Welcome! Scroll down to read our latest news updates; use the "Contact" tab at the top of this page to subscribe to email alerts.
Prayers for migrants and their plight can be found here.
There have been over 10,000 migrants in the Calais camp: all dispersed to various parts of France at the start of November 2016. Some joined others camping out nearby. In addition there were around 1400 in a camp at Grande Synthe near Dunkirk, destroyed by fire in April 2017. Almost 1000 were dispersed from there to sites around France and some 400 remained hidden, including a number of unaccompanied minors. More have joined them and there are now well over 800 in the area, all in dire need. If you would would like to help, the "want list" from one organisation (updated weekly) can be found at this website another here and another at this website.
You will find essential guidance on sorting, packing and labelling donations on the "About Us" page (see tab at top of page).
Don't deliver direct to refugee 'jungles'on your own without advice - contact us if necessary.
We have very limited UK storage space. Please check with us before planning collections so that we can advise how best to get goods to France.
Please note that we are rarely able to collect individual donations of items ourselves, but these can almost always be brought to a collection point somewhere in the UK - details of how to locate your nearest project upon request.
BELOW: Icon at Former Eritrean Church in the Calais 'Jungle'.
Ben and Marie-Claude Bano taking goods to the 'Secours Catholique' warehouse in Calais. Generously provided by people at Ashford, Aylesham and Deal
Thanks to the parishioners at Tunbridge Wells for their generous donations.
A call for generosity and understanding - BIshop Jean-Paul Jaeger of Arras, Bishop Trevor Willmott of Dover and Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark in Calais on 19th September 2015, signing a joint statement of solidarity.
Latest News Latest News Latest News Latest News
18 October, 2017
“Safe Passage” and “Help Refugees” are helping Lord Alf Dubs to call for full implementation of both his amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act (meant to allow 3,000 minors to come to the UK) and the EU's Dublin III Regulation (allowing children to join family in UK). Like many others, “Seeking Sanctuary” is concerned that unaccompanied minors with a right to be in Britain will lose their immigration place once Brexit has occurred. It is estimated that, in France alone, there are more than 1,000 unaccompanied children legally entitled to be here but remaining prey to police violence, people smugglers and traffickers.
MPs will debate the immigration aspect of Brexit plans from 12noon to 1pm on Tuesday 24 October, which is also the first anniversary of the demolition of the 'Jungle' in Calais. Campaigners are planning to hold an action outside Parliament to demonstrate that there is solidarity and support for the unaccompanied minors to have legal routes of safe passage to the UK: they are not to be forgotten.
People are asked to gather from noon alongside the George V statue in Abingdon Street, SW1P 3JY (opposite Parliament). At the time of the Calais 'Jungle' clearance, 750 child refugees were successfully transferred to Britain. We need to keep the pressure up, and repeat this success. Hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees still hide in woods around Calais, with minimal provisions and sanitation, in constant fear of police violence and traffickers.
Our government was obliged to take in 480 children under the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act. So far only 200 have arrived – none in 2017. Alf Dubs now asks us to go beyond mass emails and get together in local groups to plan individual contacts to persuade local MPs to attend the debate and put pressure on the Government, demonstrating that Britain welcomes refugee children. We are proud of what we have achieved and we should continue to provide protection to these children. Some of them will be at Parliament to thank the Home Secretary for rescuing them last year.
You can ask your MP to meet you in Westminster on 24 October and write or email to them before that date. Britain needs to feel good about what was done last year! The aim is not to polarise politicians but to bring people to build a consensus around welcoming child refugees. You can check your MP's name and postal and internet addresses at www.theyworkforyou.com, and advice on what to include in your personal messages to MPs can be found here.
Phil delivered goods to Calais on 25 September and 5 October – unusually, his fourth and fifth visits in about 10 weeks, reflecting the fact that we are finding ever fewer people to deliver donated goods on our behalf. Former stalwarts are spending more time helping out in Greece or within the UK, while the situation in and near NW France receives less media cover. At the same time that winter develops, not only are more and more people returning to the area or arriving for the first time, but official measures to deter them have become more and more harsh.
The number of people affected by the conditions outlined in our most recent update has increased, with probably around 700 in and near Calais and another 400 or so scattered in reach of the coast and close to major port access roads. The temperature has dropped, monetary donations have dwindled, the number of volunteers is barely adequate and stocks of key items such as blankets and sleeping bags drop to zero more often than is desired. Meeting them face-to-face, it is increasingly evident that long-term workers are "running on empty", unable to be confident that they can sustain operations into the next month. Sometimes it is hard to know where money for the next month's rent can be found.
Exiles are determined to remain in the area. A week after clearance of the new camp near Grande-Synthe in late September, 250 people had already returned. The huge deployment of police and buses had little long-term effect, with some people who were taken down to the Spanish border returning to makeshift camps in the woods. The town of Calais has failed to comply with a Court Order requiring a minimum of facilities to be provided alongside the distributions of food and clothing by volunteers. As a consequence the Prefecture has supplemented the 7 taps in Secours Catholique's wash-room by providing 20 mobile toilets, a caravan with a further 8 toilets and urinals, and two tankers (1000 litres each) that supply drinking water to 10 taps on pipes located less than a metre above the ground, that rapidly becomes a mud-bath. These are only accessible during the two daily periods of food distribution.
The promised showers finally appeared in late September, operating from Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 1 pm, with a time-slot reserved for vulnerable people (women, children and the elderly). Users are provided with hygiene kits and towels. 14 showers are so far operational out of a planned 28, located at the fringe of the town. Migrants are taken to them in shuttles with a capacity of about 20 people each, which later take them back to their starting point after their permitted shower time of about 5 to 6 minutes. The authorities thus intend to avoid "the creation of a new camp".
A United Nations expert report published on 16 October condemned the above measures as inadequate. People sleeping in woods and fields further along the coast and in small camps at locations such as Grande-Synthe, Tatinghem, Angres and Dieppe have even less access to water and toilets, and must depend on transport provided by volunteers to reach facilities in sports centres and the like. Conditions in the streets of Paris and Brussels are probably even more poor, but we have not the time and space to provide a detailed commentary here.
Ben writes: Over the last years we have learnt that collection of goods and their distribution to Calais often poses logistical difficulties beyond our capability. But the situation is so critical with winter approaching that any help is better than none. That is why I am launching an appeal, initially in East Kent, for more of the urgently needed items described in our updates. Do feel free to contact me directly if you can help – perhaps through your Church, school or club or other community body with which you are connected – we will make sure that what you collect gets to where it is needed before the end of the year.
“Seeking Sanctuary” has been nominated for an award from an internet radio station to recognise its contribution to charitable work! Voting is open here until 15 November. The intention of the organisers is to give a boost to organisations struggling to get the profile and funding they need to move forward, offering a leg-up to Christian organisations that are delivering practical solutions to present-day problems.
As ever, we are grateful for messages of support and news of practical action from those who receive these updates. These renew our energy and sense of purpose, helping us to persevere.
Ben + Phil.
19 SEPTEMBER, 2017
Ben writes: 'As well as being a campaigner for refugee rights I must own up as well to being a local politician in my home town of Deal in Kent. Our town motto is 'Welcome the Stranger' and it was with great interest that as Mayor of our town a few years ago I was able to find out about some local history - just over a hundred years ago my predecessor in 1915 took an active part in welcoming 1500 Belgian refugees to our town – there was a local welcome committee and accommodation was found for everyone across the town.'
How the narrative has changed! Now, even a small number of refugees coming to our town is likely to cause some controversy – hence the importance of the growing 'City of Sanctuary' movement on which we are making a small amount of movement.
Since our last update there has been continued pressure on the limited resources of NGOs in Calais as more and more desperate people come into the area. Secours Catholique, like the two Calais warehouses, has launched an urgent appeal for more supplies as their new store-room. Do think about whether you can organise a collection in your local Faith Community – we are happy to put you in contact with organisations which are in a position to take goods to Calais on your behalf, if you are not able to make the trip yourself.
All three organisations have issued updates about their needs during the past fortnight. The requirements are all similar, although Help Refugees links up the the Calais Community Kitchen and needs a wider range of food donations.
1. This is a link to the Help Refugees/Auberge des Migrants list:
(They give more information on volunteering and donating money at
2. For Care4Calais, information about volunteering or donating goods or money, etc., is linked from
3. Secours Catholique has provided the following information via email:
"We try to manage two major distributions per month but it is going to be impossible because we are short of everything...
For this we need donations in quantities.
Please no women and children’s clothes - only clothes for men and focusing on small sizes (S and M)
Jeans, jogging trousers, T-shirts, sweaters, underclothes, backpacks, hiking boots and sneakers, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, scarves, gloves, hats ...
You can deliver every Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon from 14h00 to 17h00 without appointment at our offices at 47 rue de Moscou, in Calais.
We can also arrange appointments for sizeable deliveries on other days. In which case please make an appointment with Christine in advance by email: Christine Descamps, volunteer manager of Migrant Relief locker room in Calais. (M.firstname.lastname@example.org)
You can send money donations to Secours Catholique by bank transfer or by cheque. In either case, please specify “Migrants program in Calais”. The bank account details are available on demand, or you can send cheques to:
Secours Catholique, Délégation du Pas-de-Calais, 14 bis, rue Noël-Trannin, CS 20286, 62005 Arras Cedex, FRANCE.
In summary, both money, food and goods are much needed! When collecting either food and goods, it's probably best to concentrate on just a few items, such as bedding or men's toiletries. (And if you or others are able to offer a fews days of regular help, that weill be most welcome!)
When Phil delivered goods to Calais at the end of August he found that there were more exiles visible around the streets than at any time in the previous 10 months, including a few more women. The situation in North-West France appears to be far worse now than it's ever been. The Community Kitchen is providing 2000 meals a day in Calais and along the coast at a cost of about 2 Euros each – more food than ever before. They and their sister groups are really feeling the pressure as both donations and volunteer numbers have dropped and more exiles arrive daily. Funds are low and numbers are going up. Help is needed!
There are approximately 800 exiles in Calais and perhaps almost 1000 more nearby, the majority come from the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan. All are entirely dependent upon NGOs for all necessities. Food, bedding and clothes are distributed daily at 12h00 and 18h00 at two fixed locations and by mobile patrols in the evening. Telephone charging points and WiFi are also provided, as is simple First Aid and transport to hospitals, if needed. The duration of each period of aid distribution is curtailed by police and state provisions of mobile toilets and drinking water are rudimentary and confined to the same short time periods. Also, the arrival date for the promised showers keeps getting pushed back for yet another week and skin infections are common.
50 million Euros have so far been spent on some 50 miles of security fences and walls, not to mention the cost of security lights, cctv and drones. Surely more innovative and humane measures could have been tested?
On top of this, Autumn has arrived and winter is just around the corner. The weather in Calais has turned, with many days bringing downpours of rain and strong winds sweeping in from the sea or across the near-flat WW1 battlegrounds. People are sleeping in the woods with no protection from the elements as any significant possessions are confiscated by riot police on a regular basis. It is difficult to dry clothes and impossible to wash them!
On 8 September we posted an independent account of a visit to the Catholic Worker House on our website, and this paints very much the same picture that we describe above. Do read it; especially the powerful account that Brother Johannes provides about the daily dilemmas over who to help and who to turn away.
We cannot conclude without returning to the topic of lone youngsters stuck in Calais and still not being processed for entry to the UK under the “Dubs amendment” or the Dublin 3 regulation. Children should not be living in the 'jungles'. Children should not be dying in the 'jungles'. Children should not be so desperate that they die trying to leave the 'jungles'. Contact your local authorities, contact your local MP, contact the Home Office. Find out why it's taking so long to reunite refugee children with their families. Find out why, despite the passage of the "Dubs amendment" into law, so few refugee minors have been taken into the UK.
In conclusion, we present a poem here which we have translated from the French worker-priests' newsletter.
Thank you for your concern and your support and solidarity towards needy fellow human beings.
Ben + Phil.
8 SEPTEMBER 2017
Nobody should live like this
Report from Westminster J&P visit to Catholic Worker House.
On a wet, cold, end-of-August day, four members of Westminster Justice and Peace left London for the Catholic Worker house in Calais. It was our third or fourth ‘day-trip’ in two years. We arrived to find Brother Johannes tired and preoccupied with health and practical issues in the house. A volunteer sister had accompanied someone to hospital, while some young people were waiting for showers and clothes washing. Johannes took us quickly to a point near the former ‘Jungle’ camp, where several charities were serving hot meals to 40 or 50 young people who looked damp and chilled in the un-summery weather. We had arrived at the tail end of the proceedings.
Help Refugees, Calais Kitchen, Auberge des Migrants and others have banded together to provide nearly 2000 meals a day (lunch and supper) to those who have come back to Calais still hoping to cross the Channel by one means or another. From there we were taken to the far side of the city to another industrial estate where these big charities take deliveries and have a giant industrial size kitchen to cook the meals in large steel containers. Brother Johannes is able to get a good deal of food for the house from this distribution centre.
We were able to tell this very energetic Franciscan brother about the generous donations from parishes and individuals who responded fast to his appeal, which Westminster J&P publicised at the end of July. We raised an astonishing £3,500-plus sum, which Brother Johannes will put towards the drop-in work of Maria Skobstova Catholic Worker House. The bills for electricity and water, alone, are shooting up as some weeks more than 100 showers and clothes-wash-and-dries are offered.
It is clear from just one short visit, and seeing young people abandoned on the edges of the Calais industrial estates, that proper procedures are essential so as to respond to the needs and demands of these young people. A Home Office presence in Calais to deal with applications is a minimum requirement. Indeed, the report, Nobody should live like this maintains.
The administration of the Dubs scheme cannot be a solely London based exercise it requires multi-agency teams of specialists on the ground where most children are located, including Calais and Dunkirk to build confidence in safe routes and resistance to traffickers., we couldn’t agree more.
The summer in Calais has been difficult but volunteers are very worried about what will happen to the young migrants on the north French coast once the cold weather sets in.
- Yesterday, Br Johannes himself wrote:
It is difficult, it is very difficult. In principle when people come at our door we do not help them. This might sound strange or even hard but we cannot help people who come at the door. If we do that tomorrow there will be 10 people at the door, after tomorrow 15 people a day, next week 20 people a day and finally well there are more than 500 refugees with needs or illnesses in Calais, do I need to draw a picture?
We do however take people from the hospital or from the jungle with our minibus or other associations bring people they consider in serious need.
Sometimes you make an exception at the door - but how? Who is really sick enough you take them in or who is psychologically at the edge. And with this in mind how do we keep doing our daily accompaniment of the underage refugees we accompany?
Yesterday, I refused a hopeless young man at the door, today I took a young man in - exception. He has been sleeping from the minute we have him a bed. Really looks stressed and in pain. But who do you help? Who not?
This work has been a blessing for me from the first day I arrived. Through these people God has touched me every day. Through there smiles, laughs, touches, cries, pains,... God is there with them.
But it has also been hard and painful, as I have to make choices that are difficult and sometimes it even feels violent to make these choices. And even if I don't want to make these choices I have to ...
Powerlessness is one of the most difficult things to live with, but then that is also the struggle of my brothers and sisters out there. We subdue the violence of this world - and it is nasty! Europe has nothing to be proud about... we have left God outside at our front door in the cold,we let God drown in the Mediterranean Sea or we paid 'thugs and robbers' in Libya to get rid of God.
If you would like to make a donation during September please see: www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/rcdiocese-westminster/helpacalaisminor2
AUGUST 29, 2017
We produced our first Briefing Note aimed at Parliamentarians and other influencers of policy, which was sent out during the second half of the month
MIGRANTS AROUND CALAIS – BRIEFING NOTE, AUGUST 2017.
Lord Hylton suggests we should draw attention to a series of reports produced just before the Summer break. These condemn police violence against migrants in Calais and the State's extreme reluctance to provide any access to drinking water, toilets and food.
Awareness of these reports is patchy in the UK, especially the most recent one. As the new session of Parliament draws near, we aim to keep you aware of these by providing links in this message. Please feel free to contact us, or Faith Anderson (faith.anderson@CSAN,org,uk), Public Affairs Officer at CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network), if we may be of further help when you work upon this issue in the coming weeks and months.
There are now many hundreds of people sleeping in the open near Calais and hundreds of others close to Dunkirk plus yet more along the coast and near main roads. Like others in Paris, they have been living in a sadly deprived state, and remain uninformed about legal avenues for entering the UK.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Human Rights Watch issued a report on 26th July, “Living in Hell”, describing and condemning routine police violence and use of tear gas and pepper sprays on sleeping people and their property in Calais – including minors. This received immediate widespread mainstream media comment in France and the government has promised that complaints of police violence will be investigated.
HRW concludes that police in Calais, particularly the riot police (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité, CRS), routinely use pepper spray on children and adults while they are sleeping or in other circumstances where they pose no threat; regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing; and sometimes spray food and water. Police have also disrupted deliveries of humanitarian assistance. These abuses have a negative impact on access to child services and migrants’ desire and ability to apply for asylum.
Such conduct is an abuse of power, violating the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, as well as being an unjustifiable interference with the migrants’ rights to food and water. International standards provide that police should only use force when unavoidable, and then only with restraint, in proportion to circumstances, and for a legitimate law enforcement purpose. Authorities have turned a blind eye to many reports of police abuse against asylum seekers and other migrants. (There is some dispute as to whether tear gas of pepper spray has been the most commonly used spray, but this is a minor point of detail in the context of abusive and needless intrusions!)
The situation is in sharp contrast to President Macron's commitments to a more humanitarian future. HRW says that to live up to these commitments and to international obligations, local and national authorities should immediately and unequivocally direct police to stick to international standards on the use of force and refrain from conduct that interferes with delivery of humanitarian assistance, subject to appropriate disciplinary action for abuse of authority or other misconduct.
The Ministry of the Interior should remove obstacles to access to refugee protection, including either establishing a Calais asylum office or easing access to existing offices, at least 45km distant. It should also work with appropriate agencies and humanitarian groups to provide access to shelter for all asylum applicants, including emergency accommodation for undocumented migrants without shelter in Calais. Finally, authorities should ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have access to child protection services, including shelters with sufficient capacity and adequate staffing.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING FOUNDATION
Rt Hon Fiona Mactaggart and Baroness Butler-Sloss GBE, recent Chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, oversaw the production of a report
from an independent UK inquiry on 10th July, “Nobody deserves to live this way”. It examines the situation of separated and unaccompanied minors in parts of Europe, including France, and was sponsored by the Human Trafficking Foundation.
It concludes that protecting children on the move is an issue of child protection and prevention of serious crime as well as immigration. There is overwhelming evidence of violence inflicted by French authorities and police, whether the indiscriminate use of truncheons or the tear gassing of children and their sleeping bags. With the premature end of the “Dubs” scheme and a police-induced mistrust of officials, young people see their routes to the UK as paying people smugglers or becoming entangled with traffickers. The UK should devote resources to devising legal schemes for transferring young people, with more transparency in procedures, improved liaison with charities working with children, and better dissemination of relevant information in appropriate language and formats.
EVENTS IN FRANCE
In the wake of a scathing 14th June report (in French) from the independent Défenseur des droits (Human Rights Ombudsman), eleven refugee support organisations gained an Order from a Tribunal in Lille on 27th June, stating that police should stop hindering aid distributions and that a minimum of sources of drinking water, adequate toilets and access to showers should be provided to avoid “the risk of inhuman and degrading treatment”. The Calais Town Council did nothing apart from appealing the judgement along with the Minister of the Interior. The appeal failed at the end of July and, while the Mayor maintains that she would rather go to prison than give way to the Court, the Prefect promised to provide drinking water taps, toilets and mobile shower units. A few taps and mobile toilets appeared at a Secours Catholique establishment in mid-August, about seven weeks after the original Court Order, with another “mobile” set arriving later in the month. Showers (apparently now only for the vulnerable?) had still not arrived as August drew to a end. Restrictions are harshly imposed upon times and places for food and clothing distribution by volunteer NGOs, with varied styles of police intimidation.
A full-page Guardian article by Amelia Gentleman provides a good description of the situation around Calais on 10th August, as the overdue installation of water points and toilets was awaited.
Pope Francis in a message dated 15th August, sets out a series of concrete proposals for world leaders to consider in pending United Nations agreements. He repeats that our shared response to migrants and refugees may be articulated by four verbs: “to welcome, protect, promote and integrate”. It is not easy to find much echo of these verbs in the public responses of the French and UK governments to the Calais situation
Phil Kerton & Ben Bano,
26 July, 2017
'Every migrant has a name, a face and a story' (Pope Francis)
It's timely to recall this quote from Pope Francis, not least because it encapsulates the individuality of all those who seek sanctuary from desperate poverty or from wars and persecution. All too often we talk about 'migrants and asylum seekers' as if they were all the same and we forget the individual stories behind their plight.
ARRIVALS IN EUROPE
And the plight grows ever worse. In this summer season when better weather makes crossing in a flimsy boat just a little less dangerous, the narrative of intolerance becomes even more strident, both here and elsewhere in Europe. Italy which has taken in more than 53,000 migrants since the end of the year rightly calls on other EU nations to play their part. In the current febrile climate of UK politics when politicians vie in trying show their strong-arm credentials over rights of entry to Britain, the migrants with whom we are concerned with have little hope unless the pressure is kept up by people such as yourselves: our three hundred email contacts and those with whom you share our news.
HARDER TIMES AROUND CALAIS
Migrants get seen as an inconvenience, even a threat to our security, as fewer and fewer leaders in positions of authority are prepared to defend their interests. In Northern France the numbers become ever greater and the migrants there are playing a desperate game of cat and mouse with the authorities as the feeding arrangements are barely tolerated .and where the authorities' approach is to simply confiscate basic supplies and try to deter refugees with pepper spray and tear-gas.
In the wake of a scathing report from the Human Rights Ombudsman, eleven refugee support organisations won an appeal to a Tribunal in Lille on 27 June, demanding that police should stop hindering aid distributions and that a minimum of sources of drinking water, adequate toilets and access to showers be provided in order to avoid “the risk of inhuman and degrading treatment”. The Town Council had done nothing after 10 days, saying that it is appealing against the judgement and that the Mayor would rather go to prison than give way to the Court. The Minister of the Interior is also leading an appeal.
THE SCENE IN PARIS
Phil was in Paris for a few days near the start of June and managed to go out to the complex road and tram junction where the motorway from Lille and Calais terminates at Porte de La Chapelle. A dreary landscape bordered by the orbital motorway and a rail embankment. Migrants were gathering there to sleep on the streets at night and wander them by day, hoping to be among the few who get into one of the dozen or so places becoming vacant each day the extremely inadequate official shelter. The capacity is 400 and about 200 newcomers arrive each week. Some two months ago in the 33rd such clearance since 2015, 1610 people were removed from the streets to various locations. A new police clearance on 7 July moved over 2700 to temporary accommodation such as school gymnasiums that have become vacant for the holiday season.
Like most other European states, France has yet to organise a sustainable, dignified and humane solution to the challenge posed by those escaping desperate conditions in the Middle East and Africa. A purported “new” strategy was outlined on 12th July, and includes the creation of 4,000 places of shelter for asylum seekers in 2018, followed by another 3,500 in 2019. An additioal 5,000 places will be created to help refugees to access housing, with the appointment of a government commissioner for integration. Alongside these measures, more staff will be employed to cater for the objective of seeing asylum applications processed in six months (against a current period of more than a year for many cases), and to oversee new regulations to ensure the rapid deportation of unsuccessful applicants and deal effectively with people who have been fingerprinted elsewhere. Bills will be proposed in September.
UNACCOMPANIED MINORS – NEW REPORTS
A report “Nobody deserves to live this way” has been issued from an independent UK inquiry into the situation of separated and unaccompanied minors in parts of Europe, sponsored by the Human Trafficking Foundation. This concludes that protecting children on the move is not just an immigration issue but also a matter of child protection and preventing serious and organised crime. The writers point out that there is overwhelming evidence of violence inflicted by the French authorities and the police, whether it be the indiscriminate use of truncheons or the tear gassing of children and their sleeping bags. Renewed effort must be devoted to legal schemes for transfer of young people to the UK, with more transparency in procedures, improved liaison with charities who work with the children, and better dissemination of relevant information in appropriate language and formats. All matters upon which we have commented in the past!
The Human Rights Foundation has also issued a report describing and condemning routine police violence and use of pepper sprays against sleeping people and their property in Calais – including minors. This received immediate widespread mainstream media comment in France and we can but hope that the mounting pressure will eventually reduce violence.
THINGS THAT WE HAVE DONE
And all this is happening now. We need to persuade those around us and those in positions of influence (your MP perhaps?) to let basic humanity transcend whatever politics they carry and dare to start to care about this. And above all we need to stop blaming people who have zero power and stop using dehumanising language.
We helped to prepare videos for Refugee Week, and you can see three of the results here. There are plans to include these in an exhibition in Parliament later this year, and we hope that they will get noticed by some of the MPs who have not visited Calais.
If you are involved with a Faith Community you may be interested in our newly produced prayer cards which focus on the plight of those who have perished on their journeys, the majority lost at sea, including the many children known to have drowned. We are requesting a donation of £5 per 100 and if you are interested please email us for further details. As well as a newly-composed prayer, the cards include a statement of solidarity indicating the themes for action and a note of the link to our newly-added website page listing useful organisations who can help. You will find a photo of the cards attached.
ACTION TO BE TAKEN
Meanwhile the various operations in Calais continue to need goods for distribution to the places where they are needed, predominantly by skinny young men and teenagers. The urgent items listed at the start of July are fabric and foil sleeping bags and waterproof carrying covers; trainers and socks (sizes 40-43); waterproof jackets, t-shirts and jogging bottoms (sizes S & M). And all the other items previously requested are still needed – just a little less urgently.
When you have pondered this update and wondered if there can ever be a change of heart among officials and politicians, start finding out about how you can be of practical help. Our new website page listing UK support organisations may provide you with some ideas.
Start donating. Start volunteering. Demand that more imaginative solutions are considered and that children are not allowed to suffer. Start doing something about the situation!
STOP PRESS - 'Migrants are now out of fashion'
This was the comment made by a young volunteer with the Auberge des Migrants to Ben during a visit he made to Calais last Monday. The situation in Calais is now so critical that hundreds of blankets are needed each and every day as the Police use pepper spray on the ones they find, rendering them useless. The Auberge intended to distribute 500 blankets that day and luckily the blankets which Ben brought over from well wishers in England helped to make a difference as there are desperate shortages of much needed goods. listed above. Ben says: 'Migrants are still to be seen in the usual places in and around Calais, but they both look and are more destitute than ever. If conditions in the “Jungle” were bad, their current conditions are much worse. We must continue to advocate for the voiceless victims of war and persecution'.
4 JUNE 2017
UPDATE - CALAIS
CALAIS – VOLUNTEERS AND NEEDS
Phil visited Calais on 30 May, taking clothing, cash and bedding donated by various groups and individuals. He found a situation that was superficially calm, yet worrying: worries that have since been confirmed as correct
More volunteers with jobs in education can turn up during school holidays and various busy groups of volunteers are now using corners of the warehouse run by “Help Refugees” on behalf of l'Auberge des Migrants, so bringing back an air of bustle and energy rarely seen since the autumn demolition of the “Jungle”. In reality more volunteers and donations are needed as the local migrant population increases and official harassment becomes more evident.
The Refugee Community Kitchen was running at high capacity serving 1300 people a day at 4 different distributions points, made up of lunch and dinner in Calais for 550 souls; dinner in Dunkirk for 200 souls; plus 600 lunch and night-time food boxes for new arrivals and the most vulnerable, not to mention making flapjacks for partners who care for the souls in Paris, and providing 1000 litres of clean water per service in Calais. Volunteers chop, stir, wash, pack, drive, serve and then come back and do it all over again many times a day, 7 days a week with never ending enthusiasm and smiles.
The kitchen needs help more than ever: please pass on the news that people can get a volunteer pack about how to come to the kitchen, where to stay in Calais, and much more, by sending an email to email@example.com – or money can be donated on-line via the link https://mydonate.bt.com/donation/start.html?charity=147727.
CALAIS – THE DEVELOPING SITUATION
Travelling around the town, small groups of young migrants can be seen, with increased visibility due to the fresh increase in numbers since the start of the year. The same is true for the imported national police from the Compagnie Républicaine de Securité in full riot gear with helmets, shields, batons and automatic weapons, usually sporting sunglasses and moving with a pronounced swagger.
The former “jungle” has been razed to the ground – a wilderness waiting for the return of the particular flora and fauna that can survive on the exposed surfaces of the decaying sand dunes. Human beings have been returning for months, joined by new arrivals, but this territory is forbidden to them. Some are sheltered by local families, but with a ban on building shelters or erecting tents, hundreds sleep rough in patches of woodland in the adjoining industrial estate and in a few other locations close to lorry parks and motorway slip roads. Aid workers agree that there are around 1000 in and around the town and almost as many more scattered along the coast and in villages and countryside near main roads and motorways.
Newcomers – with a significant proportion of youngsters – arrive exhausted, unwashed, dressed in tatters, malnourished and frequently suffering from various maladies, particularly scabies and chronic fungal foot infestations. Despite the lack of sustained UK media coverage, the need for humanitarian aid has risen, especially as the Calais warehouses now additionally supply many distant locations. Volunteers do not have to be young enough and fit enough to sign up to work for long hours without a break for many days on end, as some volunteers have found at new projects in Greece. What is important is that they can promise to attend regularly and fit in to a regular routine. Sleeping bags and blankets are confiscated by police and sprayed with pepper to render them useless, bringing warehouse stocks down to zero.
But the apparently peaceful afternoon scene appeared fragile, as has since been confirmed.
The day after Phil's visit CRS police told volunteers that the distribution of clothes, food and water was forbidden, save between limited hours and to limited numbers of recipients. No written Instruction was produced, but large numbers of police have turned up to block every distribution. The experienced volunteers who go out to distribute aid are being physically and verbally attacked and treated like criminals. Associations have prepared these volunteers to be ready to perhaps end up in police custody just for handing out food and water to those in need. Some officials have said that all activities that generate crowds of people are forbidden under the long-standing state of emergency, especially as they may hinder traffic flow – and this typically down broad and quiet cul de sacs adequately designed to allow access for heavy vehicles to light industrial and commercial premises .
CHILDREN IN PERIL
On top of such recent (almost) local experiences, our concern for lone migrant children continues. And these can be found in very many places – a thousand in France alone. We suggest that you and others may light a candle to remember a child victim seeking sanctuary. More than that, anyone with young relatives who may be fleeing countries producing migrants needs to know about the work of “Safe Passage” - www.safepassage.org.uk.
This organisation, set up by Citizens-UK, works to help children and vulnerable adults who are alone and searching for asylum get access to safe legal routes to the UK. They have already reunited hundreds with their families in the UK and are working hard to help the many more who have reached Europe and still seek asylum either to join relatives or through their vulnerable condition. They are currently assembling lists of individuals with a right to be helped and asking courts of law to insist that our government lives up to its obligations to help them. Details of relevant cases should be passed on to George Gabriel, who leads this project. His office phone number is 020 7112 4984, or he can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can also supply information to be distributed to locations where it may be seen by relatives who may benefit from it.
In the wake of the Manchester and London terrorist attacks when so many young lives were lost in a heartless atrocity, it is not surprising that the nation's mood is sombre. It is of some consolation that the solidarity from so many people and organisations across the UK and beyond has been so clearly manifested.
At Seeking Sanctuary our thoughts also turn to all those those child victims who have lost their lives during journeys at sea, and by road, air and rail, in a desperate struggle to find sanctuary. The UN estimates that at least 500 children lost their lives at sea last year and there were further victims in recent weeks when grossly overloaded small boats capsized.
Who will be there to mourn and grieve for these children? Who will hold a prayer vigil for them? Their parents may well have lost their lives or lost contact with their children having committed their life savings to people smugglers in vain attempts to get their children to safety. Or the members of their extended family journeying with them may have lost their lives as well. And their plight does not make the headlines – pitiful pictures of them struggling in the sea are no longer thought to be newsworthy....
And so, we ask our supporters to remember and mourn for them – by lighting candles or perhaps remembering them in intentions and by highlighting their plight to help to bring an end to this modern day scandal. And here at 'Seeking Sanctuary' we will be expanding our area of concern, not forgetting the plight of the abandoned migrants in and around Calais, but also trying where possible to highlight the wider picture in a world in which it is increasingly difficult to seek and find sanctuary.
This is reflected in our intention to produce some relevant prayer cards to make a wider group of people aware of the dire conditions in which so many migrants survive. We need to get an idea of how many cards to produce, so please do let us know if you may like to acquire a quantity to pass on to others.
15 APRIL 2017
Hoping that you are enjoying a peaceful Easter celebration.
As we prepare this Easter update we continue to get disturbing news from Dunkirk where the camp was almost entirely destroyed by fire. Many of the residents who were displaced were put up for a few nights in local sports centres but they have now been told to move on - but to where? Some buses were provided but the majority of those involved preferred to push or carry their few possessions away to find shelter locally - a scene just 25 miles from the UK and reminiscent of the exodus from war torn areas that we see on our TV screens.
And many of these helpless people are unaccompanied children and young people who had come back from centres across France feeling that they have no future and that they have been let down by both the UK and French governments - and the recent decision of our government over the 'Dubs' children confirms their worst fears. To make matters worse we are receiving reports that these vulnerable people are becoming victims of traffickers with the very real potential of being exploited or being sold into modern slavery as their only way of paying for a Channel crossing.
Here at Seeking Sanctuary we could not stand by without making some response. And so in common with similar initiatives across Europe we organised a 'walk of witness' in solidarity with all those who are trafficked and exploited. Our 'walk of witness' took place on Good Friday - an appropriate date in the Christian calendar As we gathered together on Deal pier we could clearly see the French coast at Dunkirk - which made our event particularly poignant. We were addressed by Mike Emberson, Chief Executive of the Medaille Trust, who reminded us that the Trust now runs 11 safe houses for victims of trafficking due to the growing scale of this problem.
And so, dear friends, please do not slacken your efforts to address what truly is a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep. The various aid agencies operating from Calais, along with the Refugee Community Kitchen, continue to work at full stretch and we are happy to give you details of how you can support them financially. 80 of the youngsters from Dunkirk have family members living in the UK: please write to MPs asking them to urge the government to act promptly to deal with these cases for family reunification under the “Dublin III” regulation – the list of names has been sent to the Home Office. Furthermore, action is needed on the other children without relatives in the UK who failed to benefit under the prematurely terminated scheme devised by Lord Alf Dubs. He appeals for signatures to a petition here: www.citizensuk.org/dubs_petition
Let us hope that the coming months bring better news - in the meantime, thanks to all of you who continue to give us messages of support as well as material aid to pass on to those in need.
And, on the topic of material aid, the Dunkirk fire has left the various groups working in NW France in need of help from more volunteers and of donations of money and goods. The current lists of priority requirements are very similar and can be summed up as warm bedding, warm or waterproof men's clothes (sizes S and M), footwear (preferably sizes 40-43) and rucksacks – but if you have already collected other items, they are still very acceptable, especially appropriate foodstuffs. As ever, the detailed lists can be found at www.calaidipedia.co.uk/site/calaisaid/current-needs
With our renewed best wishes for this holiday season.
19 MARCH 2017
NEWS FROM CALAIS
News from those working in Calais is that things have never been so tough. The French ‘welcome centres’ distributed across the country may have provided a solution for some people, but for those where it didn’t, conditions are worse than the Jungle ever was. There are hundreds of refugees, mostly minors, sleeping rough on the streets of Calais and Paris with no access to shelter from the elements or even the most basic sanitation. The only food and supplies they get is what support groups are able to give them.
In Dunkirk the shelters are rotting and overcrowded and earlier in March the police entered one of the nearby smaller camps and destroyed all the refugees' possessions.
If you are able to visit Calais for a day or a week – or longer – to help, or if you can donate money or resources to help feed, clothe and support refugees, those working on the ground would be beyond grateful. They desperately need volunteers, whilst urgent priority donations include sleeping bags, gloves, men’s winter clothing (size small), men’s underwear and biscuits. You can find out more about volunteering at the large warehouses and requirements for other goods and money at www.calaidipedia.co.uk/how-to-help
Natacha Bouchart, the Mayor of Calais, has issued an Order prohibiting charities from distributing food to refugees in and around the area where the Camp used to stand. This is allegedly to preserve law and order and protect the local economy, but it is clear to the charities working in the area that the Mayor is becoming increasingly more desperate in her attempts to prevent refugees from coming to Calais. In doing so she is acting in a way that contravenes basic human rights. Food distribution does continue in Calais, using different locations daily, and Secours Catholique continues to offer showers.
All involved are continuing to work hard to ensure that refugees’ most basic needs are met, and to do their utmost to hold the French government to account.
AND FOR OURSELEVES
As well as receiving donations and moving them along, we have been busy raising awareness in the UK. Among other things we have met with an influential Vatican official and published articles in the Universe and (here) in the Catholic Times.
Thank you for your concern, your prayers and your support.
10 MARCH 2017
Organisations and Charities Issue Joint Statement Denouncing Government’s “Reprehensible Decision” on Dubs
We would like to associate ourselves with the sentiments expressed in the following statement, issued by a number of groups yesterday.
[Seeking Sanctuary's name was added to the list of signatories]
On 7th March MPs voted 287–267 to close the Dubs Amendment, and to shut the door on 2650 unaccompanied child refugees living without protection in Europe. This is a reprehensible decision.
The Children and Social Work Bill was proposed to have an amendment by MP Heidi Allen, which required the government to assess each local council’s space allocation for unaccompanied minors. This is a step that would allow local authorities to make accurate calculations about how many children could be cared for under each local council. This is a step which should have happened far earlier if the government were seriously considering to uphold Dubs beyond the bare minimum.
Worst of all, the argument for upholding the cap of 350 children, is based on incorrect information. Many councils have said they contacted the Home Office about available spaces and a willingness to take in child refugees, but were ignored.
Human Rights advisors have warned that closing the Dubs scheme would lead many minors into the hands of traffickers. If we aren’t willing to protect children, what is left?
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has perpetuated misinformed ideas by arguing that Dubs and other transfer schemes act as ‘pull factors’, that they promote the role of traffickers. These arguments are incorrect, and are used as excuses to neglect these young refugees.
Now, we must be louder than ever in standing up for these children. We cannot let a decision which unconscionably denies safety to hundreds of vulnerable people go unchallenged. We refuse to allow a fearful political climate to allow the UK government to decide that young unaccompanied children who have fled war and conflict seeking refuge in supposedly “safe” Europe, are not worthy of our help or care.
18 FEBRUARY 2017
Calais: Conditions worsen and aid workers are harassed by the council and by police
Phil was in Calais again a few days ago. Volunteers there confirmed that there were probably close to 500 migrants around Calais, swelled daily by both fresh arrivals and returnees. The Paris situation is forecast to become yet more dire soon, as people realise that Germany has largely closed its doors. The reception centres across France to which people were distributed upon the destruction of the “Jungle” are now closing, and those who have not applied for asylum will again without shelter and will probably make their way towards Paris and Calais. Anyone found sleeping in the open is moved on by police and their bedding is confiscated and left out in the rain or sprayed with pepper to render it unusable.
Harassment extends to those providing humanitarian aid, especially on the streets of Paris. Secours Catholique is not immune and people were questioned when two young men were found sheltering from the early morning rain beneath a temporary building module while waiting for the Calais Day Centre to open. A full account is available at www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=31923
You will also read the start of another story there, about official attempts to prevent access to showers at the association's “wardrobe” facility in Rue Moscou. A Town Hall official blocked the entrance with his car, which was replaced by a large rubbish skip. Legal action followed,
After the weekend, a judge in Lille gave the Calais council 24 hours to remove the rubbish skip. She made no comment upon the legality of the installation of the showers, but was certain that the misuse of the skip was an illegal act. The council said that it accepted the verdict but would continue its efforts to deter migrants from staying in the area. Meantime, 25 people took showers in peace on Tuesday and the skip was removed on Wednesday afternoon.
In the meantime the Council formally instructed Secours Catholique to cease all building work: too late, as shower installation was complete. Councillors fear that Calais will become a stopping point for migrants in transit. A statement said that: "No one denies the distress of people fleeing their country and getting stuck in Calais in the utmost destitution. Today, as in the past, there is no question of the city stigmatising the migrants themselves. Our territory is again penalised by a migratory phenomenon which is not the responsibility of its inhabitants."
Then, several van-loads of CRS (national riot police, based in Calais for many months) parked nearby. Their official purpose is to stop the activities of people smugglers. Taking care to clear their actions with their superiors by radio, they detained a handful of teenage youths who had intended to get showered. In addition, they arrested a Secours Catholique staff member who was bringing the nigrants to take showers, and a journalist. This suggested that the adults were considered to have breached the legal Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum, which provides that "any person who, by direct or indirect assistance, facilitates or attempts to facilitate the entry, Illegal movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by five years imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 Euros".
Interviews with the frontier police followed, and apparently everyone had a pleasant hour-long conversation before being released without charge, leaving the youths wandering the streets again, in search of shelter.
Didier Degrémont, regional president of Secours Catholique said that the people detained had arrived in one of their vans when police had prevented its entry to their courtyard, then checked IDs and taken everyone away. He commented that, the climate in Calais has been tense for some time, "Our actions have always upset the town hall, which is in total denial of the presence of migrants," But he stressed that the arrest of an employee, along with the migrants and the journalist was a new step. "It has never been of that nature," he said. He believes that a repressive system is being established around the Calais migrants, with intimidation in operation to prevent Secours Catholique offering showers for kids.
The association's national president has posed an open question to all candidates in the coming Presidential election saying, "Do you find it normal that public authorities hinder humanitarian action by associations and individuals?" Confrontation continues!
Meantime, warm clothes and bedding are still required, as are volunteers: we attach a new appeal for people to assist at the Catholic Worker house of hospitalty in Calais (www.eurocatholicworker.org/index.php?id=33).
- The message below is from an organisation - www.socialworkerswithoutborders.org/ - that is well known to us and their work, performed to a high standard in difficult conditions, has had influence in campaigns whlch have alleviated some of the worst excesses in proposed government measures.
Following the Government’s disgraceful decision to end its commitment to the Dubs amendment, which provided safe passage for vulnerable unaccompanied children displaced across Europe, Social Workers without Borders are launching our campaign #DELIVERONDUBS. We are calling on the Government to act on its previous promises and raise the bar to protect these children.
As part of this Campaign we are launching our vital Crowd Justice fundraising effort – see link below, to allow us to continue our support to unaccompanied children and undertake professional Best Interests Assessments. These assessments are currently being used to support 37 children in a High Court challenge by Duncan Lewis Solicitors to appeal the UK Governments rejection of their Asylum claims.
There are 2 ways to help:
1. Please contribute whatever you can to fund our work. This is more essential now than ever. The accommodation centres for children across France close this month and young people are making their way back to Calais to live in conditions more appalling and unsafe then even the now demolished ‘Jungle’.
2. Please share this email and link as widely as possible with family, friends and organisations who can support. Share on Facebook and Tweet.
Thank you so much for your help.
From all at Social Workers without Borders x
4 FEBRUARY 2017
Stepping out from the Shadows - February 2017 update
We have both made recent trips to deliver much-needed goods collected by a number of Church Communities. A very generous donation from a church in North London enabled Ben to distribute €1,000 to Secours Catholique and to the Catholic Worker House which is doing such vital work in protecting vulnerable migrants in Calais.
All the reports what we heard point to the fact that the crisis in Calais has not gone away – it has merely gone underground. Estimates vary but it is thought that between 200 and 800 people have left the CAO centres to which they were transported in various locations across France, and have returned to Calais. Here, they are eking out a fragile existence in disused warehouses, in fields and ditches and in other spots where they cannot be seen – since otherwise they risk arrest by the Police who are still very active. The warm clothes in our little bags of love and hope have been particularly welcome in the recent freezing temperatures, forming part of the aid which is being distributed discreetly from vans by volunteers, often under cover of darkness.
Many unaccompanied minors are also present in Calais, having left the centres to which they were taken in November, often in remote areas of France, and returned to Calais, hoping to join their friends and get to England. Many of these youngsters have lost hope of being resettled by officials. This is not surprising as the UK is only considering those nationalities who had recorded a high percentage of success in initial applications for asylum during the year ending June 2016. Faulty guidance for Eritrea was in use during that period, so that their success rate was poor, with the result that they are not considered for transfer here to receive sanctuary. Consequently they are trying their chances in Calais in dangerous and freezing conditions. We also hear disturbing reports about the the situation in Paris where the number of places in the official shelters is nowhere near enough to match the need and hence many hundreds of migrants are having to brave the cold and freezing conditions on the streets. The warehouses in Calais are delivering much needed supplies to Paris and further afield.
The demand for humanitarian aid is as high as ever – especially for warm clothes, sleeping bags and food. During just one week in mid-January, the warehouse run by “Help Refugees” and Auberge des Migrants distributed 5000 items to the severely fire-damaged women and children's centre in the Dunkirk camp, 3000 in Paris, 1915 to people in Dunkirk, and 160 more via night patrols around Calais. Like the Care4Calais warehouse, they are desperate for more donations and for more volunteer helpers. You can find out more about how to respond here – www.calaidipedia.co.uk/how-to-help
The risk now is that people forget the plight of those in need, and so we have to step up our work to publicise the situation. At a time when Trump, Brexit and related narratives further stigmatise migrants and asylum seekers, we must keep asking politicians and decision-makers about why they fail to honour earlier commitments – in particular, in the light of the numerous successful appeals by Eritreans against initial refusals based on faulty guidelines.
We will continue to advocate alongside other agencies and organisations who are fighting for just treatment of exiles of all nationalities. We are also delighted that our the recent Christmas card sales raised £1,000 and that the icon appearing on the cards has been rescued, with others. They will be making their way to Ethiopian churches in London and Paris, which will provide them with a fitting setting.
Thank you for your support.
Ben + Phil.
PS Some new photographs of the warehouse and kitchens are here.
6 JANUARY 2017
Seeking Sanctuary voices its concern for the forgotten and rejected children of Calais
Seeking Sanctuary continues to raise its concern following the promise of the British government with respect to the unaccompanied minors when the camp was cleared. During clearance of the Calais camp, Parliament was told that it would be a good outcome if Britain took in half of the children, who numbered about 1800 in total. Compared to the 95,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in Europe last year, this was not asking a great deal.
In practice we have not upheld British values of compassion and fair play in dealing with these desperate youngsters. In October young people were assured that their claims to come to the UK would be processed. With no-one left in Calais, we saw an unexpected pause in activities which ended a few days into November just as new restrictive criteria appeared for allowing a start to processing these claims.
Rather than facing up to our obligations and being a leader in accepting those who are at risk, or young and traumatised, we implemented a retrospective change in the rules of the game. In October, claims by those at the front of the queue were inspected in a reasonably uniform manner. Now, arbitrary criteria keep out those who were further back, either by chance or through weakness or due to ingrained mistrust of officials. People who had their hopes raised by the grant of interviews have had them dashed to the ground by a failure to provide decent explanations for delays and refusals.
These children have already spent years of their lives in danger and have been pushed from pillar to post in search of safety. To implement the will of parliament and stay true to the “Dubs Amendment” - passed into law as Section 67 of the Immigration Act - the unique vulnerabilities of each person should be taken into account, with individual best-interests assessments prepared.
The new rules allegedly help to prioritise cases, but in practice they cause blanket discrimination by ruling out consideration of individuals of most nationalities. Hundreds of children now face an uncertain future and there are increasing reports of grave psychological problems and of despairing young people running away from centres in France. We hear that many are returning to hide and live dangerous lives in the rough, close to the Channel coast, wide open to exploitation and trafficking.
Seeking Sanctuary now calls on Amber Rudd to do the decent thing and make the bests interests of each child the primary factor for determining eligibility. This will respect the requirements of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which entered UK Law in 1992 and requires us to prevent any discrimination against a child on the basis of their nationality, religion or age. (At the end of this message you'll find a specific action that can be requesetd from MPs to ensure that this will happen in future.)
Much of our response to the refugee challenge in Europe has involved erecting walls and fences and employing more armed frontier guards, indicating that that strangers are not welcome. We have now added extra administrative barriers. The correct Christian response, in line with so many appeals from the Pope and other religious leaders, is to help all people and especially children, to meet their basic human needs as well as to fulfilling their potential as human beings. This response is needed not just in respected of the forgotten children of Calais but across Europe where thousands of children are languishing without hope or a future.
Fr Dominic Howarth comments:
All that I would add to this really excellent statement is something like:
Jesus is crystal clear when he offers his words in Matthew 25: “Whatever you do to the least of my sisters and brothers, you do to me.” The children who initially found their way to Calais, and are now dispersed across France, are some of the most traumatised children in the world; they have fled the appalling violence and destructive war zones that we have seen on our TV screens throughout 2016; they have made desperate journeys on which they have seen others die from drowning – including, in some cases, their own parents. Each child – each one precious in the eyes of God – will need a great deal of counselling and therapeutic support. With such support, they have bright futures. As the sixth largest economy in the world, we are more than able to support what is, in reality, a very tiny number of children – less than 2,000, if we took every single one. To achieve this takes political will and moral leadership. Politicians are most likely to act when they know there is public concern; the very best thing that any Universe reader can do today is to write to Amber Rudd, MP, Home Secretary, or email her at email@example.com. In a letter or email, challenge the criteria being used to “select” children; challenge the length of time this process is taking, which is adding to the trauma of the children, and challenge the overall vision of the Government; are we to be a nation with closed doors, expressed through ever higher legal hurdles, or a nation of welcome, and open-hearted embrace, to the “least of our sisters and brothers.”
Every blessing for 2017.
An appeal from "Calais Action".
ON 14 DECEMBER, MPs LOST BY TWO VOTES ON GIVING ASYLUM-SEEKING AND REFUGEE CHILDREN EXPLICIT PROTECTIONS UNDER THE CHILDREN AND SOCIAL WORK BILL sections 16, 17 & 22.
The Bill deals with matters of care for looked-after children, and will be debated in committee stage on 10 January. Failure to explicitly include a reference to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and those accepted with refugee status means that they won't be assessed under their "best interests" as defined by the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and that nationality can take precedence over need. Yet ALL children deserve equal protection under the law.
If you live in the constituencies of Lewes, North Dorset, Crewe, Faversham, Cannock Chase, Bexhill or Poole, PLEASE contact your MPs - who did not support the addition of these references - and ask them to think again. The Bill is still in Committee stage, and therefore if we can get more MPs onside, a protective clause may still be inserted, as proposed in amendments tabled by Stella Creasy MP - but we only have until 10 January until it returns to the Commons. You can see a timeline here: http://services.parliament.uk/…/…/childrenandsocialwork.html
Please write or email and call your MPs local surgery today! (And if you live elsewhere and hear that the clause has not been added, then ask your MP to demand its addition when the Bill returns to the House of Commons later this month, after its Committee stage!)
2 DECEMBER 2016
CALAIS: A NEW CHAPTER STARTS
A report on Phil's visit a couple of days ago. There is still much work being done to help those in need.
I set off to drive to Dover on the last day of November to make my first visit to Calais since the destruction of the 'Jungle' camp. The temperature was permanently below zero as I headed East along the A2 and M2, with the blinding morning sun ahead of me. I had already packed goods from a variety donors into the car and met up with Ben and his son to add an even larger quantity principally collected by the people of St Aidan's church in Coulsdon. Ben also handed over a large amount of cash which had been raised in recent weeks to support the continuing work in Calais.
The sky over the Channel was clear, with the French coast already in sight from the harbour and, thankfully for this season, the sea was as flat as the proverbial millpond. On the reaching Calais the temperature had risen by ten degrees Celsius – quite reverse of the usual cross channel pattern in winter months.
My plan was to visit a number of associations who we had assisted over the previous eighteen months and find out how things had changed and what their vision was for the future. My first stop was the Catholic Worker house – a chance to meet some people face-to-face for the first time. The House – the first Catholic Worker house in France – was set up in February. it's a large “house of hospitality” that works with volunteers in Calais to try to help some of the most vulnerable people.
An important part of its mission has been to help organise emergency hospitality to the most vulnerable, such as families with children; unaccompanied minors; refugees with medical needs or who are recovering after treatment; pregnant woman, and all at risk of exploitation. Also visiting people in hospital and being alongside lonely refugees. The Eritrean icon artist, Henok, has spent time there and they are looking after some of his work. A few weeks ago there were six visitors, but the number “visiting” was down to two when I arrived, with at least six more being visited in hospital.
Volunteers live simply, in community with their visiting refugees and migrants, and are actively involved in prayer and work for peace and justice. Its coordinator is a Dutch Protestant brother, Johannes Maertens. I was delighted to hand over a sum of money to help with the expenses of running the house, along with sufficient “little bags of hope” - the first to be distributed this year – to provide a festive present to all those that they were currently helping.
My next stop was not far away, at the new Secours Catholique “migrants' locker-room” whose opening had been delayed for close to a year by wrangles over compliance with various regulations. The eventual result is a splendid resource where they can welcome their migrant friends in a different setting, in a more dignified way away from squalid shelters and muddy fields. Clothes can be selected at a counter where there is no need to queue and where choices are available. Shelves are currently being stocked with winter clothes, footwear and bedding in the firm expectation that, as in the past, numerous clients will return during 2017. For the time being they get just the odd visitor, new arrivals and people staying for medical treatment, or with leave to remain while asylum applications are processed. Goods can be sent to other places where there is a demand, if the shelves eventually get full.
Those working there were able to confirm that they will be pleased to distribute our “little bags of hope” when we have accumulated a good supply – probably to people in the Grande Synthe camp near Dunkirk. I handed over a small supply of bags for them to give their next few visitors and headed off towards the warehouse run by the Auberge des Migrants and Hep Refugees.
My route took me along the port access road to the business estate best known in the UK for its discount wine and beer outlets. Workers were busy erecting the “great wall of Calais” alongside the section of the road that had not been fitted with extra-high security fences and razor wire. This is allegedly intended to abate traffic noise and not to keep migrants off the carriageway, but it is still being erected where the land alongside the road dips down to a much lower. As I drove in at tortoise pace in a queue of HGVs on the carriageway that was not closed to allow the construction work, I pondered the structure, reported to be consuming some £1.9 million of UK aid, and wondered if its designers might soon be bidding to wall off Mexico from its northern neighbour.
To add to my anger I found that the builders had closed the exit slip road that I had intended to use, sending me off on a circular trip of several extra miles!
The warehouse also houses the Calais Community Kitchen, where volunteers were still working hard preparing food, mainly destined for Dunkirk. I get the same report in each place that I visited: numbers at Dunkirk which had dropped to around 500 a month or so earlier had shot back up during November, passing the 1500 mark by a wide margin, now probably hovering near 1800. This was another place where I handed over a welcome sum of cash. Donations and supplies of ingredients are arriving much more slowly now that the 'jungle' has been razed: please people, they are still needed! And the same is true at the neighbouring warehouse which last month distributed 21,000 items to people in Dunkirk, Paris and accommodation centres across the country.
My final visit was to the Care4Calais warehouse, located in Blériot-Plage on the edge of the town. Rather than trust my instinct and speed along the autoroutes, I asked my SatNav for a fast route and found myself in a sequence of traffic jams close to the town centre. There are still plenty of riot police hanging around beside strategic roads and on street corners. They are quick to question anyone who they believe looks like a migrant and demand to see their papers. If there are any problems, then its straight into a van to be carted off to detention somewhere.
Handing over the boxes and bags of donations (all very well labelled to assist the warehouse operations), I met a volunteer who had just spent a week in Paris. He confirmed what I had heard on my three previous calls that day: there are hundreds of people sleeping in the open on the streets of the capital. Informal camps have been cleared in recent months and no more are allowed to develop. The capacity of new “reception centres” is inadequate, and the maximum permitted stay is only some ten days.
Temperatures have been down to seven degrees below zero. There is a desperate need of tents, including pop-up designs that can be used on pavements. Other major needs are warm hats, gloves and scarves, along with men's winter clothes in sizes S and M, and new underwear.
So, to sum up, everyone in Calais is preparing for numbers to increase again. Will this be from the brand new arrivals, still turning up in their dozens each week? Or from those – including children – who are dissatisfied with their accommodation in remote respite centres and who have disappeared? Or will those who have not applied for asylum in France be thrown out of the centres and wander back to the Channel coast? Or do the authorities want to keep the numbers in Calais down to a minimum until after second round of the Presidential elections in May 2017?
Meantime, there is the Dunkirk camp to supply, and there are many thousands in respite centres across France, some of who lack some essentials. Calais can act as a hub to supply all of these and any surplus goods can be packed on pallets to be added to vans on their way to refugee camps in Greece.
And spare a thought for the long-term volunteers, who are all pleased that the 'jungle' has gone – though not with the manner in which it was demolished – and who are suffering the bereavement of finding a hole in their lives and losing the friends who they had helped for months on end.
And for my own short day of “tourism”? On my way back to the port I snatched up a couple of bottles of Christmas cheer, which I will see consumed with guilt, when remembering what other poeple need in order to merely survive. (Perhaps I'll find the excuse to talk about the circumstances in which I happened to buy them?) And I managed to make it on to an earlier ferry and discover that a cousin and her husband were among my fellow passengers. Calais seem to be an extension of London for those who live in the South East, but what a terribly different place it has been for the past year and a half.
As for 2017? Those on the ground in Calais are preparing to do their best to provide aid, whatever scenario develops. If only the politicians of Europe would choose to follow their lead.
18 NOVEMBER 2016
ACTION BRIEFING: POOR CRITERIA IN NEW HOME OFFICE GUIDANCE
Having promised to process claims to come to the UK from young people in the Calais camp, it emerged this week that our government has retrospectively changed to criteria for processing their claims. More than half of them will not even see a start to consideration of their situations.
We a briefing on this sorry state of affairs is here, based upon statements made by support agencies and politicians during the past few days. Please read this.
If, after reading, you are as angry as we are, PLEASE WRITE to Amber Rudd demanding that the Home Office immediately amend its guidance on Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 so that it does not discriminate by age or nationality. Also, write to your MPs, asking them to draw the Minister's attention to your concerns and to let you know about her response.
Seeking Sanctuary says that:
- The government should face up to its obligations and be a leader in accepting those who are young, vulnerable, traumatised and in danger. The Home Office must amend this guidance and meet its responsibility to all unaccompanied child refugees, regardless of their nationality.
- We do not object to certain children being prioritised, but the strict eligibility criteria totally rule out bringing many of the youngsters who had been living in the Calais camp before it was cleared in October. Hundreds of children now face an uncertain future. We strongly urge the government not to use the new criteria retrospectively, or at least to reconsider them and show compassion in this ongoing crisis.
- In order to stay true to Section 67 of the Act, each child’s unique vulnerabilities should be taken into account, rather than applying arbitrary criteria. The government must ensure that a full and proper best-interests assessment is carried out for each individual, respecting the needs of children who have already been pushed from pillar to post in search of safety.
- Officials should understand that is important to avoid assessing children according to arbitrary criteria – especially to these, which leave any child subject to a medium or moderate risk of sexual exploitation on their own!
- We call upon the government to accept a maximum of the Calais children of all ages and nationalities by Christmas. During the camp demolition parliament was told that it would be a good outcome if Britain took in half of the total number of children. We agree. It is now clear that there were over 1600 unaccompanied children in Calais at the time of demolition. Compared to the 95,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in Europe last year in the refugee crisis, this is not too big an ask.
You can find out about contacting your MP at both these websites:
Please pass this Briefing on to others so that they can take action.
15 NOVEMBER 2016
Calais update - Basildon project ending & continuing support for refugee charities
COMMENT FROM SEEKING SANCTUARY
We will be visitng Calais at the end of the month to assess the best way forward. For the time being, winter clothes and food (or money with which to buy them), are needed by the Calais warehouses and we will continue to help others to supply all of these.
Fr Dominic and his team are about to pause to take stock of the situation. Their sustained efforts and great accomplishments will continue to be an inspiration to many, as they have been for the past year.
His attached message is yet another thought-provoking reflection upon how we should care for our fellow-humans,made in God's image, and stand in solidarity with them in their times of need - despite the failings of governments and international agencies. We again commend the children to your prayers, especially those who have become separated from their families.
3 NOVEMBER 2016
Re: Calais Church
The Eritrean church building has now been razed to the ground. (See this photo - courtesy of Caroline Gregory)
Most of the contents have been salvaged and the worshippers have been moved on (or have departed) to other locations in France.
30 OCTOBER 2016
Update for the end of October.
This is probably one of the most difficult updates that we have had to prepare. As we write there is a prayer vigil going on in the Eritrean Church – bulldozers are close by but no one has yet given the order for demolition – although this could happen at any time. Is there a last-minute pang of conscience? We simply don't know. Those responsible for the upkeep of the Church have been prevented from returning there and we await firm news of the final fate of the beautiful icons (one appearing on our Christmas Card) which have been rescued in the hope that they can adorn an Orthodox Christian Church in France.
Our feelings after the expulsion of residents from the camp are very mixed. While we are pleased that our migrant friends are able to get away from the squalid and dangerous conditions of the 'jungle', many face an uncertain future in 'Welcome and Orientation Centres' at locations that are often in remote parts of the French countryside with populations that are often wary, if not hostile.
We believe that many will make their way back to Calais and there is already evidence of new arrivals settling in clandestine 'mini-jungles' nearby. Another large group of people, around 1000, are still in the camp near Dunkirk. We have been asked if we have a role in the new situation and the answer is a resounding YES. In addition to helping the migrants in Dunkirk (who require at least 800 daily meals) we will try to establish where the needs are and act accordingly. And so for those of you who have shown an interest: please continue with the 'little bags of love and hope' initiative.
Thanks also to those of you who have been in touch with us about Christmas cards - the front cover has a particular poignancy at the moment and 2000 of the cards are being distributed. The artist will receive a further royalty and the proceeds will go to the Refugee Community Kitchen which is still preparing a large number of meals for Dunkirk and elsewhere.
Alongside all this, the the 1500-place container dormitory in its fenced compound now contains 1800 unaccompanied minors and dozens more are sheltering nearby, not far from the 400 women and children in the Jules Ferry Centre. These people, approximately 2500 in total (with scores more arriving daily), also need shoes, clothes and daily meals – and above all, human companionship. A good number are eligible to find refuge in the UK, but most have endured the extra trauma of being shoved from pillar to post by confused officials both during their official registration and the departure of adult buses.
19 OCTOBER 2016
CHRISTMAS APPEAL - AND CARDS
Our Christmas Cards are now ready. They feature a beautiful picture of the Madonna and Child painted earlier this year by an Eritrean artist in the jungle (draft copy here). All proceeds will be for the Calais appeal and the maintenance of the Eritrean Church. Please let us know if you are interested in these – and we will send you details of how to pay. The price is £11.50 for five packs each containing five cards, including postage and packing within the UK. Please get in touch with your postal address to find out about methods of payment.
LITTLE BAGS OF LOVE AND HOPE
As Christmas approaches many will want to support the Calais migrants, wherever they are dispersed to. We plan to repeat last year's initiative – 'Little bags of love and hope'. Typical contents should include some or all of the following (suitable for the young men): a wind-up torch (or torch plus spare batteries), deodorant, scarf, hat, gloves (fabric or leather – not knitted) and a small pack of nuts or dried fruit. If your parish or community would like to take part, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07887 651117.
It is very important that all your bags have the same contents. You may prefer to arrange this by getting your community to donate items and then finding a group of people who are able to pack them with you. If people are also allowed to donate money you can use that to buy goods and use them to compensate for any contents that are in short supply. Despite the "bags" in the title, you can pack in boxes, bags or parcels, as is most convenient - you may even be able to raise money to buy small back-packs as containers which will be useful after their contents have gone.
Please don't send unhealthy sweets; and don't use Christmas wrapping or mention the Christian festival in greetings – most recipients will be Muslim, just make things generically festive, perhaps expressing hope for better times in 2017. Gifts for Northern France should be mainly for teenage-to-twenties young men, so please don't include teddy bears and cosmetics! Keep your words simple, as few recipients will be accustomed to reading our Western alphabet.
16 OCTOBER 2016
Fr Dominic's Calais Reflection from Wednesday
Please find attached the reflection from our visit to Calais last Wednesday. I hope it gives an insight into life at the camp, and the amazing work of Care4Calais and other charities in ever more difficult conditions. Please feel free to quote it, share it, and use any pictures from it (email me if you would like any originals).
The reflection is a snapshot from last Wednesday, so does not look in detail at the bigger picture. In case it helps – and mindful that some of you who are receiving this already know the situation far better than I do – in brief summary:
· This weekend, the Home Office have agreed the 387 children documented as having relatives in the UK can now come to the UK, once an official list has been agreed with the French authorities.
· This is undoubtedly a good and positive thing, but it will leave approx. 500 children (who do not have relatives in the UK) still within the Calais Jungle, unaccompanied and at risk. (At least a proportion of these could be brought to the UK under the terrns of the "Dubs Amendment" to the recent Immigration Act", especially assessed as being vulnerable and at risk.)
· The demolition of the camp could begin at any time; various reports had suggested this Monday but getting the 387 children out may delay that by a week or two.
· The French Government are unclear about whether the containers that currently house approx. 1500 refugees could remain and what will become of the Accommodation for women and children in the Jules Ferry Centre..
· They are very clear that the packed area of tents which is home to about 8,500 people will be demolished.
· They have spoken of dispersing the refugees across France into centres of approx. 150-200 people, but it is very, very unclear how this is intended to work. The refugees, who have regularly had tear gas and rubber bullets fired at them by French police, do not want to stay in France, in many cases. Additionally, a good number – perhaps as many as 2,000 – have a claim to come to the UK, as they have relatives here. No British Consul in Calais means the first time they can make such a claim is after they have (illegally) travelled to the UK.
· There are nightly injuries, and there have been several deaths, caused by the increasing desperation of the refugees to get to the UK prior to the demolition of the camp.
· None of the politics or economics of this is simple. But we have spent £19million on fences and millions every month sharing the costs of the security operations with France. Had this money been spent on a Consular presence, on legal assistance, or even just on simple dialogue with the refugees, the picture now could look very different.
· The likely outcome of the demolition is that the refugees will mainly disperse up the coast of France and Belgium. Half the camp was demolished in February; numbers diminished for about a month before growing again, and the camp is now the biggest it has ever been. Demolition is not a solution to the complex needs and problems of our brothers and sisters in Calais.
· Once dispersed, humanitarian aid will still be needed and the charities working in Calais will do their best to continue to bring aid to the refugees; it will be a much harder task.
· And all of this as winter approaches.
Please pray for refugees everywhere, and for peace in the countries from which they come.
With every blessing,
OCTOBER 12 2016
Seeking Sanctuary says: 'Bring the children NOW !'
In the confusion and squalor of the Calais jungle, hundreds of unaccompanied children await their fate. There have been reports that 10 per cent of the children identified in August as eligible to come to the UK have gone missing, very possibly at the hands of traffickers.
Ben Bano, from Seeking Sanctuary who has 40 years experience in social work, said: '"This situation is intolerable. These children who have been traumatised by their experiences of war and genocide need sanctuary and safety immediately.
Both the British and French authorities need to review the complex bureaucratic requirements in place at the moment and bring them to the UK to safety in the next few days where there are enough organisations and individuals waiting to ensure that their best interests are met while their papers are processed.
Please act NOW. We call on all our supporters and the many Faith Communities with which we are in contact to keep up the pressure on politicians to make sure this happens."
27 SEPTEMBER 2016
CALAIS: Closure Looms; Calls for Action
The main informal (“Jungle”) camp is now scheduled to be removed during October, but the people will still be in need somewhere in France. In addition, about 2000 may remain for a while in official shelters in Calais and certainly about 1500 more in the Grande Synthe camp near Dunkirk, not to mention those who "fade away" locally.
It's going to be a tough and emotional few weeks: so we all need to pull together to make sure we get huge amounts of aid ready to help people as they move to official dispersal centres or to informal squats and small local camps. We need to remember that these could well be in isolated places which will be hard to reach for volunteers and NGOs.
At the moment we can only guess at who will go where and what they will need, but people on the ground are making educated guesses and more news will arrive in the coming weeks. At the moment, warm sleeping bags are a priority because some folk are already leaving, intending to sleep rough in the area from Calais to the Belgian border. You can buy them here for free delivery to Calais; www.leisurefayre.com/section.…/86100/1/help_refugees or collect or buy yourself and send them across. Rucksacks, wheeled suitcases and tents (portable, but warm) are also a top priority. Pots and pans will also be appreciated, so that people are able to cook their own food when scarce resources permit. (And the usual items of clothing, food and equipment are still needed while “business as usual” continues.)
We've added a list of some current relevant petitions to the website, and we attach below the excellent detailed proposals from Citizens-UK about working for the rapid safe transfer to the UK of vulnerable unaccompanied children and young people.
With renewed thanks for all your help. Do keep up your interest and commitment to the cause.
6 SEPTEMBER 2016
Latest Calais News and Reflection
There is no date for closure of the Calais "jungle" and the displaced people living there remain in great need of help, as confirmed by the latest - attached - reflection from Fr Dominic Howarth, who visited a few days ago. Please take the time to read it.
As you will read, there are 9100 people there now, including up to 700 children, of which 387 have been identified as having automatic asylum rights within the UK, but are being kept in legal limbo; you will have seen this in relation to the “Lord Dubs amendment.” His campaigning work – himself a child refugee – is magnificent, but despite the legal obligation imposed upon the government, no unaccompanied child has yet been moved to the UK.
In addition, this video from Parliament suggests that our Home Secretary is unquestioningly accepting everything that she is told from her counterpart in Paris, ignoring what she is told by MPs who have visited the camp, and making no effort to find out the true facts about life there - www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5VQBL5yLV4
Meantime, Secours Catholique announces that it can finally start operations in the new premises of its "migrants locker room" and seeks donations of clothing and bicycles:
Dear British Friends,
After a long struggle, we are finally able to host asylum seekers in our new building in town, 39 rue Moscou, in CALAIS!
For us, it’s about having the ability to receive our migrant friends in a different setting, in town, in a more dignified way, for a distribution of clothes where they can have a choice, without needing to queue and with a different type of welcome ... which is not possible in the “Jungle”.
So from September we will resume with two major distributions per month for a few hundred people at a time. For this we need donations in quantities because there are 9,000 people and we are short of everything!
Please no women and children’s clothes - only clothes for men and focusing on small sizes (S and M): Jeans, jogging trousers, T-shirts, sweaters, underclothes, backpacks, hiking boots and sneakers, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, scarves, gloves, hats ... washing powder … … we also always need bikes in large numbers. (No food please, we are not involved in food distribution )
You can deliver every Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon from 14h00 to 17h00 without appointment at our offices at 47 rue de Moscou, in Calais. We can also arrange appointments for sizeable deliveries. In which case please make an appointment with Christine in advance by email.
Thank you for helping by widely distributing this request and for your involvement in our work.
Christine Descamps, volunteer manager of Migrant Relief locker room in Calais. (M.email@example.com)
1 SEPTEMBER 2016
Letter from Seeking Sanctuary
Have you been in a restaurant recently and become impatient if your food has not arrived after half and hour or so? The migrants in Calais face up to a four hour wait in the sun to get their one meal of the day - so it is no wonder if tensions rise. The independent restaurants, although 'reprieved' by a court judgement, are still unable to cook food as this has been banned by the authorities. And at the moment, the 'official' kitchen only serves 3900 of the 9000+ meals actually needed if people are to eat once a day. Hence the vital contribution of the other kitchens such as the 'Refugee Community Kitchen' which now cooks 2500 free meals per day.
We were in Calais and the 'jungle' last week and we were able to give the kitchen €650 which had been donated by a generous parish in the North West of England. The other kitchens that provide free meals have also increased their weekly output by a total of 1000 over the past fortnight to try to compensate for the current closure of other outlets. Sadly, the 'Belgium Kitchen' fears that it may soon have to close down due to a lack of donations.
The kitchen estimates that at least £1.50 is needed to feed someone each day, so many thousands of pounds are needed just to keep the kitchen going for a week. Where possible, ingredients are delivered to different areas of the camp for people who have pots and pans to do their own cooking, as this provides both autonomy and a degree of dignity - but gas bottles are in short supply.
On our visit last week we were able to deliver several hundred books to 'Jungle Books', which is based in several shacks near the Eritrean Church, and manned by some committed volunteers. There is a keen appetite to learn and to keep informed. There are many people with professional qualifications who are keen to keep up their knowledge and learn English terminology, not least for future CV's. Outside the shack an Adult Education Class was in full flow and youngsters were studying in another shelter. Gifts of exercise books and pencils are much appreciated.
It's always a pleasure to visit the Eritrean Church. In this oasis of peace and tranquillity members of the Eritrean Community provide a welcome and spiritual refreshment. In front of the Church was a newly painted picture of the Virgin Mary and Christ in honour of the Assumption and at the side of the Church a young man was painting a scene of the Last Supper. In the midst of all the rubble and dirt a flower garden has been created as a contrast to the rather dismal surroundings - and there are even two chickens! (See photos.)
The truly scandalous situation of the hundreds of unaccompanied children carries on. The (slightly) good news is that three children arrived in the UK towards the end of August. The bureaucratic and legal procedures to achieve the move of children to their families in the UK are highly complex and depend upon cooperation between the French, British authorities and the various voluntary agencies. Please support the campaign led by Lord Dubs and sign his new petition which you will find here: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/child_refugees_to_school_loc/?bAhOkbb&v=80223&cl=10485793408&_checksum=cff7db1c91c35766d141754c947997c545f23d75fbabe4764184b7f430b01e38.
We have also heard that some of the children were recently turned away from the sea by police during a trip to the beach because they were not carrying identity papers! A few days ago a group of Faith leaders visited, see: www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=30805 Calais in support of the work being done by Citizens UK, and handed over a list of all the names of eligible children at the Prefecture.
They will also visit the Home Office in Marsham Street, London, on Friday 2 September. They need people to join them for up to an hour from 10.00 am, starting with an interfaith memorial service, then media work and finally the formal request that the Home Office come down and receive the list of 387 children with a right to relocate to the UK. The UK government is legally obliged to accept these children who are seeking asylum and are stuck in Calais. This is true both for those who have relatives in the UK (under the Dublin III regulations), and those who do not, but arrived in Calais before March 20th 2016 (under the 'Dubs amendment' to the 2016 Immigration Act). Progress on the children's cases is painfully slow - far too slow. Processing of each application is extremely laborious, with only four ad hoc administrators listed as working in the 'Jungle' to gather the required information.
Following statements from French politicians who starting to establish a position in advance of national elections, recent media interest has centred on future of the 'Le Touquet Agreement', which regulates the foreign frontier police operations in Calais and Dover. The continued desolation in the Calais 'jungle' has attracted little concern. Phil was interviewed about this on Premier Radio, doing his best to avoid the bubble of interest caused by out Home Secretary's visit to Paris and highlighting the fact that each exile is a human being. The broadcast clip is linked from the foot of a Premier web page - www.premierchristianradio.com/News/World/Prayer-is-the-only-answer-on-Calais-migrant-agreement.
As Christmas approaches many of you will be thinking about how best to support the migrants in Calais. We are able to give advice on where cash donations can be sent. We are also planning to repeat the initiative from last year - 'little bags of love and hope'. We are yet to establish a final list, but it is likely that typical contents could include items from the following list, suitable for the young men who make up the vast majority of the camp residents: a wind-up torch (or torch plus spare batteries), deodorant, scarf, hat, gloves (fabric or leather - not knitted) and a small pack of nuts or dried fruit. If you know of a Faith Community or other group interested in taking part in this initiative, please do let us know so that we can help to make the process as efficient and effective as possible.
With best wishes,
Phil and Ben.
PS News just received! The World Council of Churches appeals for signatures on the UNHCR's petition to the UN General Assembly meeting on Refugees and Migration, to be held in New York on 19 September. The UNHCR's #WithRefugees campaign, calls on world leaders to find solutions for protection of refugees, based on a spirit of shared responsibility, shared values and common interests - see: www.refugeespetition.org/.
ARCHIVE NEWS - SUMMARIES
(Click above to open link to full texts)
19 August: Stocks, Orthodox Church, Food, Books, Needs and Burials: A Calais Visit by Phil.
Warehouses have decent stocks of some items, but others are in perilously short supply. Often 100 people can arrive in one day, generally with worn out shoes and clothes and no tents or beddin.g New garments or shoes are greatly appreciated, as is the ability of people to exercise some small element of choice in deciding what to wear. Nothing is wasted; inappropriate donations are diverted to central Europe when there is space in passing lorries, or sent as return loads to the UK for sale in charity shops or recycle. Conversely, many unsaleable items from charity shopsmade – like odd saucepans and pans – can be sent to Calais to be used, rather than going off to be recycled.
The Orthodox church was very busy with the feast of the Assumption coming up, preceded by a week of fasting and prayer. The chanting went on for many hours with different people coming and going.
