Calais and the Language of Fear

Anyone who has been following media reports of the disturbances in Calais will have been struck by the way in which the language we use reveals more hidden attitudes. The BBC seems to have opted for ‘migrants’ as the most neutral term it can find to describe those trying to make their way into Britain via the Eurotunnel. Add ‘illegal’ to ‘migrant’ and one immediately has a more disapproving idea of the people involved. Why should anyone think they have the right to enter Britain? Aren’t they already in a free country (France)? They only want to come here so they can enjoy a better standard of living at our expense! Conversely, call such people ‘refugees’ or ‘asylum seekers’ and a more positive note is sounded. What unimaginable horrors they have fled from, and at what cost! A compassionate society must provide for them. Shame on those who show reluctance! How we talk about all the others caught up in the disturbances, from the French police or Eurotunnel guards to British lorry-drivers/holiday-makers, also reflects our underlying attitudes.

What I think is indisputable is that we are all, in some measure, afraid. Our language about Calais is the language of fear, whether we take a positive or negative view of people and events. Some are afraid of being swamped by an alien tide of immigrants; others are afraid of being found wanting in compassion, of inhumanity to those most in need. Ask me where I myself stand and I can’t answer because the situation is too complex. How does one weigh the case of a young person fleeing poverty and distress against (significant word!) that of the middle-aged lorry-driver whose freight company is being pushed towards financial collapse? Everyone wants the situation resolved peacefully and soon, but how shall we be fair to everyone involved?

To many, it will seem lame and inadequate to say that, unless we are called upon to give practical help, the only answer is prayer; but there is a very important truth contained in that answer. Prayer, because it invites God into a situation, opens it up in a way impossible to us as mere human beings. It drives out fear and selfishness (which is only another kind of fear) and allows us to work for the common good. In all the debate about what should or should not be done in Calais, no one seems to have addressed the importance of changing the economic/political circumstances that drive people to make that hazardous journey to Europe in the first place. Until we do something about that, I suspect we are destined to go on being afraid. Calais is a challenge to more than the way we use words. It is a challenge to the way we view the world.


8 thoughts on “Calais and the Language of Fear”

  1. Thank you Dame Catherine for saying what I think, in a more comprehensive way.

    I was listening to a local radio station in Kent earlier today and they didn’t subscribe to the hysteria about #migrants, but were highlighting the plight of local people and businesses whose lives have been subject to continuous disruption due to the operation of Stack on the M20 and the parking of numerous HGV’s of all nationalities in every layby and stopping place between the M20 – A20 and M2. And the leaving of waste, including human waste, indiscriminately in those places.

    They also correctly attributed the problems to a combination of militant industrial action across the channel by those ‘My Ferry Workers’ who are facing redundancy, by the decision of a british court, that the Tunnel people shouldn’t be allowed to run it (the former Sea France franchise) due to a supposed monopoly position. This has allowed a Danish company to buy up two ferries to go into service, while another three are to be scrapped – thereby, reducing the cross-channel capacity at a stroke by 30%.

    The situation of those who aspire to come to England, for whatever reason, is increasingly difficult, and there is no sign of the political will across Europe or wider to deal with the issues of poverty, persecution and unjust wars that are causing them to flee their homes. If I thought that my family were facing this, I would run too, seeking somewhere that I could feel both safe and economically able to support them.

    The media are fueling the hysteria involved, but our Political leaders are no better. When the Prime Minister describes them disparagingly as ‘swarms’ of migrants attacking the Euro tunnel site, he is giving the media grist for their mill Instead of giving leadership, measured with compassion and insight, he sounded more like rhetoric I would expect fro the BNP or UKIP.

  2. Those poor people who are flooding into our country only to face another uncertain mystery, to live in a colder climate without money, shelter (except tents) ot the hope of work. But, those poor, poor, women and children they have left behind with their only escape being traffickers or the mercy of a foreign enemy. Whole families are being torn apart, contacts lost forever and the infrastructure of their own home towns disintegrating,

    We are right to fear, they are right to fear, our world is being changed, akin to stepping in to a gently flowing river which turned into a torrent and it is now bowling us off our feet.

    We do not have the answer, only God does.

  3. Thank you for this very thoughtful writing. Prayer – inviting God into the situation- opening up the impossible to God’s possibilities.

    As always your prayerful writing is much appreciated.

  4. This is a very complex issue, I agree. Here in Australia we have a government determined to “stop the boats” – many lives have been lost at sea due to leaky boats undertaking hazardous journeys. Our government is also determined to keep secret its interventions in this regard. A distinct lack of compassion seems to rule the day.

    I do agree with your words about solving economic/social problems in countries where there is an exodus of people. I’m sure many people would prefer to stay and contribute to their country of origin – if conditions were safe and stable.

  5. Thanks for this article, it really reflect difficulties of human being and the way other people instead of trying to solve others problems, they contribute more. Human being nature, but we were not created by God with to live such way. We should help each other with good heart. For sure in this situation it is only the help of God through prayers to every one in such situation/troubles. Thanks for your non stop prayers for people in troubles.

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