The United Kingdom’s government has been asked to “adopt language which better reflects the British values of compassion, hospitality and respect for human dignity” in its discussions on the situation in Calais, France.
In a statement issued by the Joint Public Issues Team, Baptist Union General Secretary Lynn Green joined leaders from four other denominations in calling on the British government to promote “a more informed and higher level of debate on the issue.”
The others are Jill Barber, vice president of the Methodist Conference; David Grosch-Miller, moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church; Angus Morrison, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; and Steve Wild, president of the Methodist Conference.
Thousands of migrants have journeyed to the French coastal city hoping to make their way to the U.K. by way of the Channel Tunnel that connects the two nations.
On July 30, 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron described people crossing the Mediterranean as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life,” which was subsequently described as “awful, de-humanizing language from a world leader” by the Refugee Council.
Speaking to the BBC, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said, “So long as there are large numbers of pretty desperate migrants marauding around the area, there always will be a threat to the tunnel security.”
‘”The language in which the Calais situation is being discussed blurs the distinction between people fleeing oppressive regimes and those seeking to come to Britain for other reasons,” the Joint Public Issues statement said.
“To talk of those gathering at Calais as a ‘swarm’ or ‘marauding around the area’ encourages people to see those in desperation as less than human, and so less deserving of sympathy, respect or dignity,” the ministers added.
The numbers involved do not warrant talk of an “invasion” or “flood” of migrants, the statement said. “The people at Calais represent a tiny fraction of the overall number of migrants who have entered the EU in the past year.”
The document continued, “In 2014, Germany took three times more asylum seekers than the U.K.’s 14,000, and Sweden twice as many. France, Italy and Switzerland also granted asylum to more people than the U.K. Many of the migrants congregating at Calais are fleeing repression and have stories of suffering and hardship to tell. Some are unaccompanied children.”
The statement welcomed the affirmation by Home Secretary Theresa May that Europe would “always provide protection for those genuinely fleeing conflict or persecution.”
“We share the concern of all involved to see a peaceful and humane solution to this particular expression of a far broader catastrophe,” it read.
The churches have also asked the government to recognize that most migrants cannot be returned to their countries of origin and to accept the need for the U.K. to take its share of migrants.
The statement concluded by encouraging an urgent call to prayer, “To remember in our churches the importance and equal value God places on every human life, and to seek wisdom that we can challenge injustice and work for peace for the whole world. Let us seek direction and discernment for ourselves and for our leaders for solutions to this ongoing crisis, for the sake of all peoples.”
The full statement can be read here.
A prayer for migrants and the situation in Calais is available here.
Paul Hobson is editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain – the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. A version of this news article first appeared in The Baptist Times and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulHobson10, The Baptist Times @BaptistTimes and the Baptist Union @BaptistUnionGB.