UK Church leaders attack Government for Calais failures

African migrants shout slogans in front of French police during a protest on a motorway in Calais, August 7, 2015.Reuters

UK Church leaders have launched a stinging attack on the Government's response to the Calais migrants crisis.

In a joint statement from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, the leaders speak of their "growing alarm and anger" at language used about the situation and called for the UK to take its fair share of migrants into the country.

They say: "In recent weeks discussion has increasingly appeared to be based on the principle of self-interest. Our faith instructs us not to fear the stranger, but to love our neighbour. We view the situation with growing alarm and anger."

They say: "Our Scriptures teach the importance of love and compassion for all who are destitute, including people of other nationalities who come to live in our communities."

The statement adds that "the language in which the Calais situation is being discussed tends too often to demonise, denigrate or dehumanise the individuals seeking refuge in Britain".

Referring to comments by Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, it continues: "To talk of those gathering at Calais as a 'swarm', or 'marauding around the area' encourages people to see those in desperation as less than human, and so less deserving of sympathy, respect or dignity. To incite fear that by offering the hand of friendship and welcome we may damage our own standard of living implies that British lives and well-being are somehow more valuable than those of others."

The Church leaders called on the Government to recognise that most migrants cannot be returned to their country of origin, to promote the establishment of proper EU-run processing centres at entry points in Southern Europe, and to "accept the need for the UK to take its share of migrants as other European countries are already doing".

The authorities in Greece are stretched to breaking point in dealing with the vast numbers of refugees and migrants who are escaping persecution and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, many of them Syrian.

Cameron has since defended his use of the word "swarm", saying in an interview on Radio 4's Today programme: "I was explaining that there are a large number of people crossing the Mediterranean, coming from the Middle East, coming to Europe and I was trying to explain that it was a very large number of people.

"I was not intending to dehumanise, I don't think it does dehumanise people."