29 November 2022, The Tablet

Bishop challenges policies that led to 'avoidable tragedy' of migrant drownings

Bishop challenges policies that led to 'avoidable tragedy' of migrant drownings

Justice and Peace Scotland joined Ayrshire Hope Not Hate at Scotland’s only immigration detention centre, Dungavel.
Justice and Peace Scotland

A senior Catholic bishop has marked the “avoidable tragedy” of migrant deaths in the English Channel last year, challenging the policies and “unacceptable discourse” that rob them of their human dignity.

Offering prayers for at least 27 migrants who died in the Channel a year ago, Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead bishop for migrants and refugees for the bishops of England and Wales, said: “This avoidable tragedy challenges us to reflect on our collective responsibility for protecting refugees and migrants from life-threatening danger. As more of our brothers and sisters attempt to make this crossing in search of a better life, unacceptable discourse and policies continue to rob them of their human dignity.”

He said: “We pray for those who died on their journey to a hoped-for new life. We pray too for their families and all those forced from their homelands, and we recommit ourselves to the Holy Father’s plea to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate all those seeking a home in our communities.” More than 40,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats in 2022 so far.

The first anniversary of the worst maritime disaster in the Channel for 30 years on 24 November 2021 was marked by vigils on the south coast, organised by refugee support groups. All called for safer routes for refugees to come to Britain. Around 100 people gathered on the beach at Folkestone in an evening vigil where one participant said: “The horrible weather just made it even more moving and poignant.” Great sadness was expressed that the migrants died in the dinghy disaster while countries bickered over who was responsible for saving them. One participant wrote on Twitter: “Whether in the Channel, in detention centres, camps, on the street etc, people seeking safety are dying because they are ignored.” 

Phil Kerton of Seeking Sanctuary told The Tablet: “Ramsgate witnessed a similar event and flowers left on the Folkestone beach were later taken to Dover and laid at the memorial plaques for the dead near the ferry terminal.” 

Grieving relatives gathered in London’s Parliament Square on 24 November, holding photos and candles in the driving rain to remember their loved ones. Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, which organised the vigil, said the families are still waiting for answers on why their loved ones’ lives were not saved by the UK or French authorities. “They haven’t had the courtesy of a meeting or basic information of what happened,” she said.

The names of the dead were remembered at the start of last week in London, during the monthly lunch-time vigil outside the Home Office. And there is increasing concern as current diphtheria cases have risen to more than 50 among asylum seekers recently arrived in the UK. A migrant who died on 19 November after being held at Manston processing centre in Kent had contracted the disease. 

Last Sunday, Justice and Peace Scotland joined Ayrshire Hope Not Hate at Scotland’s only immigration detention centre, Dungavel, to witness peacefully against immigration detention and the hostile environment for refugees and asylum seekers. “As part of our witness we marked the first anniversary of the tragic deaths in the English Channel – with the names of each victim read out loud,” Frances Gallagher told The Tablet.  


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