Statement from Bishop John Perumbalath on the English Channel boat crossing tragedy

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Statement from The Rt Revd John Perumbalath, Bishop of Bradwell and Chair of the Churches’ Refugee Network (CRN):

I, like many who heard yesterday’s news of the tragic loss of life in the English Channel, was both deeply saddened and appalled by this event. Our thoughts and prayers must be with those who have lost loved ones, many of whom may well be living in the self-same camps in Dunkirk and Calais from which the deceased came. As we know to our chagrin, this was not the first fatality of this kind; there have been a number of deaths this year as statistics reveal that over 25,000 people have sought to make the perilous channel crossing this year.

While we obviously focus on yesterday’s huge number of fatalities, we also need to remember that every life that was lost in that cruel, cold sea, was someone’s brother, sister, father, mother, son, daughter etc. As a society we often fall into the trap of describing these individuals as ‘migrants’ – a term that often strips people of their humanity. Like you and I, they are human beings who are made in the image of God and loved by him. As such, we should always seek to show compassion and hospitality rather than coldness and hostility to those who are invariably fleeing situations and scenarios that are life threatening.

We also need to remember that asylum is a human right and as a country that prides itself on having an excellent record in supporting and upholding such rights, we should not be doing anything that hinders those who are seeking asylum. I would like to call upon our Government to ensure that there are ‘corridors’ or ‘safe passages’ that enable those seeking asylum to do so without further jeopardizing their lives.

Equally, I would want to see our Government and that of France, establish a genuine Entente Cordiale with relation to this situation in order to thwart the exploitative people smugglers who are cruelly profiting from those who desire to start a new life in this country. We must also be mindful that the people smuggling chain often starts thousands of miles away in a person’s home country, and until we, as the international community, address the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors that force people to flee their homes, this situation will be with us for a long time. Much like the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a global crisis that requires a global solution. I pray that out of yesterday’s tragedy comes a real commitment from our Government and those elsewhere to put aside politics and place human life centre-stage, so that we do not see a similar recurrence.