Rev Dr Keith Beech-GrunebergDirector of local ministry trainingDiocese of Oxford

I’VE just been watching Songs of Praise. This included a visit to the ‘Jungle’, the camp near Calais which is a temporary home to several thousand migrants hoping to find a way to get into England.

The presenter met two of the people living there (both Christians, though most in the camp are Muslims), visited the makeshift church they have built, and spoke to some Christian volunteers helping those in the camp.

The question of what should be done about the migrants trying to come to Britain, and the many others seeking to make their way to southern Europe, is obviously a controversial one. The programme didn’t shy away from this.

It asked one of the Christians in the camp whether he thought it was okay to try to cross the Channel illegally. It asked the volunteers whether they should really be helping these people. But it also presented these migrants as faithful Christians, the brothers and sisters in Christ of Christians in the UK, and gave them the opportunity to tell their stories of the persecution from which they are fleeing in their own country.

These stories are often plausible, but can’t be verified. What is clear is that these people know that they are risking their lives in their journey, so they are only doing it because they are desperate. Even those who wouldn’t technically qualify for asylum are fleeing circumstances we would find intolerable.

There’s a great deal in the Bible about caring for the vulnerable. The Old Testament tells the story of the people of Israel, on account of famine, going to Egypt as economic migrants. They settled in Egypt (with permission) but some years later became the victims of oppression, so had to flee their homes. So in the law God gave them, they were told: “You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

In this law we have the foundation of Jesus’ command that we should love our neighbours as ourselves. Jesus included within ‘neighbour’ anyone we have anything to do with. He told the parable of the Good Samaritan to make the point that our neighbours may be different from us, since the only qualification required to be a neighbour is common humanity.

In the modern globalised world where news can travel almost instantly, I think it’s very difficult to say that anyone isn’t our neighbour. Matthew’s gospel also tells the story of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus as a young child to Egypt to escape from King Herod, making Jesus himself a refugee fleeing from persecution.

I don’t think it’s easy to know what to do about the migrants. I’m not suggesting we should adopt a policy of letting anyone in to the country who can get here. But I do think the question we should be asking is at least as much how can we help those in need, as how can we keep them away. How would we want to be treated if we faced what these people do?