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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.
Current Needs for Donations in North-West France
Care4Calais accepts donations of goods in Calais and at various locations in the UK. You can find their needs list and drop-off map here.
The Refugee Community Kitchen list is here, but it is prudent to check the latest customs regulations before taking fresh produce into France. Additionally, you can financially support the Kitchen, that produces and delivers thousands of nutritious hot meals each week for less than £1 each.
The Refugee Women's Centre list of needs is here.
Cambridge Convoy Refugee Action Group collects goods in the city and runs regular convoys of aid to Calais. You can find out more here.
Utopia 56, based in France, mobilizes citizens to help exiled people and, in collaboration with the groups already involved, collects and distributes donations, gives French lessons, distributes meals ... and more. Its list of needs is here.
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6 March 2023
Update for March 2023
There never seems to be enough time and space to cover all the issues around refugees and migrants which we need to discuss. But as the narrative grows ever more hostile we must all do our best to ensure that the current far right (and not so far right) narrative does not enter the mainstream of our political discourse. In this update we look at 're-traumatisation', and the story of one of the most remarkable women martyrs of the 20th century, plus the latest news, even if we are finding it hard to keep up with developments.
Former breaking news
As our last Update was being mailed on 21 January, news broke of criminals recruiting new gang members by effectively kidnapping numerous impressionable under-age asylum seekers outside hotels where they were being accommodated by the Home Office. The amazing backlog of unprocessed asylum claims has put enormous pressure on accommodation and it emerged that many young people were not being accommodated by local authorities (as the law insists) or supervised by suitably trained staff.
Legal responsibility for exercising a duty of care seems often to have become a grey area because experienced local authority staff were not directly involved and central government had made no clear statement about how care should be provided. MPs from all parties are concerned about the situation and hopefully will continue to demand assurances of improvements.
Send them back!
This is the constant call from some of our politicians, including the Prime Minister and the recently appointed Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party. The latest calls are for 'illegals' to be sent back within a few days. But where? As the Dublin agreement is no longer operative they will not be accepted by any European country. And although the Government is reluctant to admit it, an increasing number crossing in small boats are Afghans who have not been able to access the official channels – some reports suggest that they are now beginning to outnumber Albanians. Does our Prime Minister really expects them to be returned into the hands of the Taliban? And even those with rigid views would find it hard to accept Afghans who have suffered trauma to be deported to Rwanda. Prime Minister, get real ...
New breaking news
As we edit this Update, UK media are full of comment about expected proposals for new legislation, this time being pushed by the Prime Minister who is thought to believe that 'get tough' policies will appeal to Conservative voters nationwide. The expectation is for the most Draconian anti-refugee legislation yet, aiming to make the UK off-limits to any refugees other than those who are hand picked.
It is anticipated that under the new laws, people arriving in small boats will:
• Have their asylum claims made automatically ‘inadmissible’;
• Be subject to mass detention;
• Be removed to a third country as soon as practicable;
• Be permanently banned from returning to the UK;
• Be unable to use family rights laws to stop deportation.
Apart from ignoring obligations under international law, this all raises immediate practical issues, and we wait for the dust to settle to see exactly what is proposed.
As March began the Calais authorities, following a policy started a few months earlier to prevent the installation of tents, deposited large rocks on several grassy areas of the city centre. Now, they have blocked access to Quai Andrieux, near the Mollien bridge, which provides shelter to many. A water tank is located here to provide for for exiled people near the city centre. The rocks are lined up on the embankment and prevent any vehicle from accessing the tank so that no-one can come and fill it. The rocks also stop people from getting shelter under the bridge.
The risks of 're-traumatisation'
(Ben writes) Although I have worked in Mental Health Services for many years I was not familiar with the above term.
Re-traumatisation can be defined as a risk whenever victims are exposed to their traumatic histories without sufficient tools, supports, and safety to manage emotional, behavioural, and physical reactions.
This applies to the many thousands of people awaiting processing of claims and eking out their lives in poverty.
Following the trauma of being victims in a civil war or instability the experience of life in a hotel where the far Right is demonstrating outside is enough to add significantly to the trauma which is first experienced.
Our post-traumatic services for victims are very limited in dealing with these often complex and life changing reactions to trauma.
If there is a ray of light it is that through the experience of Ukrainian refugees in the UK and elsewhere, we are beginning to understand these experiences in people closer to home which provide us with some insights.
Recently it has been dispiriting to see Albanian asylum seekers demonised. The rhetoric has been deeply misleading and unfathomably cruel. One of the most toxic narratives has been the idea that Albanian boys and men, as opposed to girls and women, aren’t 'real' victims and aren’t in need of protection. In fact, many young men have been trafficked, either within Albania or from Albania to the UK or other European countries into forced labour or forced criminality, and severely abused.
Another common cause of Albanian boys and men fleeing their country is blood feud. A young man can be targeted because of something his father, grandfather, uncle or even a distant cousin did. Some feuds last for decades and may erupt suddenly even after a years-long lull. Many have no option but to self-confine, remaining inside their homes for years at a time, with devastating consequences for their mental health.
The story of a remarkable woman ...
You may have heard of the Catholic Worker House which is situated in one of the back streets of Calais. Ever since the house was established some years ago it has performed much-needed work in catering for some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers, particularly women and children, who would otherwise be sleeping outside in appalling conditions. Its name is 'Maria Skobtsova House'.
But who was Maria Skobtsova? She was an Orthodox nun who lost her life in the concentration camp of Ravensbruck in April 1945.Known as Mother Maria of Paris, her life journey was quite remarkable.
Spending her formative years in St Petersburg, she was a socialist revolutionary and an intellectual of a leftist bent. She nearly died during the 1917 revolution which she lived through. Twice married and divorced, she raised three children, one of whom survived, only to be murdered by the Nazis. As well as describing herself as an anarchist, she showed great sympathy and solidarity with the Jews. In later years, arriving in Paris with her mother as refugees she experienced what can be described as a 'surge of love'. She opened shelters and houses of hospitality for rootless Russian emigrés, often living in poverty, as well as welcoming Jews during the Nazi occupation from 1940.
As an Orthodox nun she was part of a tradition which placed love of neighbour as a priority of life. Like her contemporary, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, she was driven by the message of the Sermon on the Mount. She was an active member of Orthodox Action, which was founded in the 1930's to promote social justice.
Deported in 1943, she soon acquired a reputation in Ravensbruck of making selfless sacrifices which led to her replacing a fellow prisoner due for execution just before the end of the war. She was also a very profound spiritual writer in the Orthodox tradition, described in this article by Rowan Williams, taken from his 2021 book Looking East in Winter: Contemporary thought and the Eastern Christian tradition.
And as the weather gets colder...
Temperatures have been particularly low in Northern France over the last few weeks. Faced with the choice of sleeping in a flimsy tent in freezing temperatures or taking a chance on a small boat, we think we know what we would do ...
A successful immigrant
British Iranian Johnny Nash provides this video. He is host of the newly formed podcast, Successful Iranians, a career and accountability coach to small and medium-sized enterprises, a Forbes Top 1% global headhunter and author of The Secrets of the Sauce: Ending Career Misery.
21 January 2023
Update for January 2023
As we sent out our previous Update, the Home Secretary again claimed that 'modern slavery laws are being abused by people gaming the system' – a follow-up to her previous claims that protections are being manipulated by small boat arrivals. The Office for Statistics Regulation said that it had requested 'specific evidence' for her claims but none had been provided. It is true that the proportion of referrals deemed to be genuine cases of modern slavery in Home Office ‘conclusive grounds decisions’ has risen year by year from 58 per cent in 2016 to 91 per cent in 2021. However, this surely reflects the results of a government strategy encouraging Border Force officers, police and other officials to get better at identifying potential victims. Ministers and officials have still not produced evidence to support the rhetoric, and there is concern is that this style of rant severely undermines the protections of the Modern Slavery Act.
In and Around Calais
Arctic weather can settle in the area when gale force winds come down the North Sea or up the Channel. The usual harsh living conditions and struggle to survive become even harder. Associations working on the ground have reported that there are more young people in the camps, in particular Afghans in one of them. There is particular pressure with increases from new communities from the Near East (North Africa, Iran, Syria and Egypt with young people under 15), including a very large majority of young boys.
A project in Calais provides legal, social and psychological support to unaccompanied minors to strengthen their access to rights. Its review of 2022 reports that it helped 320 minors on the streets, 27% of them aged 15 or less. 47% came from Sudan, 13% from Afghanistan and 10 % from Syria. Only 21 had been recognised as unaccompanied minors by child protection services and received long term care. The average time spent on the streets was 77 days. Instances of psychological suffering were observed: post-traumatic stress with hypervigilance; depressive symptoms with insomnia and nightmares; destructive behaviours, such as eating disorders.
The political strategy of avoiding 'fixation points' has led to daily evictions in the area, mainly in daylight. This involves displaced people being forced to move their tents and belongings, anywhere from 2 to 500 meters. Personal belongings and basic necessities (such as tents, blankets, bags, identity papers, mobile phones, medicines, clothes, etc.) are often taken and/or destroyed on the spot and/or thrown into the skip, without giving their owners any opportunity retrieve them.
A place for people to recover their belongings has been set up without folk being systematically informed of its existence by staff of the Prefecture or the police. Equally, information about alternative options for shelter is not always provided. These acts are unlawful and yet take place in front of the bailiffs in charge of evictions. These operations of harassment are also often accompanied by abusive identity checks, followed by arbitrary arrests and illegal periods in administrative detention.
Four more people drowned in the Channel in mid-December, as they risked everything to reach the UK. Over 30 others survived after clambering out of a twisted black dinghy in freezing temperatures. Witnesses said that the survivors came from Afghanistan and Iraq – two countries from which millions of people continue to flee because of war and persecution.
Our deepest sympathies are with their loved ones and all those directly affected by this tragedy. No one risks their own, or their family's life, unless they are running from dangers more acute than those they face on these dangerous journeys.
UK government data show that two-thirds of the men, women and children arriving this way are from countries where war and persecution have forced them from their homes. Yet almost no safe routes for refugees to get to the UK exist, even from these places, even from countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Iran. The only option to make an application for asylum is take a dangerous journey.
The evidence is clear – using ever more Draconian policies to try to ‘deter’ people who have had to flee for their lives doesn't work. We continue to call for compassionate and well-thought through plans that will save lives and give protection to those who need it.
2023 has started with more horrific news of death. Calais is crossed by a number of railway lines placed at ground level among the streets and business areas. On 3 January, Fouad Dango aged 29, from Sudan, walked in front of a train travelling on one of the tracks close to the Rue de Judée, where food and water are distributed to the exiles. He has been buried in the town's cemetery.
A huge thank you from Napier Friends
Napier Friends - the group which supports people held in Napier Barracks in Folkestone, would like to pass on their thanks for your generous festive donations of £850 which have enabled hats and scarves to be purchased for residents as well as for 85 people who were moved to local hotels in Folkestone. These were very much needed and appreciated during the recent cold weather.
Age Assessment - new controversies
How can one tell with precision whether someone is seventeen and a half or eighteen and a half? The answer from a committee of experts is 'You can't. The government is keen to extend the use of 'scientific' methods, including X-rays and MRI scans as well as the development of teeth and bones. The Committee rightly questions whether the use of these methods is reliable or ethical. The Committee stresses that 'no method, biological or social worker led, can predict age with precision.The Committee also point out the potential harm of using ionising radiation as well the distress caused by such tests, particularly on lone children. And what about the duty to obtain informed consent ? We await the response of the government with interest.
As we sent out our previous Update, the Home Secretary again claimed that 'modern slavery laws are being abused by people gaming the system' – a follow-up to her previous claims that protections are being manipulated by small boat arrivals. The Office for Statistics Regulation said that it had requested 'specific evidence' for her claims but none had been provided. It is true that the proportion of referrals deemed to be genuine cases of modern slavery in Home Office ‘conclusive grounds decisions’ has risen year by year from 58 per cent in 2016 to 91 per cent in 2021. However, this surely reflects the results of a government strategy encouraging Border Force officers, police and other officials to get better at identifying potential victims. Ministers and officials have still not produced evidence to support the rhetoric, and there is concern is that this style of rant severely undermines the protections of the Modern Slavery Act.
The often very visible arrival of more people in small boats, and a large and growing backlog in the asylum system, suggest that the UK’s immigration system is in crisis. The government therefore says that it intends to reassert control over the borders through measures that include the expanded use of immigration detention.
Some recourse to detention may be justified if it ensures that those with no right to remain do not avoid immigration control. However, as 2022 drew to a close it became evident that thousands of people were held in unhealthy conditions for long periods in the processing facility at Manston in Kent. At one point around 4,000 people were being held at a site designed for 1,600 and outbreaks of diphtheria and scabies were reported, not to mention Covid. Not only were there risks to the individuals concerned, some of who resorted to self harm and attempts at suicide, but our international reputation for fair treatment and taking responsibility for the welfare of people in government care has surely been damaged.
Safeguarding is particularly important for immigration detainees, who generally lose the protections of citizenship, and may have a history of trauma or be prevented by linguistic or cultural barriers from explaining their circumstances or asserting their rights. For many years regular inspections and reviews have taken place to ensure that policies to protect vulnerable people do work as they should.
The Home Office has invested time and energy to improve policies and procedure, with teams to put the findings of inspections and reviews into practice. But those responsible have noted that although many recommendations are accepted, progress in implementing them has been painfully slow.
With politicians discussing the expansion of detention and taking steps to reopen former immigration removal centres, it is more important than ever that a focus on detainee welfare is maintained and that and ensure that safeguards are robust and effective. The story of Manston suggests that this focus can get lost.
The state policy of applying bullying and hindrance to aid workers is still active. On the morning of 19 January the team from the Calais Food Collective found that their tank used to distribute drinking water had disappeared and that rocks had been deposited to prevent its replacement. The two local police forces deny responsibility, despite having been spotted in very similar actions in the past.
In September the Calais municipality, under pressure from reporters, admitted that a tank had been seized and in the following month a court in Lille found that official notices banning the distribution of food and water were illegal. Nevertheless, the obstructive actions continue and the State is preparing to appeal the court decision.
A statement from the Collective called for a halt, saying that freezing conditions put more lives at risk and increase the need for food and water to be provided. They point out that all human life is sacred and promise that they will never stop protesting again these inhuman actions.
Intolerance and Pushback in Europe
News reaches us (via the Guardian) of disturbing developments as the Far Right takes power across several European countries. In Italy landings of rescued people have been been banned and NGO boats have been forced to take much longer journeys to French ports. NGO operations have also ceased in Lesbos following charges laid against rescuers relating to assistance given to people fleeing Syria in 2015/2016.
