LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Pope Francis on Sunday drew attention to Wednesday’s tragedy in the English Channel, where 27 people drowned trying to get from France to the United Kingdom.
Among the dead were seven women and three children. One of the women was pregnant.
During his Angelus, Francis mentioned those who died on Wednesday, along with those who have drowned in the Mediterranean and those affected by the Belarus border crisis.
“There is so much sorrow when thinking about them,” the pontiff said.
“I assure my prayers to the migrants who find themselves in these crisis situations. Know also that from my heart I am always close to you, in prayer and action. I thank all the institutions both of the Catholic Church and elsewhere, especially the national Caritas agencies and all those who are committed to alleviating their suffering. I renew my heartfelt appeal to those who can contribute to the resolution of these problems, especially civil and military authorities, so that understanding and dialogue may finally prevail over any kind of instrumentalization and guide the will and efforts towards solutions that respect the humanity of these people,” Francis continued.
The pope’s words came after Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster called the Channel tragedy “a tragic summons to action.”
“This event illustrates graphically both the ruthless evil of the traffickers and the desperation of those trying to escape poverty, conflict or persecution in search of a better life,” the cardinal said.
“Everyone is a child of God, with an innate dignity and worth. Focused international cooperation, safe routes to sanctuary and joint efforts to tackle poverty are all needed in the face of a global flood of desperate humanity,” he added.
Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, also commentated on the tragedy:
“Everyone knew refugees were crossing the Channel in unseaworthy craft. It happened [Wednesday] and the day before and in increasing numbers in recent weeks. It will happen again tomorrow and will continue unless determined concerted action is taken immediately,” he said.
“Concern for and a desire to protect refugees from life-threatening danger is our duty at all times, not only when a tragedy occurs,” McAleenan continued, adding the events of Nov. 24 are “a reminder of the desperation of those who are willing to risk everything as they seek a better life in a desire to escape appalling experiences and circumstances.”
“A remedy needs to be found immediately to prevent more tragedies and, at the same time, address the underlying causes which force refugees to flee their homeland, war, poverty, persecution and climate change need to be recognized and addressed,” the bishop said.
“The depth and sincerity of belief in the value and sanctity of every human life will be seen in the response to what happened. May those who perished rest in peace,” he concluded.
On Friday, it was revealed that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had written a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron outlining steps to combat the flow of migrants across the channel, including joint patrols of the Channel and stronger cooperation by intelligence services.
The letter also called for a policy of returning migrants who reach the UK to France, angering the French leader.
After the letter was published, the French government disinvited the British to a migrant crisis summit involving German, Belgian, Dutch, and European Union officials.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said cooperation is necessary to prevent tragedies like that on Wednesday from taking place.
“The UK cannot tackle this issue alone, and across Europe we all need to step up, take responsibility, and work together in a time of crisis,” she said
“We will not shy away from the challenge we face, and next week I will continue to push for greater co-operation with European partners because a failure to do so could result in even worse scenes in the freezing water during the coming winter months,” Patel added.
In a statement on their website, Jesuit Refugee Service UK said the Conservative government has pushed people to make the dangerous journeys across the English Channel by tightening its asylum policy, and noted its proposed New Plan for Immigration “virtually promises not create a humanitarian visa scheme: It stipulates that people needing to flee their homes will only be able to apply for safe passage to the UK in ‘exceptional … specific and compelling’ cases.”
Sophie Cartwright, Senior Policy Officer at JRS UK, said the human response to the desire of refugees to flee violence and oppression “should be to reach out a hand to help, to extend safety wherever possible.”
“Instead, our government hotly pursues plans to stop small boats with pushback tactics so dangerous that it seeks immunity for Border Force personnel, should anyone die as a result. In the Nationality and Borders Bill, it pushes legislation that could criminalize people helping asylum seekers struggling at sea, and punishes refugees for travelling informally,” she wrote.
“At the same time, it does nothing whatsoever to create safe and managed routes for asylum seekers, and even further restricts them. It has pointedly failed to commit to a sustained refugee resettlement program,” Cartwright continued.
She noted one of the punishments the Borders Bill for refugees entering the country outside official channels is to make it harder for them to reunite with family in the UK.
“The Nationality and Borders Bill responds to people begging us for sanctuary by erecting barriers wherever it can,” she said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome