . They'd tried for hours and hours for somebody to hear their voices, and hear the banging. . . . Another 20 minutes, and all would have been dead in there."

The migrants had spoken of persecution in Afghanistan: "They said they'd rather die than live a life like that." The container arrived in the docks from Belgium, on the P&O commercial vessel Norstream. After being treated for dehydration and hypothermia, the migrants were questioned by police. On Monday, the Home Office said that all 34 survivors were applying for asylum.

On Tuesday, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, Maurice Wren, described the "desperate measures" taken by those in fear of perscution: "For those trying to access Fortress Europe, this usually means having to rely on people-smugglers. Unless we want to see more deaths on our doorstep, the UK and EU must create safe, legal routes for people fleeing persecution to obtain the refugee protection they are entitled to."

Ruth Grove-White, policy director of the Migrant Rights' Network, said that, despite the "very hostile" atmosphere in the UK towards migrants, it was "heartening to see the level of compassion for those discovered at Tilbury."

Bishop Wraw said: "This is not about the whys and wherefores of policies on immigration, but simply reaching out in compassion to fellow human beings in need and offering a place of safety to men women and children who have suffered horrors beyond imagining."

Although it is unclear whether the migrants were victims of trafficking or people-smuggling, the Revd Steve Chalke, chair of Stop the Traffick, said both involved exploitation. "Everyone is vulnerable, and [is] promised things that are not delivered." He urged churches to become "resilient communities" trained to spot victims of such exploitation. "Who is closer to most vulnerable communities than anyone else? Professionals go home at five, but the Church is the people."


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