A picture showing two women sitting and looking at the destruction of the Calais camp
  We have seen the government fail to honour its commitment to take in 3,000 lone children.’ Photo Credit : Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

Demolishing the Calais camp has just made refugees’ lives harder

Article in The Guardian
3 March, 2017

The demolition of the Calais refugee camp last October did nothing to improve the lives of so many desperate refugees, who now find themselves living destitute on the streets of France and are arriving back in Calais every day. These refugees, many unaccompanied minors, are now living in far worse conditions – the latest punishment inflicted on those living in the streets being the ban on the distribution of food.”

How can the law – under penalty of a fine or even prison – ban the charitable giving of food to people who are hungry? On what ground can we prevent anyone from giving a piece of bread to children or families with children who are hungry? Are we still in Dickens’ “David Copperfield”, where horror met David’s request for “more”?

This ban is manifestly engineered to create hardship, in order to produce a deterrence effect against other possible migrant candidates. This sounds like a Victorian moral choice regarding some social engineering: let’s not feed the destitute lest we encourage them to have more children. In all such reasonings, has the alleged deterrence effect been proven? How do we know it even works? How can it be measured?

More importantly, as a matter of principle, Kant’s categorical imperative is very clear: never treat the other only as a mean, but always also as an end. As a matter of principle, one cannot justify starving Miriam in order to deter John. This is also the lesson of seventy years of international human rights doctrine: each individual counts and respect for the dignity of each and every one is essential. Although politically sullied, the slogan “no one left behind” is an apt expression of this principle.

This prohibition also runs totally contrary to the moral standards taught by all the great religions about how we should treat the others. Charity towards the poor (Zakāt or alms-giving) is one of the five pillars of Islam. Tzedakah in Judaism plays the same role. In Christianity, the saying goes: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me“. The “least” of humankind today are precisely those migrants and refugees who cannot find protection, help, shelter, or support.

It is to be hoped that the courts will find such a ban illegal, or unconstitutional, or against European human right law, and that “public order” or “good morals” will not be used to justify a prohibition of feeding the hungry. Ultimately, the European Court of Human Rights will need to take a stand: can migration policy objectives justify prohibiting charity?

We can’t let this pass and say nothing.

To read the full article on the Calais camp destruction, please click here.

Share this: