04/12/2015 12:09 GMT | Updated 04/12/2016 05:12 GMT

The Migrant Crisis Won't Disappear if We Ignore it


Three weeks ago, I was part of a delegation to Calais to see the conditions at the migrant camp on the outskirts of the city. Co-organised by London Churches and the Faiths Forum for London, the visit aimed to see how communities in the capital can provide support or assistance for the migrant crisis in Europe.

The majority of people I spoke to were fleeing persecution from their home nations. There was an Afghan interpreter who'd worked for the Allied forces and was left behind when the troops withdrew, leaving him to fend for himself against the Taliban. A Pakistani man from the North West Province spoke of the daily onslaught of terrorism in his home town. An Eritrean whose wife and children were in the UK said how he wanted to be reunited with them. Young children and teenagers were scattered around, their families having sent them unaccompanied into Europe in the hope of a safer life. All were desperate people.

During the daytime, the area was superficially like a festival camp site. Shops sold fresh food and cooked meals, walkways were clear but muddy, and there were a variety of tents and makeshift buildings. However, when dark began to fall, it became clear that the site was a dangerous place. We were told that gangs wander around at night, tents are ransacked by violent thugs, and that the Police turn a blind eye towards the suffering. Women were not safe out late, and the vast majority were in a separate camping area. It was, according to those I spoke to, as wild as a 'Jungle' at night, hence the name.

The entire delegation was extremely moved by what we saw. We spoke to people from Citizens UK working on a project at the camp as well as Yvette Cooper MP, visiting in her capacity as head of the Labour Party's Refugee Taskforce. There was a clear desire from all of us to improve the situation on the camp and help those who have a legal right to be reunited with loved ones in Britain. There was even talk of a media campaign to bring the refugees back into the spotlight.

Then, the following day, the Paris attacks happened. All of us were left in shock at the horrific atrocities committed on our doorstep. Refugees were back in the news, but this time, they were viewed as potential terrorists rather than as people trying to flee them.

Just three weeks on and we are carrying out air strikes in Syria. Britain will literally be raining fire and Brimstone in the Middle East in the fight against Daesh. The number of displaced people will continue to rise from the conflict, and the migrant crisis in Europe will only worsen.

What is the Government's response to this impending increase in refugees? Ignorance. The commitment to 20,000 refugees over the next 5 years is unlikely to change very soon. The migrants already in Europe are being wilfully ignored by Britain, and NGOs and grass-roots community groups having to pick up the pieces instead.

We must act decisively in the fight against Daesh, but with that comes the responsibility of looking after those who will suffer as a result. We do not have a plan for those refugees, no plan for those whose families who will be killed in the bombing, no plan for the people who escape to the EU and need our help.

We should be ashamed that the Afghan interpreter's life is still in danger some 14 years after Britain went to war in his country, that we have forgotten a man who risked everything to help our troops. Syria is likely to be a similarly long fight, and the air strikes are probably just the first step in our involvement in this complicated conflict. We still haven't learned the lessons of the last 14 years, and something tells me that we are unlikely to learn them any time soon.

If refugees continue to come to Europe because of our actions abroad, then we have a moral obligation to support them as best we can, including an increase in the number we take into the UK. This migrant crisis is not going to disappear, no matter how hard our Government tries to ignore it.

At this time of year, we remember a refugee couple fleeing state persecution and who had a child in conditions very much like those at the camp in Calais. It's up to all of us to make sure we don't turn away from such desperate people when they need us most.

Winter is going to be tough for many of them, and there are likely to be several casualties from the cold weather once it arrives. Cameron must realise that with global involvement comes global responsibilities. We need to put pressure on the Government to make it realise that the refugee crisis is, in many respects, of Britain's own making and that we as a nation must do whatever we can to relieve their plight. If we don't, then the Government will have more than just the deaths of Daesh fighters on their hands.