LEICESTER, United Kingdom – With children dying in the English Channel, the UK’s leading Catholic refugee agency says the government is ramping up a policy “very likely to increase the risk of this happening again and again.”
At least two Iranian children died when their boat capsized in the Channel on Tuesday, along with their parents. Another three people – including a baby – are also feared drowned. Another 15 people were rescued by the French authorities.
Writing in The Church Times, an Anglican weekly newspaper, the Jesuit Refugee Service UK’s Sophie Cartwright said a “discourse that scapegoats migrants and regards them with suspicion” is preventing society from seeing their humanity and seeking solutions to the problems that threaten their lives.
In response to Tuesday’s disaster, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said pledged to “crack down on the ruthless criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people by facilitating these dangerous journeys.”
However, Cartwright said that enforcing ever tighter border controls does not stop desperate people from moving, but, rather, pushes them to make dangerous journeys.
“We must … challenge the politics that pursues ever tighter borders blindly and at all costs, and the discourse that encourages it. We must actively work for a culture that values the protection of refugees, and keeps the humanity of migrants and refugees at the heart of the policies that affect them,” she writes in The Church Times.
Cartwright notes that the UK has no method for allowing someone to apply for asylum before arriving in the UK and does not issue humanitarian visas. She also points to the restrictive family reunion rules for recognized refugees living in the UK, which disallows children over 18 from reuniting with their parents.
“Refugee resettlement has not operated in the UK since March 2020, when it was paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, international travel has resumed, and many other countries have reopened resettlement programs. The UK’s resettlement schemes remain closed, even in cases where British communities are ready and waiting to welcome resettled refugees,” she adds.
Cartwright also pointed out that the people that died on Tuesday “were very likely to be seeking sanctuary.”
“They came from Iran, consistently one of the main countries from which the UK receives asylum applicants, and one from which a significant majority of asylum applications are granted,” she said.
She said that if the UK is “truly committed to protecting those who are seeking refuge, and to preventing the loss of human life, we must make it easier for them to do so.”
“We badly need a world in which people fleeing danger find bridges. Instead, there are borders and barbed wire,” Cartwright writes in The Church Times.
“And it does not end there. Those who reach our shores are subjected to suspicion and disbelief when they claim asylum, as is well-evidenced. Many are subjected to destitution and detention as they struggle through this system, terrified of removal to a place where they may be in mortal danger. This cruelty is often justified as a measure to protect British society against those who would game the system,” she continues.
“The same discourse that argues for making movement more difficult often also suggests that we need to entrench rather than challenge the culture of disbelief surrounding asylum claimants: that we should summarily refuse a range of asylum claims without proper consideration. This is in itself deeply disturbing for anyone concerned about human dignity and the protection of refugees, and so for Christians,” Cartwright says.
She concludes the article by calling on churches to encourage people to write to their representatives in Parliament, asking them to support more safe and managed routes for sanctuary-seekers.