LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A “shifting of mindset” is needed for those making the UK’s immigration rules, according to the English bishops’ point man for migration.
Bishop Paul McAleenan said a “meeting of minds” is needed after four people – two of them children – drowned attempting to cross the English Channel on Tuesday.
The growing number of migrants coming to the UK across the channel has become a political issue for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. So far, over 7,400 people have made the crossing this year, quadrupling last year’s total.
Under EU rules, asylum seekers are supposed to ask for asylum in the first country they enter, but with the UK leaving the European bloc, the EU won’t be bound to accept returned migrants after Dec. 31.
Johnson has promised to make the crossing more difficult for migrants, and to crack down on human trafficking gangs.
McAleenan said “all who value human life, whatever their position on migrants and refugees,” should be thinking of those who died on Tuesday.
“It is hoped that no one will want to make a mere political point because of the incident. What is truly needed is a meeting of minds,” said the bishop, who serves as the chair of the Office for Migration Policy at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
“That will require a shifting of mindset on the part of those who set the rules, and the pursuit of heartless profiteers to ensure that no one feels compelled or encouraged to risk their life or that of their children, in a dangerous craft on the open sea,” he added.
Sarah Teather, the director Jesuit Refugee Service UK, tweeted that the deaths were “terrible, devastating news.”
“It is not enough to wash our hands of this tragedy, or to lay the blame solely at the feet of people traffickers. We have to listen to the trauma those risking their lives have suffered and understand what makes people flee their own country and seek safety in the UK,” she added.
“We should all mourn the loss of lives. These deaths should disturb us. Make us weep. We should cry out at the injustice that led to a family drowning on the doorstep of Britain,” Teather said.
She also noted that for weeks, British media has been inundated with “ugly and ridiculous headlines” about the migration crisis in the English Channel.
“Scapegoating and vilification of people seeking sanctuary threatens to close our minds, hearts and ears to real human lives,” she said. “People take risky journeys when they feel they have no other options. Instead of devising inhumane eye-catching violent ways to repel boats, we need careful thoughtful routes of safe passage for real human beings.”
Teather called for concrete steps” to be taken by the government to provide safe migrant routes, widen family reunification rules, provide humanitarian visas, and increase refugee resettlement.
She also called for the reinstatement of the so-called “Dubs Amendment” to the Brexit Bill. This would allow unaccompanied child refugees from Europe to settle with family members already in the UK after Brexit is completed.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome