To leave people in such an inhuman place is a scandal, whatever one’s views on immigration.
That was the response of Sam King, pastor of Calne Baptist Church in Wiltshire, United Kingdom, who recently saw the shocking conditions at the Calais refugee camp on the northern coast of France.
Around 4,000 people are there, including women and children, but many are in limbo and are waiting for their asylum applications to be processed.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham, working with the Doctors of the World Group, described conditions as “diabolical” in the first study of conditions at the camp.
During his visit, King discovered the French police do not enter the camp but are stationed outside, which means the threat of violence is high.
According to one witness, women live in constant fear of being raped and sleep six to a tent; church leaders request prayer for safety at night.
“Whatever their motives for being here, the people in the camp should be treated like human beings,” King said. “At the moment they’re being treated like animals. It seems to me not beyond the two governments to set up offices in Calais, agree on who pays and process these people so they do not have stay in these awful conditions.”
Since returning from the camp, he has written to his Member of Parliament, the mayor of Calais and even the prime minister.
“But what more can I do?” he said. “I wish they needed more blankets, but they don’t. They need people to sort them. They need some form of justice.”
King visited the camp with one of his church deacons, Rachel Rounds. She is head of communications at Bible Society, which had heard that from charities working there that Christians had been asking for Bibles.
The visit saw nearly 300 New Testaments, Bibles and gospel portions given to asylum-seekers living there. The Bibles were in Arabic and also Amharic, the language spoken by Ethiopians.
The Christians in the camp seek solace at St. Michael’s, a makeshift church, which holds regular services throughout the week and was featured in August on Songs of Praise – a BBC One television series focused on Christian hymnody.
The Bibles are handed out by the church elders along with blankets, shoes and clothes, some of which had been donated by members of Calne Baptist Church.
One of the recipients included a taxi driver from Ethiopia who was given an Amharic New Testament. He has been living in the camp for more than five months after travelling through Sudan and Libya from Ethiopia.
The man is in his late 20s and has left behind a wife and a 3-year-old daughter. He wanted to start a better life for his family and has applied for asylum in France, but the authorities have yet to process his claim.
“I dream of going to Canada,” he said, “but I spent $6,000 crossing Africa and the Mediterranean on a boat. What can I do? I have no money to go home and seeing so many people who have been here for much longer, I know that the French will not welcome me.”
King was invited into a couple of tents. “It was really moving for them to tell their stories,” he said. “And when they spoke of the favorite Bible passages, they had even more meaning.”
Paul Hobson is editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain – the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. A version of this news article first appeared in The Baptist Times and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulHobson10, The Baptist Times @BaptistTimes and the Baptist Union @BaptistUnionGB.