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What would we do if refugees were landing on our shores?

By Alf McCreary

Published 22/08/2015

World problem: we sympathise with migrants, but opening our borders to all-comers would create chaos
World problem: we sympathise with migrants, but opening our borders to all-comers would create chaos

Most people who watched last Sunday's BBC Songs of Praise will have been touched by the plight of migrants huddled into the Calais "Jungle Camp". The living conditions were as bad as I have seen in some 40 years of travelling in the developing world, and, yet, this was taking place just on the far side of the English Channel.

Presenter Sally Magnusson was sympathetic but firm in her questioning, and she pointed out that many people saw the establishment of this primitive church as tacit approval for the large community of illegal immigrants there.

Some of the right-wing English papers even accused the BBC of trying to create more sympathy for the migrants.

This was unfair criticism. I believe that the BBC was right to draw our attention to the plight of these desperate people, and the visit to the makeshift church was a reminder that the worship, and love, of God knows no barriers. I particularly appreciated one of the hymn which said: "There's wideness in God's mercy, which is wider than the sea."

The day after the Songs of Praise broadcast, the Belfast Telegraph carried a searing interview with a young Algerian refugee who had set fire to himself last year outside Belfast City Hall.

He said he had done so as a protest and an act of frustration and declared: "Nobody cares for refugees, but I made a stand."

It is hard for us to understand the desperation of a human being who sets fire to himself, but it is easy to see why this young man claimed nobody cared for refugees.

It is sadly true that too many people here remain trapped in our ancient, depressing and energy-sapping conflict between Orange and Green, and care about little else.

However, I believe that very many others do care deeply about the plight of refugees and migrants, but the problem is that we do not know what to do about them. The nightly scenes of men, women and children risking everything including their lives to get to Europe is heartbreaking.

It is easy to let the heart rule the head, but if we open our borders to all-comers, the outcome would be chaos. Just imagine the reaction here if boatloads of illegal immigrants were coming ashore along our coasts every night, as they do in the Mediterranean.

This is now a huge world problem, as Home Secretary Theresa May was telling us last week. This will require a massive response from an already-stretched Europe, where most countries are still searching for the most humanitarian and yet practical way forward.

We do not want an Australian approach where migrants are picked up before they reach land and are sent back to the inhospitable offshore camps.

On the other hand, countries like Greece, Italy, Sweden and Germany cannot be expected to share the burden alone.

We live in an ultra-dangerous world where a so-called Holy War conducted by the utterly evil Islamic State is creating more refugees by the day.

Yet, it is so easy for us to get caught up in our world of celebrities, ancient quarrels and our obsession with sport that is fast becoming a new religion.

That little church in the Calais "jungle" is not just a rickety jumble of crude building materials. It is basically God's question mark for us in a cruel and very unfair world.

What are we going to do about it? What can we do about it?

'The scenes of people risking everything are heartbreaking'

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