CHURCH OF ENGLAND bishops have urged the Government to show more compassion to people seeking sanctuary in Britain. The bishops accuse it of shirking its moral responsibility, and using “unhelpful” rhetoric.
They spoke out after the Prime Minister referred to a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain”. He made the comments on Thursday of last week, after days of clashes between the French police and migrants seeking to enter the UK via the Channel Tunnel on trains and lorries. Hundreds of people have attempted to storm the tunnel in a desperate bid to evade security.
An intervention by the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, made the front page of The Observer on Sunday. After criticising Mr Cameron’s “unhelpful” rhetoric, he warned of “an increasingly harsh world” in which “we need to rediscover what it is to be a human.”
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, drew a link between UK foreign policy and the global migration crisis: “Many of those at Calais are not simply economic migrants seeking a more prosperous life,” he said on Tuesday.
“A substantial number come from countries where we have intervened in recent years to liberate people from repressive regimes, but where other repressive regimes have emerged, often intolerant of Christian and other minorities.
“We have a moral responsibility for the human consequences of what we have done, and we do not seem to be rising to the challenge.”
He suggested that it was “illogical to spend vast sums to keep those at Calais out of our country, while at the same time we are recruiting people from foreign countries as nurses and doctors, as well as needing migrant workers to work on the land and in food-processing.”
To date, the Government’s response has centred on tightening security at Calais to strengthen the UK’s borders. After a meeting of the emergency committee COBRA on Thursday of last week, Mr Cameron announced increased investment in fencing, sniffer dogs, and “stronger co-operation” with France on returning migrants, including joint flights to countries including Sudan.
In a joint article in The Sunday Telegraph with the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that Europe would “always provide protection for those genuinely fleeing conflict or persecution. However, we must break the link between crossing the Mediterranean and achieving settlement in Europe for economic reasons.”
They pledged to crack down on “callous criminals who are encouraging vulnerable people to make this journey in the first place”, and emphasised the need for a long-term answer to the problem, namely reducing the numbers crossing into Europe from Africa.
“Many see Europe, and particularly Britain, as somewhere that offers the prospect of financial gain,” they wrote. “This is not the case — our streets are not paved with gold. We must help African countries to develop economic and social opportunities so that people want to stay.”
While agreeing that there was a “clear difference” between asylum-seekers and economic migrants, the Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, said: “We have created a situation in which it is virtually impossible to get to this country in order to claim asylum: We just try to block the door to everybody.” He warned that “if we don’t treat other people as humans, then we lose our own humanity.”
The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, has called consistently on the Government to offer sanctuary to those facing persecution in Syria and Iraq (News, 5 December). “What is happening in Calais is a pinch-point: a symptom of something much larger — a growing humanitarian crisis in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said on Tuesday.
“Clearly, Europe cannot give sanctuary to all the millions there for whom life is becoming increasingly hard. We must work with all those of good will to enable stability, peace, and prosperity to be established in these countries.”
There are estimated to be more than 5000 migrants in Calais, many living in a series of camps known as “The Jungle”. At least nine migrants have died near the Channel Tunnel terminal since June, including a 16-year-old boy who was electrocuted trying to get on the Eurostar.
Feared dead. Hundreds of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean may have drowned when their boat capsized on Wednesday, Italy’s coastguard has reported. Ships have been sent to search for survivors.
Chaplain to Tunnel calls for action
STAFF at the Eurotunnel are suffering from stress, not knowing what they might discover on unloading cargo, the Chaplain to the Channel Tunnel, David Slater, said on Tuesday.
Mr Slater described how staff faced the prospect of finding people dead or alive when unloading trains. Some migrants carried knives, not to attack people, but to cut canvas when boarding. They were “desperately keen to talk to people”, but the unknown was “not good for the nerves” of staff.
Those driving shuttles were used to a “people-free environment”, but were now faced with “people rushing at the train”, he explained. Some migrants died in the process. “In one sense, they [drivers] rationally know there is nothing they can do, but, on the other hand, could they have done something? I’ve even heard of cases where someone has rushed on to the track almost as if to slow down or stop the train.”
He called for “action at lots of levels simultaneously”, including assessing whether those seeking to enter the UK were asylum-seekers or economic migrants.
The crossings have had a huge impact on children’s services in the UK. Last week, the leader of Kent Council, Paul Carter, reported that the number of migrants under 18 in care had almost doubled to 605 in the past three months, resulting in a funding gap of £5.5 million. The Local Government Association is calling on the Government to reimburse these costs.
Athenian welcome. The senior Anglican Chaplain in Athens, Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, met Afghan refugees on the Metro as they arrived in the capital, after being brought by ferry from the Greek islands. He joined Captain Polis Pandelidis of the Salvation Army in distributing sandwiches in a park, where many are camping.
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