A Sudanese migrant in "The Jungle" refugee camp near Calais, France. (Photo: Michal Belka/Wikimedia Commons)
Baptist leaders have expressed alarm and dismay at the recent news stories of the treatment of refugees and migrants on European borders.
The news that Macedonian authorities have responded with tear gas to a break at their border with Greece is echoed in scenes from the camp in Calais, France. That's where people are being cleared from their makeshift homes in what has come to be known as "The Jungle," prompting responses from United Kingdom Baptists.
Representatives of the U.K. Baptist community have visited the Calais camp on several occasions and been involved in active peacemaking strategies.
Describing this week's events, Baptist minister Juliet Kilpin, a regular visitor to the Calais camp, reflected, "My friends are being tear gassed and targeted with rubber bullets on our own border. Children are in hospital suffering effects of tear gas and fires started by the sparks from tear gas canisters.
"Desperate people who have already fled war and persecution are threatening to harm themselves as they defend their flimsy wooden shacks from bulldozers. Unaccompanied children are in danger of being dispersed and exposed to far greater risks than exist in the camp."
She continued, "It is important that the British people recognize the full picture and do not simply absorb narratives that exasperate the situation, scapegoating those who are living in limbo, defending the only life and home that they currently have.
"Although alternative accommodation is being offered, communication is confusing and many residents are not going there because they are afraid; the same people ordering them to move are also tear-gassing them. People are walking out of the camp with nothing, leaving behind the little humanitarian support they were receiving, mostly from British volunteers ashamed at Britain's inadequate response to the migrant crisis."
Baptists churches and leaders in the U.K. have been expressing concern about the growing crisis for some time.
In addition to making regular visits to the Calais camp, many local churches are working ecumenically to provide welcome and support for those refugees who do arrive and to campaign for a more just and humanitarian response.
Baptists are also part of the National Refugee Welcome Board working with Citizens UK to campaign for safe and legal routes of access to the U.K. for the needy and vulnerable.
Phil Jump, one of the Baptist representatives to the Citizens UK resettlement board, comments, "Along with Citizens UK, we call upon the British government to do three things:
1. To create an expedited process for the implementation of Dublin III's family reunion provisions so that all minors who are currently residing in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk with family connections in the U.K. are able to reunite with their loved ones with immediate effect.
2. To ensure that those minors who have no legal right to come to the U.K. are protected and supported within France and that the French child protection process is also expedited to afford them the protection they are entitled to.
3. To persuade the French authorities that the decision to destroy further parts of the camp in Calais is postponed until all the minors currently residing there are either given child protection within the French system or enabled to reunite with their loved ones in Britain."
Commenting on the situation, Baptist Union General Secretary Lynn Green said, "While we do not underestimate the complexities of the current migration crisis, we cannot remain silent when children, the elderly and other vulnerable people are being harmed and overcome by tear gas on the borders of a community of which we are a part."
She added, "It is clear that our political leaders need to work for a just and coordinated response to those who are simply seeking refuge from conflict, violence and inhumanity in the places from which they have come."
A version of this statement was issued by the Baptist Union of Great Britain on its website and is used with permission. The Baptist Union is a network of more than 2,000 churches supported by 13 regional associations and three specialist teams. You can follow BUGB on Twitter @BaptistUnionGB.