THE Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, has described the drowning of a teenage boy in the English Channel on Wednesday as a wake-up call to action.
The boy, whose body was found on the beach in Sangatte, northern France, is thought to have been attempting to reach England in a dinghy.
“We cannot let his death pass by unremarked,” the Bishop said. “We must take action to protect those who are desperate enough to risk their lives to land on our shores. We must challenge and condemn systems and practices and people who are driven by greed to exploit people like this young man, with no regard for the consequences.
“The long-term challenges have got to be addressed. What are we waiting for? Our children are being washed up on our beaches. How much worse does this have to get before we take definitive action to save lives and protect the dignity of people who have been pushed to take such desperate measures?
“We need to ask why people are fleeing their homes. We need to ask what we can do. We cannot stand by any longer while their bodies wash up on the shores.”
Her voice adds to those defending the migrants who are attempting to reach the UK from France. The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, posted on his Twitter feed on Thursday of last week: “Vulnerable people matter, because they are people. Asylum seekers matter, because they are people. Refugees matter, because they’re people. Why is this so hard?”
The sentiment was echoed by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who agree with the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron: “I don’t understand those whose first instinct is anger at them.”
In just one week this month, more than 600 people were intercepted by Border Force officials on the sea crossing between France and Britain. In the past eight months, 4343 migrants are recorded to have landed in small boats or been rescued. This compares with 857 documented within the same period last year.
Nearly half — 44 per cent — of those who have been intercepted this year are from Iran, while high numbers of Iraqis and Syrians are also among those making the crossing.
Last week, the Government proposed changes to the laws covering asylum, including working with the French authorities to make it harder for people to cross the Channel, and to deter human traffickers. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said in October that she wanted to halve Channel crossings by refugees by the end of that month, stopping them altogether by spring this year.
These policies have been criticised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, which stated that they labelled people as criminals rather than human beings.
The UNHCR said this week: “After a decade that included the Arab Spring, the Syrian war, and the European refugee crisis, the UK hosts fewer refugees. It’s the 26th-largest refugee host, down from tenth a decade ago.”
The head of the humanitarian division at Christian Aid, Michael Mosselmans, said: “The migrants crossing the Channel are fellow human beings fleeing from desperate situations in their home countries and deserve to be treated with compassion and respect, (as we would hope to be treated if one day a devastating crisis in our own country forced us to seek refuge in a safer place).
“I am saddened to see the hostility and antipathy towards these people in need displayed by some elements of the mainstream and social media.’’
The head of communications and policy at the Christian social-justice group Jubilee Plus, Natalie Williams, said: “People who cross the Channel in unsafe, overcrowded boats are desperate. Living in Hastings, where boats carrying such desperate people often arrive, I’ve personally been involved on behalf of my church in working with the police when this happens. They tell us that often those coming over have spent their entire life savings to get here, having been told that they will be safe here.
“However, when they arrive, they are usually detained and then deported. They’ve given everything they had to get here, just to be turned away. Whatever you think about people crossing the Channel, this should provoke compassion in us as Christians.
“Imagine this was your mum or dad, your siblings, your friends, even you. It would be devastating and traumatic for you. As Christians, we are called to lead the way in compassion, hospitality, and generosity, and that applies as much to how we treat people from other nations as to how we treat our literal neighbours.”
The charity Reset UK has urged people to sponsor “safe and legal” routes to the UK for refugees, allowing them to bring people into their local area and support them as they rebuild their lives. It said: “No one takes to the sea unless they are truly desperate.”
Last week, a group of 60 charities, including the Children’s Society, called on the Government to extend free school meals to pupils from low-income migrant families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF). The director of policy and research for the Children’s Society, Say Royston, said: “Whether a child is able to eat should not depend on their parents’ immigration status.
“The latest figures show that the number of children affected by the NRPF condition is increasing, meaning many more are now at risk. The Government must permanently ensure that every child can return to school with the hope of a bright future.”