“What are we waiting for?” asked the Rt Rev’d Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover. “Our children are being washed up on our beaches,” she lamented, after the body of a teenage Sudanese boy was found on a beach in Sangatte, Northern France.
Not quite our children or our beeches you may cavil, but in the great family of humanity and the world we all call home, this Sudanese boy was our neighbour, and he is now dead. He had been paddling in a dinghy using spades as oars, desperate to escape Calais and claim asylum in the promised land of Dover, whose Bishop bewailed the unmitigated tragedy:
Today we mourn the death of a young boy, found washed up on the beach in Northern France. A teenager just like any other – one with hopes and dreams, a need for safety and security. My heart is so full of sadness for his family and I send them my love and my prayers.
People who try to cross the Channel seeking safety and security are not criminals – they are human beings like you and I. Human beings who should be afforded the dignity and respect and rights that so many of us take for granted. It is a travesty that this young man will never see his hoped-for future, that his family has been deprived of seeing him grow up.
We cannot let his death pass by unremarked. This appalling tragedy should be a wake up call to all of us – we must open our hearts and minds, 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? They are part of our human family – our brothers, our sisters, our children. We need to take action now. 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.
The challenges are, of course, being addressed: we aren’t waiting for anything. Definitive action is most definitely being taken to save lives and protect people. We know why they are fleeing their homes, and we have asked what we can do, and we are doing it. We are not simply standing by while the bodies of children are washed up on the shores.
Does the Bishop of Dover know that France is a safe country, and that there is no reason for migrants there to attempt to reach the UK illegally?
Does she know that the UK Government is working closely with the French to ensure migrants are fully informed of their options and rights, and that those options don’t include an automatic right to settle in the UK?
Does she know that so far this year 23 people smugglers have been jailed, and that in July alone 11 people were arrested and £143,000 was seized?
Does she not realise that if safe passage were to be given to all, it would give a huge marketing boost to the people-traffickers and create a magnet effect for migrants all over the world, permitting the criminals to rake in £millions more?
Is she aware that the UK has created a £75million migration programme which provides humanitarian assistance and protection for vulnerable migrants travelling from West Africa to Central Africa?
Does she know that the UK Government has committed £3.3 billion in response to the Syria Crisis – our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis, providing over 28 million food rations, over 19 million medical consultations, and over 13 million vaccines?
Is she aware that we are providing education to over 1 million children in Syria and the region?
Does she know that we have resettled almost 20,000 refugees affected by the conflict in Syria?
There is, of course, always more to be done and more that could be done, but it might help if, just occasionally, a Church of England bishop might acknowledge the compassionate endeavours and achievements of this Government, and perhaps even thank Priti Patel for her considerable efforts in this regard, instead of putting out press releases which perpetuate the anti-Tory caricature of inaction, callousness and indifference to people’s suffering.