The Bishop for Migration has called for a “meeting of minds” after two adults and two children from the same family drowned when a boat carrying migrants sank in the English Channel.
Bishop Paul McAleenan, Chair of the Office for Migration Policy at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, stressed that a “shifting of mindset on the part of those who set the rules” is needed following the tragedy, as Calais aid charity Seeking Sanctuary reiterated calls for safe and legal routes allowing people to seek asylum in the UK.
Rasul Iran Nezhad and his wife, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, both 35, and two of their children, Anita, nine, and Armin, six, drowned during the incident. Their third child, 15-month-old Artin, remains missing.
A major rescue operation took place throughout Tuesday 27th October after the French Coastguard were alerted by a sailing boat of a migrant boat capsized in the Dunkirk channel off Loon Plage. A fishing vessel, a Dunkirk pilot boat, a lifeboat from Gravelines, the French Navy’s Garonne, a customs patrol vessel and French and Belgian helicopters were all involved. Seeking Sanctuary said around 18 people, Iraqis and Kurdish Iranians, were taken to hospital following the incident.
Bishop McAleenan said that “all who value human life, whatever their position on migrants and refugees, will be united in sorrow” following the tragedy.
“Immediate thoughts should be with the adults and children who died, their families wherever they are in the world, and their companions who will remember forever what they witnessed,” he said.
“It is hoped that no-one will want to make a mere political point because of the incident. What is truly needed is a meeting of minds. That will require a shifting of mindset on the part of those who set the rules, and the pursuit of heartless profiteers to ensure that no-one feels compelled or encouraged to risk their life or that of their children, in a dangerous craft on the open sea.”
The growing number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel in a bid to reach the UK has become a major political issue for the UK Government, with more than 7,400 migrants reaching the UK in small boats this year, up from 1,825 in 2019.
Under international law, people have the right to seek asylum in any country they arrive in. There is no rule stating they must seek asylum in the first safe country reached but, under an EU Dublin III regulation, asylum seekers can be transferred back to the first member state they entered.
Phil Kerton, Co-Director of Calais aid charity Seeking Sanctuary told The Catholic Universe: “Desperate people have lost their lives in another tragic and distressing accident, this time off the French coast near Dunkirk. Conditions at sea were such that the crossing in a small boat was extremely hazardous from the start.
“Our thoughts at Seeking Sanctuary are with their families who are yet to learn of their loss and with those of their companions who were lucky enough to be rescued, but who must now live with the memories of this tragedy. Like everyone else, each of the dead had hopes for leading a future life in peace and dignity, all seeking to realise their innate potential.”
Mr Kerton reiterated calls for the Government to allow asylum seekers to apply for refuge in the UK from outside its borders.
“We continue to urge that innovative solutions are found for the welfare of the world’s exiles. Especially means for their safe access to places where they may request asylum without falling into the hands of unscrupulous traffickers who do not hesitate to put lives at risk,” he said.
“We want to see fresh solutions that do not involve more security measures such as patrols, walls and fences, but which instead see each individual as a fellow human being in need of advice and help and with a genuine contribution to make to our community.
“In due course we will remember the victims at the memorial for deceased seekers of sanctuary on the Dover seafront. In the meantime may they rest in peace.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his thoughts were with the victims’ loved ones.
“We have offered the French authorities every support as they investigate this terrible incident, and will do all we can to crack down on the ruthless criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people by facilitating these dangerous journeys,” he said.
Picture: Bishop Paul McAleenan. (Mazur/cbcew.org.uk).