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Immigration policy needs to improve, Bishops argue, after migrant family drowns

28 October 2020

‘We must do more to help those who seek safe haven,’ says Bishop of Dover


A Channel rescue ship in Dunkirk harbour on Wednesday

A Channel rescue ship in Dunkirk harbour on Wednesday

THE Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, has called for a “humane, tolerant and equitable migration policy” in response to the death of five migrants who attempted to cross the English Channel on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the family, Iranian Kurds, were named as Rasoul Iran-Nejad and Shiva Mohammad Panahi, both aged 35, and their children Anita, nine, Armin, six, and Artin, 15 months, whose body had not yet been recovered.

Fifteen other migrants were rescued and taken to hospital.

Dr Innes described the incident as “the latest case of deeply saddening loss of life in the English Channel. Refugees, including children, have perished as desperate souls flee conflict and violence to make new lives in Europe.”

The situation “underlines the urgent need for a humane, tolerant, and equitable migration policy to be applied across the EU, and for the full respect and protection of the rights of refugees under international law.”

This is the latest example of the perils that would-be migrants to Britain face, often at the mercy of traffickers. Mr Iran-Nejad reportedly paid traffickers more than £20,000. Another man was found dead last week on a beach in Sangatte, near Calais, while bodies were also recovered in the same area in May and August this year (News, 15 August).

Despite this, the traffic has quadrupled this year: more than 7400 migrants have already reached the British coast, compared with 1825 in 2019.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, said on Wednesday: “My heart is full of sadness. We cannot stand by while those who seek refuge and safety are dying at the hands of those who exploit them and their hope. Children and their families are being washed away just miles from our shores.

“We must do more to help our fellow sisters, brothers, sons and daughters seek safe haven and be offered the same chances to live their lives as we do, with peace and love.”

The UK Government has been criticised for focusing on patrolling the French and British borders, and prosecuting people smugglers and asylum-seekers attempting to make the crossing using dinghies. Campaigners have called for the Government to provide safer ways for those seeking asylum to come to Britain so that they do not have to risk making dangerous sea crossings.

The founder of the Oasis Academy Trust, the Revd Steve Chalke, wrote on Wednesday: “The way to ‘crack down’ on the gangs that prey on the world’s desperate victims of war and political oppression is not to try to make crossing the Channel by boat ‘unviable’, but simply ‘unnecessary’! How? Allow those seeking refuge to claim asylum in the UK from outside the UK.”

The Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, David Lammy MP, described the news as “heartbreaking”, writing on Tuesday: “This is no way to treat those fleeing persecution and war. The government must show some compassion and urgently change its approach.”

The co-director of the charity Seeking Sanctuary, Phil Kerton, said that better solutions were needed to prevent further tragedies. “Desperate people have lost their lives in another tragic and distressing accident. . . Like everyone else, each of the dead had hopes for leading a future life in peace and dignity, all seeking to realise their innate potential,” he said.

“We continue to urge that innovative solutions are found for the welfare of the world’s exiles, and for their safe access to places where they may request asylum. Solutions that do not involve more security measures, such as patrols, walls, and fences, but which see each of them as a human being in need of advice and help and with a genuine contribution to make to society.

“We are today laying flowers at the plaque near the entry to the ferry terminal on the Dover seafront that remembers deceased seekers of sanctuary.”

The director of justice and inclusion at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Richard Reddie, said that the incident on Tuesday showed the serious flaws in Britain’s asylum and immigration system.

“The recent deaths of those who drowned in the English Channel is a tragedy that should never have happened and a wake-up call to all. For me, this heartbreaking event should be a ‘George Floyd’ moment regarding our asylum (and immigration) system, which only this month, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, described as ‘broken.’

“We need to have an honest, mature discussion about immigration in this country. For far too long, fear has dominated this conversation, resulting in a failure to recognize the invaluable contributions of migrants to this country, especially those seeking asylum.

“We pride ourselves on being a fair, tolerant, Christian country, yet receive only a fraction of the number of asylum-seekers taken in by our European neighbours, a fact that runs contrary to the press and political narrative of being ‘swamped’ and ‘overwhelmed.’

“It is important to remember that those men, women and children who make these dangerous journeys are human beings, as opposed to statistics, and their reasons for travelling are invariably to join family members, or due to language issues.

“We should not be witnessing deaths at sea, or those who survive this perilous passage, being locked up like common criminals. We need to have a system that is just and swift and treats all with the dignity and humanity they deserve.”

Last week, the Bishop Hudson-Wilkin spoke at an event organised by Stand Up to Racism and Christians Together in Dover to give thanks for the people and organisations working to save lives in the area.

“Jesus reminds us not to choose just the people who look and sound like us, but to reach out with arms outstretched, with a spirit of generosity, recognising we share a common humanity,” she said.

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