I knew atheist George would speak up for the Middle Eastern Christians because he was one of the first British journalists to decry their ethnic cleansing back in 2013. During his first week in office, George became the first MP to talk to the Syrian Christian demonstrator who had been holding a vigil outside Westminster for months. So far the UK has accepted 5,085 Syrian refugees.
This brings me to the migrant crisis, which is a crisis not only for the migrants — called migrants for they are not all refugees — but for the continent of Europe, particularly those countries nearest Africa and the Middle East, namely Greece and Italy. In 2014, at least 280,000 migrants tried to enter the European Union. By August 2015, another 350,000 had arrived: 230,000 to cash-strapped Greece and 115,000 to Italy. Having reached safety, thousands of migrants have continued their journeys to more economically attractive parts of Europe; Germany is a favourite. Now Germany wants other members of the European Union to take their “fair share.”
The United Kingdom is an archipelago; the easiest path to its gold-paved streets is from France, most notably from the Calais region to Kent via the “Chunnel,” a rail tunnel through which trains carry passengers, cars and goods-laden trucks. As early as 2002, more than 1,500 migrants were camped near Calais, hoping to sneak into England-bound trucks. Eurotunnel, the company that maintains the Chunnel, claims it has intercepted 37,000 migrants since January. But there are thousands of migrants, mostly from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, living in and around Calais, still hoping to smuggle themselves to England. They are in and out of the news; it all depends on the latest eye-opener.
Although the war in Syria has certainly added to the crisis, the vast majority of migrants are not Christians fleeing Islamic persecution, but Muslims themselves. In one horrific episode on the Mediterranean this spring, Muslim Nigerian migrants to Italy pushed Christians overboard.
Poland and Slovakia are among the few European countries blatantly and unashamedly accepting Christian refugees before others, a discrimination they believe best for the safety and stability of their nations.
There is no migrant crisis in Scotland. Roma have been begging on Edinburgh streets for years now, but there are at most 210 of them. There is some native resentment over completely legal Polish migration, but the vast majority of Polish immigrants live in England. As members of the EU, they have more right to live in the UK than I do. As a Canadian immigrant, I had to fill in a quantity of forms and pay thousands of dollars (all I had, in fact) in order to live here with my British husband. I had to apply for my spousal visa from Toronto; I sat an ocean away from Mark for six weeks and cried. Ironically, as a Canadian legally resident in the UK, I can vote in UK general elections. Most EU members can’t.
The mass migration the British Isles have experienced since the Second World War is unprecedented in their history. Britain hasn’t been a colony since 410; its indigenous peoples have distinct cultures that developed with slow and moderate outside influence for almost a thousand years. The idea that Britain should become a vast multicultural melting pot of all the peoples of the world does not sit well with everyone. Indeed, Britain will shortly be voting on whether or not to leave the EU.
As I watch news reports, I wonder how many of the migrants are genuine refugees and how many are queue-jumpers taking advantage of catastrophe. If the migrants — Christians or Muslims — are waiting in camps in Greece and Italy, I assume they are indeed refugees, safely landed in their first port of call. If, however, they have got as far as Hungary or France, I begin to wonder. “I want to go to England,” said one angry, impatient migrant in Calais. “I want to go to Oxford University.”
(Cummings McLean is a Canadian writer and author of Ceremony of Innocence.)