We heard sermons on slavery last Sunday, following St Paul’s short epistle to Philemon, which is interpreted as a plea against slavery. We’re told to deplore the historic (or current) practice of slavery, and to bear in mind that the White House in Washington was built by slaves.
But as most of us have little direct contact with any such dire practices today, condemnation is easy. What is much harder to wrestle with is the catastrophic and oppressive situation which is on our very doorstep at Calais.
During a week in France, I became acutely aware of the terrible dilemma around “the Jungle” at Calais. The French are very exercised indeed about the 10,000 people – refugees and immigrants – who live there. Conditions can be violent, threatening and evidently an obstacle to the conduct of normal life in the Pas de Calais, which happens to be a political constituency run by Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, Les Républicains.
The politicians argue about who is responsible for the ever-increasing population of “the Jungle”. The British say the French should never have allowed it to occur – they should have either granted the migrants asylum (only a third of applications to France are granted) or else sent people back to their own countries.
The French say the fault is Britain’s – for blocking migrants from crossing the Channel as the majority hope to do.
What is the Christian duty in this? To accept all refugees is to encourage others to make more risky journeys towards the UK. To refuse refuge is to condemn pitiful humanity – including children – to a life of misery.
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