We went also to the informal shops near the camp entrance. The once-thriving walkway presented a dismal face with outlets saved from demolition but still prohibited from cooking meals. The state supplies about 3500 meals a day, which equates to one daily meal for just under 40% the current population. Four community kitchens provide almost 5000 more free meals daily. The kitchens face great challenges and you can read more about them and how to support them here: www.calaidipedia.co.uk/calais-kitchens
We had just time left for a brief visit to the cemetery at Vieux Coquelles, pausing in sight of the Eurotunnel tracks at the paupers graves, holding the bodies of young people killed when trying to board those trains.
16 August 2016: Sowing One Million Poppies In A Refugee Camp
Caroline Gregory, a long time volunteer in Calais, ponders the parallels between the wastelands created a century ago and the land created near Calais today, churned up by rubber bullets, tear gas and earth movers, and still occupied by 9,000 people fleeing terrible regimes and living in abject squalor. Poppies have arrived in both places. Do please read the complete essay at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/caroline-gregory/calais-jungle-remembrance-poppies-refugee_b_11537212.html
10 August: MP Asks for Action
Stella Creasy (Labour) MP for Walthamstow visited Calais and, seeing the current situation - especially the lack of progress on processing claims for family reunification - recorded a video during her journey back the UK. You can watch it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSuUaHeJ0Ig
8 August: Update
In the past year we have had the privilege of responding to numerous offers of help as well as helping to channel significant sums of money raised by well wishers such as yourselves to the places where it is most needed. There is much to be thankful for in spite of the dismal conditions of the “jungle”. The plight of so many migrants inspired hundreds of volunteers and newly created voluntary organisations which proved essential, given the lack of will of both the British and the French governments to tackle the problems on a more strategic scale.
The latest census shows that the issue of migration to Calais is not going away – if anything it is getting worse. The attitude of the French authorities continues to be ambivalent and highly confrontational, yet life goes on – new services meet the needs of children and of women have sprung up and others specialise in all sorts of fields: medical and social care, entertainment, education, drainage, waste management, to name but a few.
We continue to advocate for children to have their claims expedited to be reunited with relatives in the UK.
14 July. Excerpts from Reflections on Conversations in the Calais “Jungle”
by Fr Dominic Howarth
The full illustrated account can be found here.
One of the two Care4Calais warehouses is completely empty. The other is barely two thirds full. Every bit of charity here is piecemeal: small and dedicated groups doing what they can. Where, in all these months, have the aid agencies been? Where are they now? Only Médecins sans Frontières is present, focussed on medical aid. In such circumstances, as the donations to these little groups dry up, food is for the first time becoming a significant problem.
I looked into the eyes of people perhaps ten or twenty years younger than me who had already lived for more lifetimes than I will ever know; often, tears welled up , and they shared their stories while looking at me through glistening eyes. Yet these are not men seeking pity, or handouts. I met only decency, and dignity – such extraordinary dignity. These are gifted, courageous men who just want a chance to live in peace.
9 March: 'Eight miles: the distance between abject squalor and fresh dignity'
Reflections on Calais/Dunkirk by a group from Basildon, March 9 2016
7 March: PRESS RELEASE- Seeking Sanctuary says 'Bring the children to sanctuary and safety'
4 March: URGENT MESSAGE FROM CALAIS WAREHOUSES - PLEASE DO NOT STOP BRINGING AID!! There is a crisis of aid supplies in Calais right now: because of the demolition of the "Jungle" people assume Calais is "over" and they've stopped bringing donations, BUT there are thousands of people still there and needing help!
1 March: Update. It is deeply saddening that we have to report on the tragic events in Calais as they have unfolded in recent in days and try to forecast what comes next.
27 February: Parishioners from Aylesham in Kent report on a recent visit to the Calais "jungle" with Fr Petros, a Vincentian priest from Ethiopia, who is based in Dover and ministering to Eritrean and Ethiopean exiles in Calais
23 February. Ben Bano: Judge's visit to Calais "a ray of hope" ahead of clearance decision - by Alex Williams for Premier Christian Radio
It is hoped a judge's visit to "the Jungle" camp in Calais offers "a ray of hope" that plans to clear part of the site will be blocked.
19 February. For those following Fr Dominic Howarth's thoughtful accounts of Calais visits by people from Basildon, here is a link to the story of their latest journey: http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=29467
16 February: PRESS RELEASE. Seeking Sanctuary says “No” to enforced expulsions in Calais.
In an inhumane and clumsy measure, taking place in the bleakest of winter weather, French authorities are about to clear a large area of the Calais “Jungle” camp.
7 February: Comment
Phil Kerton in BBC Radio Kent discussion on Destruction of Calais Church and Mosque.
2 February: Update
Our thanks to all of you (and your friends) who contributed so generously to our emergency appeal. The £5000 requested was raised within ten days. The group from Tunbridge Wells was able to purchase much needed supplies, and took a large quantity of goods on their mission of 27 January. We have a report from Alice, who coordinates the group. We await the coming months with some uncertainty - the authorities seem determined to reduce the numbers in Calais – perhaps even closing most of the camp by Spring, adding to the uncertainty of all those who have no alternative but to live there. Official action is usually unexpected and often brutal in its execution.
1 February: Seeking Sanctuary denounces the destruction of places of worship in the Calais "Jungle".
We were appalled to learn of the destruction today of a mosque as well as an evangelical Church in the jungle at Calais in spite of assurances given earlier not to disturb places of worship, ... 'The destruction of these places of worship is at odds with the fundamental human right to worship freely according to the beliefs and principles of all .... We support all the efforts of our partner agencies to challenge this wanton act of destruction.
23 January: PRESS RELEASE: Seeking Sanctuary says 'Let the children in...'
Following the recent court case in Boulogne when a British citizen was acquitted after an attempt to smuggle a 4 year old girl through border controls, Seeking Sanctuary is urging a humanitarian response to the problem of young children being left to fend for themselves in the 'jungles' in and near Calais. We support the campaign and ask all the Faith Communities and other organisations with which we are in touch to lobby to allow into Britain up to three thousand vulnerable minors currently in Europe .....
19 January: Refugees in northern France - recent developments
A link to an article by Phil Kerton setting out some of the facts behind reports in recent weeks - find out for yourself how much is totally false and how much is partly true!
19 January - Christian charity: clearing at Calais camp is preposterous (Premier Christian Radio)
Seeking Sanctuary says trying to relocate migrants from areas of the camp nicknamed 'The Jungle' during the freezing winter weather is bad timing and there are not enough shipping containers to accommodate those being evicted.
11 January: Emergency Appeal for funds.
Seeking Sanctuary is launches an emergency appeal for funds to relieve the immediate human suffering following the recent heavy rain and high winds in Northern France.
19 January. Greetings in Solidarity.
Supportive Cards can be sent to the exiles in the Calais camp. An Exile, chez Secours Catholique, 434 route de Saint Omer, 62100 CALAIS, FRANCE.
6 January. MEDIA RELEASE - PROVISION OF SHELTER IN NORTHERN FRANCE.
As the current wet and windy weather continues to hit South East England and Northern France, we remain mindful of the thousands of migrants living in squalid conditions so near to our doorstep. Tents and other shacks rapidly become waterlogged and basic possessions are often blown away, ruined and cannot be replaced.
5 January. Seeking Sanctuary writes: 2015 has passed by with no sign of significant improvements to the situation in Calais. There has been an amazing increase in the number residing near the town. Conditions were dire for a “Day of Solidarity” on 19 September and the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Migration's visit on 20 September. Pollution and endemic diseases were already noted.
12th December - Link to an account of the fourth visit by the Tunbridge Wells group.
9th December - Link to an an eloquent report of a further Calais visit by Basildon people, here.
26th November - Link to YouTube video of 8th visit to Calais by Emmaus, Care4Calais & YWAM Harpenden. (By way of a change from written contributions supported by still photos).
22nd November - Links to accounts of well-planned Calais visits by Fr Dominic Howarth and his team from Basildon.
11th November - Christian refugee worker [Ben Bano] on EU crisis meeting: "The solution has to be found at source" - Premier Christian Radio.
8th November - A link to a vivid and well written diary entry by one of the many foreign volunteers who are spending time in Calais - link here.
6th November - An account of one of several visits to Calais made by a group from Tunbridge Wells
1st November - BBC Radio Kent's "Sunday Breakfast" programme included two items about the Dunkirk camp which can be heard here and here, Also, Canon Caroline Pinchbeck talked [here] about an acclaimed 2008 French film, "Welcome", about the story of a migrant learning to swim in order to escape Calais.
27th October - The news from the 'jungle' in Calais continues to be troubling. Recent reports confirm that the numbers in Calais have swelled to between 5000 and 6000 people and continue to grow.
20th October - Listen here to Phil Kerton interviewed by BBC Radio Kent's "Breakfast" programme.
5th October - And so the scandal of the Calais jungle continues. The latest report from Birmingham University reveals not just the squalor but the health and other risks resulting from the shameful conditions
5th October - Phil Kerton contributes to BBC Radio Kent's "Sunday Breakfast" programme - Listen here.
19th September - Barbara Kentish provides an account of the Day of Solidarity wth Refugees in Calais.
21st September - Peter Sutherland, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Migration, visited Calais and was horrified by the squalor and chaos. Phil Kerton was among those who accompanied Peter and you his detailed report is here to download. Subsequently Peter has spoken out in public about the squalor and has called for a centre to process asylum claims to be set up in France, funded jointly by the UK and French governments.
6th September - Seeking Sanctuary says: 'These are our sisters and brothers'... .
9th August - Seeking Sanctuary says: '3000 migrants = 3000 people like you and me'
31st July - 'Seeking Sanctuary' is becoming increasingly concerned, as are other organisations, about migrants in Calais being 'demonised' as a result of the traffic chaos and delays in Kent.
6th July - Article for "The Pilgrim" (Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Southwark)
***** PETITIONS: A list of relevant items is available here. *****
NOTE: Seeking Sanctuary does not endorse all information and opinions appearing on websites to which we offer links.
Ben Bano writes:
We would like to thank the numerous groups, faith communities and individuals who have been in touch with us.The messages of support we have received help us to keep our activities going in the face of rhetoric which describes migrants as a 'swarm' and as 'marauders'.
(Those wishing to pray for the migrants and their plight will find resources here.)
- ABOVE: Delivery of goods to aid warehouse in Calais (January 2016)
BELOW: Terrible injuries are sustained as migrants tackle the security fences paid for by the UK government. This 18 year old girl's hands will need specialist treatment after her unsuccessful attempt.
But there are stories of optimism and hope in the 'jungle'...
'I'm not going to let myself go downhill'
A typical scene in the jungle - many 'shacks' are now durable thanks to the efforts of aid agencies
ABOVE: A very special house for the jungle !
BELOW: Volunteers deliver a horsebox full of goods to a Calais warehouse (January 2016).
Planning permission has been sought...
We even have our own front door !
'Our Church is the priority for us'...
ABOVE: A full programme in the school of 'Chemin des Dunes'
BELOW: Visitors are welcome (January 2016).
BELOW: Visitors are welcome (January 2016).
'We must all learn to live together like brothers - otherwise we will die together like idiots'
ABOVE: 'Here we're vaccinating against racism'
BELOW: Volunteers load up with donations in the UK (January 2016).
BELOW: Volunteers load up with donations in the UK (January 2016).
A quiet moment away from the bustle as Eritrean women teach the bible to their children in the Church (Independent Catholic News)