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Church amidst the Calais crisis

Church amidst the Calais crisis

The Church Times has released scathing commentary by some Church of England bishops over the crisis on the Calais coast.

An estimated 5000 migrants are staying in makeshift camps known as “the Jungle,” and last week there were clashes between migrants and French police as hundreds attempted to cross into Britain via the Channel Tunnel, leading to some strong rhetoric and emergency meetings among European leaders. The British government has announced changes to benefit rules for migrants who fail asylum assessments, apparently in an effort to deter prospective migrants.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, spoke out against the proposals. “If you’re fleeing rape, false imprisonment, confiscation of property or violent conflict in the Middle East or North Africa you are not likely to be deterred by changes in UK housing and benefits laws,” he said on Tuesday.

“We know that the UK’s system for assessing asylum claims rejects far too many genuine cases first time round. This week’s proposed changes . . . risk overwhelming the efforts of churches and others to provide for the desperate and destitute. If that happens, then vulnerable lives, including those of children, will be at risk on Britain’s winter streets.”

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron was criticized for describing last week’s crowds at Calais as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean.” In the Church Times article, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover, described Cameron’s rhetoric as “unhelful,” and

warned of “an increasingly harsh world” in which “we need to rediscover what it is to be a human, and that every human being matters.”

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, also weighed in.

“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.”

Giles Fraser, writing for the Guardian, wondered how many churchgoers this past Sunday made the link between the people of the Exodus described in their lectionary readings, and the Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants who have crafted makeshift churches in the camps at Calais.

Both the ancient and modern refugees crossed dangerous waters seeking a better life. Both migrants in a hostile and unwelcoming environment. Perhaps people called them names and thought of them as a “swarm”, in the style of David Cameron. Though the only reference to swarm in Exodus is the “swarm of flies”. Little wonder people felt insulted by that…

… Back in April, a group of Ethiopian Christians, en route from Addis Ababa via Libya, were caught by Isis militants and beheaded on the beach. According to their families, some of them were hoping to come to the UK. But we don’t want them.

Cameron is happy to call this a Christian country when there is electoral advantage to be had out of it. But he is a fair-weather friend who refuses to make the connection with Christian migrants when there is not.

Read the Church Times story here, Fraser’s analysis here, and see the Guardian‘s slideshow of the makeshift churches at Calais here.

Photograph: Rob Stothard/Getty Images via the Guardian


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Cynthia Katsarelis

Well said, Rod. Europe, including the UK, has botched this humanitarian disaster. Crossing over from Italy to France, I saw the Gendarmerie keeping out scores of refugees, just sitting on the ground in the hot sun on the Italian side. Italy, and Greece, are not countries that can easily handle this (though I hear that the Greeks are sending them to Germany).

Of course, the US doesn’t handle this well either. Everything Father Giles, +David, et al said about Calais is also true of the US and our harshness to even child refugees from violence. Heaven forbid that we should actually offer the hospitality as commanded by Jesus.

Rod Gillis

Giles Fraser’s columns are consistently a good read. Mr. Cameron is typical of most of the cheer leaders for economic neo- liberalism in the western political class, i.e. let’s keep government regulation out of the so called “free market” while vilifying the victims it produces. Bricks without straw indeed.

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