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Mixed welcome for Songs of Praise from Calais camp

14 August 2015


Precarious: migrants in an overcrowded dingy sail under a rising sun, a few miles off the coast of the Greek island of Kos, on Tuesday 

Precarious: migrants in an overcrowded dingy sail under a rising sun, a few miles off the coast of the Greek island of Kos, on Tuesday 

FILMING Songs of Praise at the migrants’ camp in Calais will bring viewers “to a place where worship is at the raw end of life”, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said this week. “If we don’t like it, we must ask why not.”

Amid signs that not everybody did like it — “Songs of Praise in Calais Exposed: This is how the BBC is spending your cash”, a headline in the Daily Express read— Bishop Baines argued that the media played “a huge role in shaping perceptions about migrants — not least by the language used and images shown. They have an ethical responsibility to consider both, and how perceptions or prejudices are being shaped.”

The Thought for the Day contributor and Priest-in-Charge of St Mary’s, Newington, Canon Giles Fraser, also visited the camp last week. He and the BBC were congratulated in a tweet from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who wrote: “The love of Christ is freely offered to all, celebrated everywhere, for everyone to know, well done #SongsOfPraise and @giles_fraser”.

The episode, which is due to be broadcast on Sunday, was defended by a BBC spokeswoman on Wednesday. “Church leaders . . . have spoken out about the human response to migration and asylum, which is a subject of interest to churchgoers up and down the country,” she said.

During a visit this week to the island of Lampedusa, Pope Francis spoke of the plight of migrants seeking refuge. He described the failure to take them in “an unresolved conflict . . . and this is war, this is violence, it’s called murder,” the Gazzetta del Sud reported on Tuesday.

While attention in the UK is currently focused on the estimated 5000 migrants encamped at Calais, Italy and Greece continue to receive huge numbers of migrants by sea. The UN reported on Friday that 124,000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Greece by sea by the end of July this year — a 750-per-cent increase on the same period in 2014.

So far, in 2015, more than 225,000 refugees and migrants have arrived by sea in the Mediterranean, and about 2100 are estimated to have died or gone missing while trying to reach Europe. Up to 50 migrants were reported missing by Italian coastguards on Wednesday after a rubber dinghy sank in the Mediterranean.


THE RC Bishop for Migrants in England and Wales, the Rt Revd Patrick Lynch, said on Saturday that he was "deeply concerned" about the "humanitarian crisis" in Calais. He called on the French authorities to "redouble their efforts in providing adequate reception facilities for migrants".

There was a need to "examine the root causes" of migration from Africa and the Middle East, he suggested, and "face up to the shared responsibility of making the world a better and safer environment to live in.

"We must examine as a matter of urgency the arms trade that fuels armed conflict and civil war, climate change, unjust economic policies, poverty and corruption as some of the underlying causes of this fundamental global trend. The safety of vulnerable women and children who may fall prey to smugglers and human traffickers is paramount and must be addressed."

Gary Streeter, the Conservative MP for South West Devon, who chairs Christians in Parliament, said on Tuesday that “If they are not asylum-seekers but economic migrants, we simply cannot let them in, as they do not meet the strict rules-based criteria we have put in place.

“So I support a robust approach. It is good that church leaders remind us to be compassionate, but equally good they they are not running the country.”

Mass migration would be “the biggest challenge the West faces over the coming decades,” he said. “This is another strong reason why we must . . . help make the countries these migrants are leaving a better place to live.

Politicking over those migrants - Press column

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