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Songs of Praise Calais migrant camp episode defended by BBC's head of religion

Published 14/08/2015

Worshippers attending a church erected in the migrant camp known as the Jungle in Calais
Worshippers attending a church erected in the migrant camp known as the Jungle in Calais

Filming BBC's Songs of Praise from a French migrant camp has been defended by the channel's head of religion who said the programme is not just about music.

Aaqil Ahmed, the public broadcaster's head of religion and ethics, said this Sunday's BBC One broadcast from the camp known as the Jungle, would focus on faith not politics.

He was commenting after filming wrapped at the camp near the port of Calais where a group of would-be immigrants have thrown up a ramshackle church, providing ministry and Christian worship.

Critics claim the BBC's decision to film there is a waste of TV licence fee-payers' money.

Last week the Church of England's senior primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby waded into the row, praising the move and telling programme-makers "well done".

Mr Ahmed said: "Songs of Praise is not only about Christian music, it also explores contemporary issues and modern themes from a Christian perspective."

He added the programme was not trying to make a political statement, but look at how migrants have found ways to worship in the chaotic surroundings and how Christian volunteers from both the UK and France are trying to offer aid.

Mr Ahmed said the programme went to the heart of the Christian tradition, likening the migrants' escape from their own countries to the Biblical story of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus fleeing to Egypt to avoid King Herod's persecution.

He also said filming had not been easy, with many of the camp inhabitants, tired, wary of the media and "easily agitated".

Commenting on his blog, he said: "In the first feature from Calais, the presenter Sally Magnusson takes us through the makeshift Church set up by Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians.

"We meet one of the priests and ask why they built the temporary Church and what it offers them.

"We also film at the Sunday service and meet one of the priest's fellow migrant Christians.

"In the second feature, Sally meets with a group of Christians from Kent who offer aid and Christian literature to the migrants in Calais because of their belief in Jesus' message.

"Sally also talks to French Christian volunteers about the work they do in the camp based on their faith."

He went on: "The programme is looking at how people express their faith, it is not a political statement on the situation or a judgment on migration, and to suggest so is wrong.

"Songs of Praise is simply reflecting the conversations going on in many churches and Christian households around the country.

"It wasn't an easy place to visit - many were wary of the media and aware of the illegality of their status and actions - many of them were tired and easily agitated.

"That said, we were made as welcome in the makeshift Church as we would have been in any of the Churches we visit around the world for Songs of Praise."

Mr Ahmed said: "The dialogue in that church was one of faith - not politics; and that's why a show like Songs of Praise is still important."

The camp near the French port is at the heart of a migrant crisis which has seen high-level talks involving Prime Minister David Cameron and the French President Francois Hollande.

In past weeks, there have been chaotic scenes as would-be illegal immigrants have tried to scale or break through perimeter fencing around the Channel Tunnel, and jump aboard lorries bound for the UK in a bid to gain asylum.

In response, the Government said it would be introducing tougher control measures.

Mr Cameron previously said: "This is going to be a difficult issue right across the summer."

Songs of Praise will broadcast on BBC One at 5pm on Sunday.

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