In this week's blog, Grace Buckley reflects on two recent tragic news stories and the differing responses they generated.
Following a recent unfolding news story, I found myself comparing the reporting and responses to it with those relating to a second headline story. The differences are challenging.
The first story was the tragic case of the young Argentinian football player, Emiliano Sala, whose plane disappeared over the English Channel as he was travelling to join a new club in the UK. Planes, lifeboats and ships joined in the attempt to find him. When the official searches were subsequently called off, donors raised £280,000 to fund private searches.
It was good to see the concern and efforts made for this young man by so many, although I did feel some unease at the lack of interest in his pilot. Had Sala been found alive, there would unquestionably have been rejoicing as he arrived in the UK.
Contrast this with another story unfolding in the English Channel - that of migrants and asylum seekers attempting to reach the UK, most seeking safety from persecution or war, some an escape from poverty. Some media headlines suggest an invasion. Home Secretary Sajid Javid cut short his family holiday to deal with the crisis, declaring it a “major incident”. An “enhanced action plan” was agreed with the French government, involving increased joint patrols. The Defence Secretary said the armed forces stood ready to help.
The reality, as charity Care4Calais told MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, was that just 500 people had tried the Channel crossing in the whole year!
What I found most challenging was that the whole purpose of the actions taken or demanded was not to rescue these people, to get them safely to the UK - but to ensure that they were turned back before they reached UK shores, or to detain them either at sea or if they landed.
There was no question of welcome.
There was even doubt that those with valid claims as refugees would be given the chance to state their cases. The UK government made it clear they would be viewed as “illegal” migrants – guilty until proven innocent.
Unlike the Emiliano Sala case, the migrants had no names; were viewed as numbers not human beings. But even if some were migrants, as my new t-shirt says, “Migration is not a crime”. And why should the phrase “economic migrant” make a difference?
Emiliano Sala was an economic migrant, moving to the UK for a better career. But we don’t view highly paid footballers, bankers etc. as economic migrants with the stigma that entails. Indeed we expect these people to move around the world to further careers.
I am the grand-daughter of economic migrants, two from Ireland, one from England. Only recently have I thought of myself in these terms. A very large proportion of fellow Glaswegians probably fall into the same category.
Who defines an “acceptable” migrant? As Christians, we believe in the innate dignity of every human being as a child of God. The challenge for us is to act on our beliefs - and not just in the case of some people.