Sweden, for so long a bastion of liberalism, is now being influenced by far right politicians who exercise much influence in Swedish politics.The earlier policies of 'burden sharing' has not been implemented, resulting in increasing 'pushbacks' , particularly in Romania, Croatia and Hungary. And Austria, long a crossroads of different nationalities, has called has called for a Rwanda style deportation plan.
The reasons for all this are obvious - food and climate insecurity, inequality and rapid demographic changes as well as war and violence are just some of the causes. And humanitarian policies take a back seat in the face of the rise of the far right.
Tigray - reasons for hope?
We always try to include at least one good news story to balance our often pessimistic outlook. This month's story comes from Tigray, scene of of the world's deadliest conflict - tens of thousand have been killed. For years neither side was not talking to the other but after the recent truce it has been possible to bring international aid and telecommunications, including the internet, for people who were cut off from these necessities. And the power grid has now been restored to Tigray
But the peace is fragile as Eritrea, which has played an active part in the conflict, has not yet withdrawn its troops and there is a risk of return to hostilities. Let us hope and pray that this fragile peace will hold.
'Faith and Frontiers'
This is the title of a free online conference on Saturday 18 February from 10h00 to 16h00, looking at Christian responses to the migration crisis. It is promoted by 'Project Bonhoeffer', a charity established to promote the legacy of this well known peacemaker who lost his life in 1945. Ben has joined recently as a trustee of the charity.
The keynote address will be given by Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, and other speakers include Dr Ulrich Schmiedel of the University of Edinburgh, an authority on religion and migration, and Rev Dr Keith Clements, a noted Bonhoeffer scholar, who will be joined by people from groups currently working to meet the needs of asylum seekers in Calais, Kent and the North of England.
The Project, set up in 2011, aims to inform and remind today’s Christians – especially the young as well as the not-so-young – of the challenges of discipleship that Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed in his radical theology and in the Christian witness that led to his execution by the Nazis at the end of the Second World War.
The project's events seek to enable people to put Christian faith into action in ways that make a positive difference in the world, engaging with the key social and political challenges we face. It encourages and resources theological reflection, conversation and community-building around Bonhoeffer's work and life and its implications for today.
The goal is not unlike that of the well-worn Pastoral Cycle, providing opportunities for people to think and to act – reflecting on faith … and then doing something about it in the context in which they live and feel called to serve.
Book at https://www.projectbonhoeffer.org.uk/events/
NGOs have been granted leave to appeal against aspects of the recent High Court decision suggesting that the proposed UK government policy of deportation may be legal.
14 December 2022
Seeking Sanctuary says 'Let's avoid yet more deaths in the Channel'.
Reports are reaching us of some of the dire conditions of sub-zero temperatures in Northern France where many hundreds of migrants are huddling together in flimsy tents. It is little wonder that they seek to escape these conditions by risking their lives in small boats.
Seeking Sanctuary repeats its proposals for avoiding the tragic risk to lives for people attempting to reach the UK in small boats and the consequent impact upon those who are involved in the rescue services:
1. Provide a reception centre in Calais where asylum seekers can make their claims in safe and legal ways and cross to the UK once their claims have been registered. Operate the centre through a system of pre-bookable on-line appointments to avoid unnecessary journeys to Calais and prevent the system being overwhelmed. In this way asylum seekers could stay in other parts of France while waiting for appointments.
2. In these sub-zero temperatures with migrants crowded together in frail shelters and becoming obvious prey for people smugglers with the alternatives being too dire to think about, provide some basic shelter by using some of the millions of pounds already provided to France by the UK government and so avoid unnecessary risks being taken.
Ben Bano, from Seeking Sanctuary said: Those fleeing war and persecution should not be vilified by commentators and be able access a fair hearing and live in safety and dignity while their claims are considered.We cannot solve this problem simply through yet again adding more security systems, more technology, more police and more patrol boats. While our proposals are not ideal, they do indicate practical ways to solve the immediate problems which lead to the current misery and tragic loss of lives. They would also eliminate the need for the often complex and difficult maritime rescue operations currently being undertaken.
2 December 2022
Update for December 2022
Our Festive Season Appeal.
We are appealing this year on behalf of 'Napier Friends' to provide comforts such as woolly hats, scarves, and much else as well for the 300+ asylum seekers currently being put up in Napier Barracks in Folkestone. Life in the Barracks can be bleak and we want to support Napier Friends in offering just some comfort and hope while the residents go through the long process of waiting for their applications to be processed. Let us know if you can help, and we will let you have the relevant bank account details to donate.
'Send them back to Albania'...
This is another call from an MP which fans the flames of intolerance. The only problem – a large number of those classed as Albanians crossing to the UK don't in fact live in Albania any more but in other European countries -- they may not have seen Albania for years – so what might happen to them? As we commented last month, Albania is a major source of victims of trafficking, from which they require asylum.
And News from Rwanda and the DRC ...
There are disturbing reports of possible Rwandan support for the M23 rebels who started an offensive which has led to the capture of the Congolese border town of Bunagana. And in the town of Kishishe 50 civilians were massacred by the M23 rebels. And tens of thousands of people have been displaced.
The first anniversary of the deaths of at least 27 migrants in the worst maritime disaster in the Channel for 30 years on 24 November 2021 was marked by vigils on the south coast and elsewhere. People called for safer routes for refugees to come to Britain. Around 100 people including residents from Napier Barracks gathered on the beach at Folkestone in an evening vigil where one participant said: “The horrible weather just made it even more moving and poignant.” Great sadness was expressed that the migrants died in the dinghy disaster while countries bickered over who was responsible for saving them. Another participant wrote on Twitter: “Whether in the Channel, in detention centres, camps, on the street etc, people seeking safety are dying because they are ignored.”
A simultaneous gathering of several hundred people took place near Dunkirk, where three wreaths of white flowers were thrown upon the sea, accompanied by three blasts on a port foghorn. Boats brought rescue workers lifeboat together with elected officials from France and the EU.
Ramsgate witnessed a similar event and flowers left on the Folkestone beach were later taken to Dover and laid at the memorial plaques for the dead near the ferry terminal.
Offering prayers for the dead and those who mourn, Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead bishop for migrants and refugees for the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, said: “This avoidable tragedy challenges us to reflect on our collective responsibility for protecting refugees and migrants from life-threatening danger. As more of our brothers and sisters attempt to make this crossing in search of a better life, unacceptable discourse and policies continue to rob them of their human dignity.”
The names of the dead were remembered at the start of the week in London, during the monthly lunch-time hour's vigil in support of asylum seekers at 12.30pm outside the Home Office in London. The address is 2 Marsham St, London SW1P 4DF and the next vigil will be on Monday 19 December
We led last month's update with an account of concerns about this – supposedly short-term – processing centre in Kent.
The site has been beset by series of scandals arising from severe overcrowding. These include a diphtheria outbreak, drug use by guards on the site and asylum seekers being removed from the site and dumped in central London.
Manston was initially intended to hold a maximum of 1,600 people, but at one point accommodated 4,000, with many staying considerably longer than the 24-hour legal time limit. Independent monitors condemned failures to provide information to people about the length of their stay at Manston, how their claim would be processed and when transfers would happen and described the conditions as 'squalid'.
- Safeguarding issues around people sleeping close together who don’t know each other.
- Blankets being used to block wind and rain from coming into tents.
- Contents of portaloos overflowing during a rainy period and seeping into tents.
- Children wearing inadequate clothing.
- Blankets being stolen.
- People sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes.
- Overcrowding and sharing of blankets, raising serious concerns for the cross-contamination of diseases.
- Manston was emptied in the last week of November, with more diphtheria outbreaks since being reported among the former residents. It is being refilled and latest reports suggest that over 800 people have been taken there over the past few days.
- The rate of arrivals on the beaches in small boats has increased after a spell of better sea conditions, with 884 people arriving on 17 boats on one day. Manston is now thought to be operational again after a deep cleansing and provision of some mattresses.
A change in public opinion?
Ben writes: Am I being naïve or do I detect a subtle change in public opinion ? Is there a reaction to the constant anti-immigrant narrative which is being reinforced by our new Prime Minister and his government? In the face of the scandal of conditions at the Manston processing centre and the prospect of deportation to Rwanda, is the 'tolerant' side of British society finally showing its face? Are we seeing a shift of attitude from the groups in our community labelled as 'intolerant'? I have been heartened by the immediate response of people in our town of Deal to an appeal for winter clothing not just in France but here as well. Perhaps the presence of Ukrainian refugees has made us more aware of the issues of migration and being a refugee. Maybe this is an opportunity in this festive season to use our 'soft' power. For those of us who are reluctant to take part in marches or vigils we might do some 'myth busting' with our friends and families as we gather together for the festivities. Perhaps the dinner table can be a place of discernment. You may live near a newly requisitioned hotel - after all the 4000 people evacuated from Manston had to go somewhere... Life in a hotel, particularly for families subsisting on under £40 per week (or only £8 if food has been provided) will be bleak – why not find out if there is a local group to support hotel residents – if not, then why not start one?
We leave you with a quote from Etty Hillesum, the increasingly well known Dutch mystic and philosopher who lost her life in Auschwitz in 1943.
'We human beings cause monstrous conditions, but precisely because we cause them we soon learn to adapt ourselves to them. to them. Only if we become such that we can no longer adapt ourselves, only if, deep inside, we rebel against every kind of evil, will we be able to put a stop to it.
While everything within us does not yet scream out in protest, so long will we find ways of adapting ourselves, and the horrors will continue'.
8 November 2022
Update for November 2022
An Invasion of our Shores
On 31 October the Home Secretary spoke in Parliament about "stopping the invasion on our southern coast", following heightened concerns over the very visible arrival of asylum seekers in small boats.
And so the rhetoric gets taken to a new level. We wonder who the audience is this time, as we detect a growing public feeling that all these attacks on our fellow human beings risk becoming counter-productive. And we continue to question the more or less constant narrative of the 'illegals' invading the White Cliffs of Dover. They are just a small proportion of those who have been displaced from their homes and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
We have constantly stressed that it is not an illegal act to set out in a small boat with the intention of claiming asylum - but it soon will be under new Government legislation. This, yet again, aims to deter traumatised people coming to the UK. Talk solely of "pull factors" shows no recognition of the global scale of the migration phenomenon or of the possibility of working with others to create conditions that will eliminate the conflict, poverty and suffering that push families away from their homes.
The reception facility at Dover is unable to rapidly process the numbers now arriving on most days and a larger centre has been set up a few miles away in a former military airport at Manston, designed to deal with 1000 to 1500 people within 24 hours of their arrival. However, it seems that there is insufficient space receive them when they are ready to move on, with the result that over 4000 people have been sleeping on the ground in marquees for long periods.
As we write, the conditions at Manston continue to be dire, although the total number within the facility is said to be down to some 1500. Imagine having to sleep on the ground in a marquee or between benches. Imagine that there are no sources of contact as mobile phones are confiscated to prevent contact with the media, meaning that you are cut off from loved ones. And in these conditions disease can spread all too easily. The current conditions are as bad if not worse than the Greek holding camps which have been the subject of criticism. The experience of these conditions following the trauma of earlier wars and persecution is beyond our comprehension. Up to now we have been unable to establish whether there are any trauma counsellors or other mental health input on site, particularly as many people have been in Manston for more than a month.
Hundreds of supporters have protested outside the gates and after weeks of inaction the Home Office has suddenly found it possible to find hundreds of hotel rooms for the residents to move on to while their claims for asylum are investigated. This slight success has been marred when poor communication has resulted in dozens of people taken by coach to central London being abandoned at rail stations overnight with no idea where to go next.
Albanians - the latest scapegoats in demonisation of migrants and refugees
Interestingly the latest figures show that 53% of Albanian asylum seekers are granted leave to remain or asylum status. Although reported as being free from military conflict, Albania is a major source of victims of trafficking, from which they require asylum. Women are typically sold into the sex trade and men into agricultural slavery.
The situation is complex with many young people struggling to scratch a living in the context of worsening economic conditions as well as being victims of long-standing blood feuds. It is not surprising that they make easy targets by traffickers who falsely promise an El Dorado for a few thousand euros. And many of those labelled as 'Albanian' are in fact from other countries in the Balkans, for example Kosovo and North Macedonia.. Another surprising fact - last year Albania welcomed two thousand Afghan refugees who were unable to gain access to the United States. Some are still waiting to hear if they will be accepted in the United States.
A message from Harmondsworth ...
Immigration detention is the practice of holding people who are subject to immigration control in custody while they wait for permission to enter a country or before they are deported or removed. It is an administrative process, not a criminal procedure. This means that migrants and undocumented people are detained at the decision of an immigration official, not a court or a judge. Unlike most other European countries, there is no time limit on immigration detention in the UK.
Home Office policy says that detention must be used sparingly and for the shortest possible period. But in reality, many thousands are held each year, some for very lengthy periods, causing serious mental distress.
A power outage that began just after midnight on Friday morning plunged the Immigration Removal Centre at Harmondsworth, near Heathrow Airport, into darkness.
We print below the latest statement from a detainee at Harmondsworth, given at 16:45 on 04/11/2022. At the time the centre had been without running water or electricity since midnight. Some people have been moved to reduce pressure on space, but in some cases moved to inappropriate accommodation such as already crowded prisons.
At exactly midnight the lights went off, everything went off, and the emergency bells went off. It's coming up seventeen hours now.
We are still waiting. We're afraid to go indoors [return to cells at 9pm], because the [emergency] buzzer's not working, the electricity's not working, it's pitch dark. There's not even candlelight here. The only light we get is through the window, but the windows are all black because it's Heathrow. And you can't open the windows, they're all triple glazed and there's no air.
It's cold, and when we go out now it's dark. A lot of people are struggling. They didn't have breakfast or lunch - there's a lot of vegetarians and vegans here and they keep saying the vegetarian food is coming, coming, coming, but it didn't come all day.
We've been given two bottles of water to wash faces and have a drink, but there's no running water, nothing.
We still haven't got a place to go and use the toilet. People are struggling now. There are two people to a cell. It's unbearable - someone wanted to go to the toilet for two or three hours and the manager told them to use a bag. Shit in a bag. That's horrendous - how can you say that? This is the United Kingdom, the world looks up to us.
As I'm talking I'm sweating, my hair is standing up, I've got goose bumps.
It's coming up to five o'clock and I've got four people sitting around me listening to what I tell you.
I'm afraid to go indoors at nine o'clock. If the buzzer's not working they shouldn't be keeping people in their rooms for twelve hours.
There's no water, nobody can go to the toilet - people are basically going to the toilet in the bin.
In another wing there's a gentleman that's had three strokes, he's in his 60s and he's been here for the last 25 months. He phoned me last night because he was in a bad way. I had to call an officer and ask them to help him because the emergency buzzer wasn't working.
Normally [cell] opening time is 8am, but they didn't open until 10.30 today. Before that no officers came to check on people. The buzzer wasn't working - God forbid something happened to someone. There should have been people coming round to check everyone's all right.
I got my medication at 1 o'clock, I'm supposed to take it at 8 o'clock. I've got [chronic, painful medical condition]. I had to argue for it. It's pitch dark - when they gave it to me they had to record it on a laptop because no computers are working.
People came for a visit and they had to turn them away, they said there was no power.
16 hours it's been. I'm dying for a tea or a coffee, my head's hurting, I'm really stressed out. Most people's phones are dead because they didn't know the electric was going to go out. We don't know what's going to happen at 9pm.
Despite these horrendous situations, only partly described above, we are heartened by the witness of many people who have willingly travelled for miles to show their support for their fellow human beings and their growing concern for the tone of public debate, all too often inflamed by political rhetoric.
6 October 2022
Update for October 2022
On the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of King Charles
Alongside so many other organisations we offer our profound condolences at this difficult time. We cannot of course know the views of our late Queen on asylum and refugee related issues, but we can be sure that through her many journeys and commitments to the Commonwealth as well as her public utterances she was committed to multiculturalism and racial equality, as is our new King who has a long record in promoting many inititiatives to promote equality, and efforts to establish justice and peace.
Might our late Queen with her fondness of the story of the Good Samaritan even have cautioned against forced deportations to Rwanda? We would like to think so ...
'I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full' ...
Ben writes: We are very conscious of the need not to 'proselytise' in our updates and the need to respect the views and beliefs of you, the recipients of our updates.
And yet this passage from the Gospel of John is striking and relevant to the crises in the world in which we find ourselves. It describes a belief which transcends faith and belief systems which is based on respect for the dignity of human persons.
That is the message that we take from the World Day for Migrants and Refugees on 25th September. For so many of our friends life is about survival – and the granting of asylum might be the first step in enabling someone fleeing persecution to 'live life to the full.'
The theme of the World Day was 'Building the future with migrants and refugees'. Note the wording – the future needs to be built 'with' rather than 'for' migrants and refugees. A future that, in the words of Pope Francis, leaves no-one behind.
The Political Scene – surrounded by myths
From Ugandan Asians fleeing Idi Amin to Ukrainians seeking refuge from war, Britain has a strong heritage of welcoming those less fortunate than us. Yet asylum remains one of the political policy areas led by rhetoric rather than facts and most fraught with division and polarisation.
Many worry that the asylum system is not sustainable and the government’s perceived lack of control of borders contributes to this. There is no coherent national refugee strategy and a long-term vision is needed to move away from crisis management. Anyone fleeing war and persecution should be able access a fair hearing and live in safety and dignity.
Major barriers to rational discussion result from the repetition of several myths.
First, a belief that refugees deserve to be treated with compassion and given a fair hearing does not mean that you are in favour of uncontrolled migration. Refugee applications make up only a small percentage of the total immigration figures, but concerns about economic migration create scapegoats out of refugees without reducing migration figures.
A second myth is that the number making treacherous and very visible Channel crossings can only be reduced through deterrence policies such as the Rwanda plan. However, such policies are ineffective, costly and risk weakening the global system for managing asylum claims. Quite apart from questions of morality, the cost of creating a sufficient deterrent is too great to have any meaningful impact on the number undertaking Channel crossings. Many of those reaching Calais have faced incredible hardships at home and on their journeys: they are not deterred by the probability of a flight to Rwanda.
Viable ways forward must start with diplomacy. We must strengthen collaboration to stop smuggling and secure agreement from our European partners for creating mechanisms to review cases elsehwere in Europe (with safeguards so that asylum claims are looked at before people arrive here). Additionally, we should create safe routes so that we take a fair share of displaced people and create incentives for European partners to uphold their side of the bargain.
Another important myth is that we do not have the capacity to manage the current caseload safely. This is based on publicity over the use of poor quality asylum hotels costing an astonishing £1 billion annually. The asylum backlog creates a major challenge to orderly management as well as pushing up the exorbitant costs. Clearance of the backlog is essential, and meantime while there are labour shortages, people seeing asylum should be allowed to work and contribute to the common good of UK society.
Asylum and refugee policy should not be divisive.
Our four point plan for avoiding dangerous Channel crossings
We need to find a way of countering the narrative of 'illegals' crossing in small boats which has been repeated again by the new Home Secretary. Here are our proposals which would do away with small boat crossings as well as cutting the risk of asylum seekers falling into the hands of people smugglers.
- Open a UK asylum processing centre in Calais using Border Force personnel who are already deployed there, together with interpreters. (The Centre could equally well be in another accessible location such as Lille or Paris.)
- Develop a system of timed appointments so as not to overwhelm the Centre. These can be made online to avoid unnecessary journeys to Calais. Support and help.would be needed to enable applicants to access the system, for example through a dedicated multi-lingual website.
- Provide safe Channel crossings for those who have been interviewed and whose applications are being processed. Provide UK accommodation as at present.
- Provide finance for the French authorities to provide safe and dignified accommodation for those who are waiting to have their claims heard
Under these proposals there would be no need for people to make dangerous Channel crossings. The resources now deployed in border patrols, etc., could be diverted, and most important of all, nobody would put their lives at risk. Your views on these proposals are welcome ....
