I DON’T THINK WE’VE EVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT! The sight of so many poor people stranded on rickety boats, without food and water bobbing about on the Mediterranean Sea, desperate for help and longing to get to shore, is heartbreaking. Every boat seems to contain a heart wrenching story of brutal behaviour and callous mistreatment. Some people have been murdered for scraps of food, others have been thrown overboard due to religious intolerance, others have simply died from sickness and malnutrition and all have been exploited by people smugglers and cast adrift to meet an uncertain fate. The authorities are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and those countries closest to the crisis are pleading for international help to cope with so many refugees. Apart from the numbers it’s a complex and uncomfortable problem for underneath the obvious and overwhelming humanitarian need there is also a concern that the boats might contain a ‘Trojan horse’- Islamic extremists intent on getting to Europe with a more sinister intent.
Whatever the potential dangers might be, in the first instance we always need to give people the ‘benefit of the doubt’, treating them compassionately as individuals, for the vast majority of these people are genuine refugees fleeing the violence of war torn conflicts in Lybia and Syria. Not many people (men, women and children) would undertake such a desperate and dangerous journey unless they were completely and utterly afraid. We always need to remember and try to understand what it is they are fleeing from! Sometimes in our minds we try to make a distinction between those who are genuine refugees fearful for their lives and those who are economic migrants simply travelling in search of a better life, but in reality it isn’t always quite so easy to make such a distinction. Even if you weren’t in danger of physical harm, if all the structures you knew and relied upon had been bombed out of existence so that you couldn’t even feed yourself or your family, which one of us wouldn’t try to start again elsewhere? I’m not saying that governments shouldn’t have criteria or controls, but simply pointing out that sometimes these distinctions aren’t always easy to maintain.
The Christian view point has always been that life is sacred, for we are all made in the ‘image of God’ and the Bible teaches us that we should not only love God with all of our heart, but ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 22.29). Indeed Jesus reminds us in one of his parables that when we are generous in our care and concern of others, it’s almost as if we did it for him, blessing those who do so and judging those who don’t.
The situation may be vast and complex but we mustn’t allow ourselves to let fear and mistrust get in the way of our nation doing the right thing. Undoubtedly, nations must work together to challenge the root causes of such desperation (war, poverty and exploitation) but we must also encourage them to do their very best to provide immediate food, medicine and sanctuary to those in need. We demean ourselves if we turn a blind eye to such human want and suffering and it would be immoral if we were to simply let people – drift!
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25.40