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Faith leaders call for fulfilment of obligations to lone migrant children

11 March 2016


Thwarted: a Syrian boy waits near a beach in western Turkey, where Turkish police are preventing dinghies from leaving for the Greek island of Lesbos

Thwarted: a Syrian boy waits near a beach in western Turkey, where Turkish police are preventing dinghies from leaving for the Greek island of Lesbos

THIRTY faith leaders have issued a joint statement calling on the UK and French governments to “fulfil their moral and legal duties” concerning unaccompanied children in Calais.

Representatives from the Jewish, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, and Islamic communities in the UK said that abandoning children to dangerous conditions in the camps for “administrative convenience” was unacceptable.

“The system established to reunite these families must either be set aside, or made to work as a matter of extreme urgency,” they agreed. There are currently around 500 children in Calais, many of whom have the right to join family members who are living in the UK, the group said.

The statement, issued by Citizens UK, comes after the Prime Minister agreed with the French President, François Hollande, last week, that children in the Calais camp with family members in the UK should be “swiftly and efficiently” reunited.

One of the signatories, the Area Dean for Nottingham South, the Revd Karen Room, said that the system was “simply not working”, and expressed her disappointment that a court ruling for four young adults to join family members in the UK (News, 22 January) was the subject of an appeal by the Government.

Many of the leaders have also signed up to sponsor unaccompanied children, visit them in France, and help to reunite them with their families. The “buddy” system has been endorsed by celebrities and other public figures, including the actors Jude Law and Benedict Cumberbatch, and the author Michael Morpurgo.

Violent clashes broke out in the camp last week when officials moved in to demolish the southern section. The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, criticised the use of tear gas by riot police in the presence of children. The Christian charity Seeking Sanctuary praised Bishop Willmott for his comments, and reiterated concern for minors who are “potential or actual victims of abuse and exploitation”.

On Monday, 28 EU leaders met in Brussels to urge Turkey to do more to prevent refugees, and migrants, attempting the journey across the Aegean Sea to Greece. It is estimated that 1000 to 2000 are arriving every day.

The summit went on into the evening as the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, outlined proposals to resettle one Syrian refugee in Europe for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, in return for £4.6 billion in aid over three years.

Mr Cameron said that the deal could be the “basis for a breakthrough” that would close the refugee route through the Balkans, and would “break the business model” of the people-smugglers.

Christian Aid said, however, that closing the route would be inhumane, and would worsen the situation for the more than 30,000 refugees trapped in Greece, of which 14,000 were stranded at the Macedonian border.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, agreed with Mr Cameron that the deal would be a “breakthrough” in deterring people from making the crossing, but said that more time was needed to work out the details.

The Roman Catholic organisation Caritas warned that continuing to debate solutions to the crisis while allowing it to play out, at the cost of lives, was “unacceptable”. On Sunday, a migrant boat capsized and sank in the Aegean,with the loss of 25 lives, including three children. Fifteen people were rescued.

Mr Cameron later announced that the Royal Navy would deploy the amphibious landing ship RFA Mounts Bay to support NATO forces in the Aegean Sea in the UK’s first intervention in the crisis.


Ceasefire ‘beginning of hope’ for Syria THE Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, has called on the Government to do more to negotiate a political solution to the civil war in Syria, and to ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered “rapidly, safely, and unhindered”.

Speaking in the House of Lords on Tuesday, Dr Cocksworth urged the UK to use its influence in Russia to build “peaceable relationships”, and to help secure “local ceasefires” so that essential aid could be delivered.

The Government’s priority, “over and above geopolitical gain, or the victory of any side in an unwinnable war”, must be the security and safety of Syrians, he went on.

Dr Cocksworth said that, although there were “no easy answers” to resolving the conflict, lessons could be learned from past wars. “First, negotiation does not work if either side thinks it can win outright. Secondly, external supplies of arms do not help bring peace: they only promote and prolong the conflict.”

Civil wars in which third parties were involved on both sides were “deadlier and more difficult to resolve”, he warned, and could leave “legacies of betrayal and hatred that require patient processes of reconciliation” to secure peace and social stability.

Although a reliable political settlement was still a long way away, Dr Cocksworth said that the recent ceasefire agreement in Syria was a tentative step towards an end to hostilities. “These signs of hope represent an opportunity that must not be missed,” he said.

Tuesday will mark five years since the start of the conflict. More than 400,000 people have died, at least ten million have been displaced, and more than 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian aid.

On Monday, Tearfund is launching a week-long campaign, “Five reasons for hope”, to counter the “prevailing mood of despair”, to restore public morale, and generate “new energy” in support of Syrians.

Its Middle East Response Manager, Thomas Stocker, said that the Church was the most effective network for reaching those in need, and for caring for refugees.

The charity will publish a “story of hope” from Syrian survivors, Middle Eastern churches, and Christians, over five days — one for every year of the conflict. Tearfund are encouraging supporters to write to their MP urging the Government to do more for Syria.

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