The news this week has largely been dominated by headlines driven by latest chapter in the European migrant crisis and the decision by the French authorities to clear the refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais known as ‘The Jungle’. From a humanitarian perspective this was never going to be an easy task as over eight thousand people needed to be relocated to other camps within French cities and towns. However it has been the plight of the camp’s children that has been the most harrowing to witness.
It seems that no one really knew how many children were living in the camp – particularly those who have been labelled as ‘unaccompanied minors’. Just last week hundreds of children were bussed to Britain (amid some controversy) to be reunited with family members or to seek asylum, but in spite of this, and the dispersal within France itself, hundreds remained in the Jungle camp. As the week has gone on and demolition of the camp progressed, reports emerged that children were sleeping rough in shipping containers whilst the tents were set alight or ransacked. One newspaper photo I saw had a picture of three young children holding placards simply saying ‘Please please help us – we are children’. Heart-breaking.
That all this is all happening right on our doorstep somehow seems unreal. It has been a disaster waiting to happen for months if not years – and this week has seen some terribly disturbing scenes – as well as a disturbing lack of compassion and understanding in some quarters. Instead of arguing, or attempting to take the moral high ground over the political issues that all this throws up, we should, as a nation, have recognised the vulnerability of these children and, without hesitation, offered care and refuge. If the measure of a society is how it cares for its most vulnerable members then I cannot help feeling that this week we have somehow fallen short.
That fact that this is happening during One Word Week, and in the lead-up to our service at Horeb for Commitment for Life, makes it quite pertinent, perhaps the more-so because the focus for Commitment for Life this year is ‘Love your neighbour’, bringing the question into sharp focus of who we consider our neighbours to be. Jesus reminds us many times in the Gospels that we are called to care for others, but perhaps nowhere more starkly than in Matthew 25, 31 – 46 with the parable of the sheep and the goats.
Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?” The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”