Drownings in the English Channel

Prayer outside the Home Office

By Barbara Kentish, Westminster Justice and Peace lead on Migrants & Refugees

Published on Independent Catholic News

Like many, I saw tonight on Channel 4 News, a distressed woman, knee-deep in sea waves, shouting to the reporter that there had been no water or milk in their camp, despite the presence of babies, and that was why she was taking to a precarious Channel crossing. Yet again, however, we were told that smugglers were to blame for their problem.

The drowning of 30 migrants off the coast between Dunkirk and Calais is a tragedy that should surprise no-one. Having visited Calais and Dunkirk over six years, I have become more and more appalled that thousands have been trapped in this area not only because of the iniquitous French-British agreement to close their borders, but also because of the hostile policies of other European countries. Many in Northern France have tried their luck and failed, in Germany, Switzerland and Eastern Europe, only to conclude that England is their only hope of survival.

Jesuit Fr Philippe Demeestre has just finished a month-long hunger strike in Calais, to ask for practical immediate humanitarian treatment of migrants with care and courtesy, so that the migrants can eat, drink and sleep without harassment. The smugglers are merely a phenomenon generated by their existential dreadful dilemma. It is clear that safe and legal processes would start to alleviate the immediate problem. More radical solutions, just, and long lasting, though certainly not easy, can then be sought. Even before the political steps, humanitarian treatment of the migrants needs to be implemented.

There will be a Prayer Vigil outside the Home Office on 13 December, from 12.30 to 1.30, hosted by the London Catholic Worker and Westminster Justice and Peace, This has been run for several years and the practice has been to read out some of the names of the thousands who have lost their lives trying to reach the sanctuary of the UK. If the names of those who died today, November 24th, are known, we will certainly be praying for them. All are welcome to join us. The Prayer Vigil will be held next year from January at 12.30pm on the third Monday of the month, also at the Home Office.

A further service will be held in due course on the seafront at Dover. at the two plaques commemorating migrants who have died trying to reach the UK. For further information contact barbarakentish@talktalk.net