Edit: It should actually be ‘Thought for the Day’ as Mr C correctly pointed out
I was dismayed to learn of the clearing of dwellings in the ‘no man’s land’ of Calais – it’s a complex and difficult problem, not one that I necessarily know all the politics of, but I can’t help but feel for those stuck in that kind of bleak limbo. I think Abdul Hakim Murad put it perfectly in Thought for the Day this morning:
Muslims are just celebrating the festival that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. It’s a time of collective prayer, gifts for children, and family reunions. As the fast is now behind us, it’s a time for gratitude, and hopefulness for the year ahead. This year’s festival has coincided with a less happy spectacle, only a few miles from our shores. Yesterday, French police moved into a makeshift camp near Calais, which for several months has been home to hundreds of asylum seekers and migrants, hoping to make a new life in the UK. The sights were predictably depressing, as the crude tents were bulldozed. Even the makeshift mosque where the festival prayers were held is apparently no more.
The French state is understandably impatient with the situation in Calais. rather than claim asylum in the first European Union country they reach, many migrants head for Britain. To some, this suggests that work opportunities, rather than a refuge for persecution, is what they’re looking for. No one seems to have a neat answer to the problem. The young men and boys, many of them from Iraq and Afghanistan, are fleeing recent conflict in their countries. Many have paid thousands to unscrupulous people traffickers for the chance to enter the UK. Although often regarded with suspicion in Europe, they’re overwhelmingly innocent people, escaping persecution or war, or seeking an honest living.
It’s easy to forget, if one holds a UK passport, and is used to straightforward international travel, how difficult and different the world looks to those fleeing conflict zones and lack the right papers. Innocent people feel like fugitives, facing endless barriers to their movement. And even when they reach our shores, the system is becoming tighter all the time, with significant penalties for those who employ them. Even our Attorney General, ironically, was caught out, having inadvertently employed one. Yesterday, she was ordered to pay a fine of five thousand pounds.
Our country is getting richer. Many poor countries, particularly those suffering from war, are getting poorer. And the question is of course, what obligations do we, as the wealthy and priveleged, have towards to these uninvited visitors. Religion, all religion, praises hospitality. Islam, with its roots in ancient desert traditions of hospitality to strangers, is not an exception. The first muslims, exiled from Makkah by persecution, found refuge in the neighbouring city of Madina. Its people welcomed them into their homes. That simple act of trust and warmth is surely still an ideal to be cherished.
Although in our unequal and often mistrustful world, our borders cannot be open to all, we must insist that our leaders, when seeking a balance, do not allow Britain to present to the world a face of hardheartedness and exclusion.