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Syrian Christians in Calais disappointed by UK’s refusal to accept refugees already in Europe

16 September 2015

On 3 September David Cameron announced that the UK would take in "thousands" of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict that engulfs the Middle East. For the 300 or so Syrians of all faiths in the Jungle encampment in Calais, the news was greeted with excitement. But the excitement proved to be unfounded as a few days later the details of Cameron’s plan were announced.

The church in the Jungle camp, Calais
The church in the Jungle camp, Calais
Photo: Max Serjeant

After the announcement made by David Cameron, people went back and forth, sharing the news and speculating on what the wording of the announcement could mean. The camp, on the northern French coast, is temporary home to around 3,500, mostly from Middle Eastern and African countries who are trying to reach the UK to claim asylum.

"To go from here to England legally is better for us" said Adam happily, one of six Syrian Christians in the camp. "Do you think that now David Cameron has said this, he can go back on word?" he asked.

"We will not be trying to get onto the lorries anymore," said Bahir - another of the Syrian Christians, "Hopefully soon we will be in the UK."

Later, however, the details transpired: 20,000 Syrians are to be taken in over five years, and crucially they are to come from the refugee camps surrounding Syria. Those who had already made it to Europe are not to be allowed into the UK because, he argued, this would only encourage others to make the dangerous journey. This effectively excludes Christians because it is too dangerous for them to live in the refugee camps in the midst of other non-Christian refugees who are often hostile to them.

Once again the Syrian Christians in Calais are stuck in limbo. But is it any wonder that they have made the journey, in the face of the persecution against believers across the Middle East? Syrian Christians face the prospect of religious violence in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, while the instability in Iraq makes it an unattractive destination. On top of this, they face the ever present threat of Islamic State (IS) who seek to expand the area under their control.

"My parents are still in Syria and it is very dangerous for them. I call them every day to make sure they are still ok. I had to leave Syria because every day you hear the bombs, you hear the gunfire. Every day you wake up and wonder if today I will die," explained Adam.

"Back home people would see me and say ‘he is Christian, he must be slaughtered’", added Bahir.

Barnabas Fund’s Operation Safe Havens is working to persuade Western governments to provide Middle Eastern Christians with visas so that they can find the sanctuary they desperately need. Working with a network of partners across Europe, it includes those Christians who have already made the journey to Europe, as for many, their faith has meant that staying in the Middle East is simply not an option. But for the moment Syrian Christians will continue to make the dangerous journey and to risk their lives jumping on the lorries at Calais. As Bahir explains, "Before the Syrian revolution started, we welcomed people from all around the world to Syria, but now we need help, nobody in Europe or the Middle East welcomes us."