The lead bishop for migrants and refugees for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales travelled to Dover on 15 September to meet with charity workers and volunteers working with refugees. Bishop Paul McAleenan, auxiliary in Westminster, told The Tablet: “Throughout the day it was made clear that the essential point which must never be lost is that it is our obligation to provide humanitarian aid to all those at risk, in danger and in need,” and, “that needs to encompass everyone, especially migrants and refugees.”
The bishop met representatives of Seeking Sanctuary, The Samphire Project, Kent Refugee Action Network, Care4 Humanity and the Canterbury Diocese Refugee Project Officer. He said: “Knowing how bewildering a strange place can be, befriending migrants is an essential element of charitable work.”
Bishop McAleenan called for the provision of “legal and safe” routes for desperate people fleeing life-threatening situations. This would prevent the tragedies of refugees losing their lives trying to cross the English Channel. Reflecting on the choice of many to seek asylum in Britain, he said: “It cannot be denied that the UK has had involvement in some of the countries from which refugees originate and isn’t it natural that they now look to the place which presented itself as a promoter of justice?”
The day concluded with prayer at the two memorial plaques on Dover’s promenade, one for 58 Chinese immigrants who died in a container in 2000, and the other for those who died at sea attempting to reach England’s south coast. He prayed for volunteers who work for refugees in the Dover area and in northern France, and for those who try to rescue those in danger. Also, for policy-makers and opinion-formers, he prayed: “May they provide a system whereby no-one needs to risk their lives in the quest for safety and freedom.” He reminded that 27 September is the World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees.
When asked whether he met any refugees in Dover, he said: “There were no refugees in sight.” He lamented media reports “giving the impression that the streets of Dover are awash with refugees wading in from the Channel or that local residents believe they are under siege.” He praised all who dedicate themselves “to delivering structured and practical assistance to the newly arrived from the sea.” It was pointed out that assistance to migrants and refugees is the responsibility of all, not just people at the geographical point of arrival.
More than 5,600 migrants have crossed the sea to Britain this year, and earlier this week it was revealed that the Home Office is planning to remove Channel migrants from the UK with weekly flights to mainland Europe.
Bishop McAleenan’s visit to Dover was filmed by BBC’s ‘Song of Praise’ and it is scheduled to be broadcast on 11 October.
On Friday, ‘People Not Walls’ presented its online petition calling for humanitarian treatment of migrants in Calais to the French Embassy and to the Home Office in London.