MANY of the migrants in Calais have come from Northern Africa. This week, the Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa, Dr Grant LeMarquand, said: “If refugees from anywhere need our sympathy, it would be people from Eritrea.”
The country “may have one of the most repressive governments in the world at the moment”, he said. “For Christians especially, the situation is bleak.” Many had been imprisoned, he said, under a legal system where very few churches have been permitted registration. The single Anglican Church was an illegal entity. Its building, rectory, and car had all been taken over by another denomination. Eritrea was also reported to be one of the worst sources of sex-trafficking in the world, he said.
The source of migration from Ethiopia, where he lives, was different, he said, and generally economic in nature. The increasing number of Ethiopians gaining an education could not find graduate jobs, and were leaving to seek better opportunities: “Many have been trying to travel to the West legitimately, often causing what is often called a brain-drain: our best and brightest leave the country. It does not help Africa for the West to say we will simply take anyone who applies. This will continue to rob Africa of its richest resource.”
A young girl from Eritrea is among the refugees that a church in Whitstable has welcomed to the UK.
The Team Vicar of Whitstable, the Revd Stephen Coneys, said on Tuesday: “When you meet the person behind the rhetoric, your perspective is changed.” The Church at parish level had a part to play, he suggested, in tackling fears about new arrivals. It could “stand in the gap between the asylum-seekers and those sections of the local community that are worried or fearful.”
He described how a young girl from Eritrea had become part of the congregation and befriended his daughter. Her father, a Christian pastor, had been imprisoned, and her mother sent her to the UK after they fled to Sudan. "It was just so humbling to meet such a person, so vulnerable and gentle and strong," he said.
While welcoming the bishops’ “prophetic” interventions, he suggested that local churches could help to tackle "myths", including the failure to distinguish between economic migrants and asylum-seekers. Some local people were afraid, he said, that asylum-seekers were “dangerous or, in some dark sense, predatory”.
Mr Coneys has organised a letter signed by churches in Whitstable pledging support to the unaccompanied 16 and 17-year-old boys who will be accommodated at a temporary reception centre in the town. The churches have offered to visit, befriend and support the children, who will stay at the centre while they wait to have their asylum applications processed.
"Amidst the confusion and controversy surrounding this initiative, the fact is that young people will arrive at Ladesfield in various states of exhaustion and distress," the letter reads. "Our personal experience of young asylum seekers is that there is nothing to fear and much to learn from individuals who are both vulnerable and often have humbling stories to tell. . . We hope to be able to share a little love with them – so that when they leave they have a good story to tell about our town."