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News

MPs and bishops step into same boat as impoverished migrants
18 December 2013 17:16 by Liz Dodd

Church leaders and Catholic MPs today called attention to the plight of migrants by sailing along the River Thames in a tiny wooden boat once used for trafficking.

Rob Flello, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent and Chairman of the Catholic Legislators Network, and Liberal Democrats Sarah Teather and Simon Hughes, the party’s deputy leader, battled a cold wind and choppy waters to sail in the boat from Westminster Pier to the Houses of Parliament and back to raise awareness of the plight of migrants on International Migrants Day.

Bishop John Arnold, an auxiliary in Westminster, the Anglican Bishop of Croydon, Jonathan Clark, and Sr Margaret Baxter from the Jesuit Refugee Service accompanied them on the wooden boat, which had been used to traffic people across the Mediterranean to southern Europe. The craft was impounded in March 2012 when the 36 North African migrants it was carrying, including three children and a pregnant woman, were rescued from just off the coast of Lampedusa in March 2012.

At the helm of the boat was British artist Lucy Wood, who had it brought up to EU safety standards and sailed it from Lampedusa to London to highlight the plight of trafficked migrants. Her 4,000-mile solo journey took her from Italy along the Amalfi Coast; through Monaco and into the French canal system at Marseilles; via Brussels, Antwerp and Amsterdam; through Belgium and across The Channel to Ramsgate; then via Sheerness to London. En route, she has collected film footage of stories of migration by people who have travelled to Europe in similar boats.

“It gives you a real sense of what it would have been like if you were on the ocean,” said Sarah Teather, who coordinated the event. “But imagine if that boat had 60 people on it, travelling for a few days. It’s a tiny little boat, it can’t handle rough water and that’s what it would have been like for people travelling to Lampedusa,” she added.

Mr Flello said that the plight of desperate migrants was unimaginable.

“The issue for me is what the situation is like in the countries they’re coming from, why is it so desperate and what must we do to make life tolerable, to raise people’s standards so they are not so desperate they would risk everything to get away,” he said.

He also criticised the Government’s plans to introduce a three-month wait for immigrants wanting to claim benefits as “bluff and bluster” and “a gimmick”.

The Government is pushing through the measure so that it is in place on 1 January, when EU restrictions on migration from Bulgarian and Romania are lifted.

“Most migrants that come to the UK come to work,” Mr Flello told The Tablet. “It’s a fiction to say they come to claim benefits.”

Video: the boat leaves Westminster Pier