Thirty-nine people, one of them believed to be a child, were found dead in a lorry container in Essex in the early hours of this morning. There were no survivors. The vehicle in question had recently arrived in the UK.
Sarah Teather, JRS UK’s Director said “This is devastating news. We know very little about the people who lost their lives at this point, but they are someone’s son, daughter, brother, sister, father, mother, friend or neighbour. We pray for those who died and for their families and friends.
“The desperation of those in the container is an indictment of our failure to provide sanctuary to those in flight for their lives. This horrendous tragedy highlights the urgent need for more safe and legal routes to migrate and to seek asylum. If the government wants to ensure this does not happen again, it is not enough to focus only on criminal gangs — it must ensure that those seeking sanctuary in Britain can get here safely. It must build bridges, not walls.”
JRS UK’s calls for safe and legal routes were echoed by many others as the news of the scale of tragedy became clear. Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said: “This is truly tragic news, but depressingly predictable and avoidable news. If you deny people safe and regular travel routes to find safety, you are leaving them with no choice but to risk their lives on utterly perilous journeys and in the hands of criminal gangs. These gangs are a symptom of a much deeper problem – namely Governments’ failure to provide safety to those who desperately need it.
“As long as we think the answer to this tragedy is about building high walls and impenetrable borders, this will keep happening. As we have done so many times before, we urge the Government to introduce safe and regular travel routes – such as, in the case of refugees, widening the definition of family members eligible to reunite under refugee family reunion rules. ”
Pope Francis has previously lamented the “indifference” of society’s responses to the deaths of migrants. Following the deaths of hundreds of people in a shipwreck near Lampedusa in 2013, he stated: “we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters”, and called for the tragedy never to be repeated.
It is not possible to obtain a visa to seek asylum prior to travel. The Jesuit Refugee Service Europe has long been involved in calls for humanitarian visas, to make it easier for forcibly displaced people to travel safely.