And the cost of living crisis with its implications for asylum seekers
Those waiting for decisions on their applications in the UK are often housed in poor quality, temporary accommodation. It is more than likely that many will have to use key meters for electric power, which can cost up to 25% more than ordinary meters.
And yet the question remains – how to manage dramatically increased costs on a budget of £37 per week which has to cover food and all other expenses. The simple answer is that it can't be done – do let us know about the impact of the cost of living crisis on asylum seekers in your area so that we can lobby on this issue, as required.
Focus on conflict and civil war – the tragic situation in Burkina Faso ...
This month we turn our attention to the tragic events emerging in the West African state of Burkina Faso. This country has been grappling with a jihadist insurgency that swept in from Mali in 2015. During 2021 there were a number of attacks by armed Islamist Groups which marked a deterioration in human rights and security.
The country was further destabilised by a military coup in January this year. And it is experiencing its worst food crisis in a decade. Currently 600,000 people are existing at emergency hunger levels.
The attacks have continued and on 5th September 35 people died on a bus as they were nearing the capital, Ouagadugou. The town of Djibo has been blockaded since May and is hosting nearly 300,000 displaced people. It is estimated that nearly 5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance – about a quarter of the total population of the country. And 1.9 million people have been forced to leave their homes. Yet another example of news from a human catastrophe which has barely reached our consciousness.
Disturbing reports also reach us from Eritrea, where in the past few months the military have been targeting boys and young men during Church services. Recently members of an entire choir in their robes were abducted to a military camp to fight as soldiers in current conflicts. It's no wonder that so many young Eritreans are forced to seek sanctuary away from their country ...
A good time was had by all
Meanwhile we would like to thank those of you who contributed so generously to our appeal for a meal for residents of Napier Barracks to mark the World Day for Migrants and Refugees on 25th September. A total of £220 was raised. Because of logistical problems it was not possible to stick to our original plan for a meal in a local restaurant – instead we used the funds to book an excellent local caterer to deliver quality food to the barracks – this benefited many more of the 300+ residents than could be taken out to a restaurant. It was a pleasant surprise from the bleakness of the barracks.
With our thanks for your concern for our neighbours who suffer,
2 August 2022
Update for July & August 2022
'We cannot remain silent' ...
Ben writes: We had intended to take a summer break and resume our activities in September. But how can we not speak out? As we write the Conservative leadership race is in full swing and what we feared most is happening – a race to the bottom. Not content with deportation to Rwanda, new proposals focus on the extension of the scheme to countries such as Turkey, and is all this simply to please the 120,000 or so members of the Conservative Party who will be casting their votes?
Make no mistake – the rhetoric will get even worse – our brothers and sisters will become unwilling pawns in the struggle to win political credibility. And still there are racial overtones in the debate over seeking sanctuary.
Have our politicians become competitors in xenophobia?
In blunt terms Ukrainians seeking sanctuary deserve our sympathy and support (rightly) but what about someone from Mali or the Yemen? And what about Afghans seeking sanctuary? Perhaps the positive news is that the numerous welcome initiatives for Ukrainians have made us reflect on the sheer trauma and experience of seeking sanctuary. Meanwhile there remains a pressing need to 'level up' in the need to ensure that every person seeking sanctuary is treated with dignity and respect.
Many of us had thought the rise of xenophobia might be slowed by the decline of UKIP. Not so – the current political narrative seems to be based on a race to hate any group in society that is 'marginal'. Are we on a slippery slope to the great replacement theory propounded by Victor Orban and other right wing extremists – that the purity' of Europe will only survive without migrants? Perhaps our refugee sisters and brothers are merely the proxy for a wider agenda.
The 71st anniversary of the adoption of the Refugee Convention passed by on 28 July with no public celebration. One wonders if a new Conservative leader will end UK membership before another year has passed.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration issued a report about conditions at Dover on 21 July. He found that the key stumbling block to addressing challenges has been the continued consideration that this situation is an ‘emergency’, rather than an ongoing new reality. Facilities had expanded piecemeal and did not consistently meet operational needs. Work had been undermined by poor staff communications, inconsistent processes, poor record-keeping and potentially missed opportunities to identify persons of interest. Records were often inaccurate and the searching of new arrivals has been marked by staff confusion about how to handle mobile phones, travel documents and cash, resulting in inconsistent practice across the operation. Several other independent reports have identified similar problems and progress with remedial work has been slow or non-existent.
The courage to speak out against injustice
Ben is currently writing a dissertation for a Master's degree in Theology on the theme: 'Barth and Bonhoeffer – an answer to the theology of the New Right?' It took someone with Bonhoeffer's courage to continually speak out and say that Church and State cannot be separated – the Church has a moral imperative to speak out against injustice at the risk of upsetting politicians who believe that the Church should 'mind its own business'.
Keeping our concerns alive in Dover
We organised an Assembly at Dover for the Commission for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation of the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark on 25 June, just 22 years and a week after 58 young Chinese were found dead from suffocation in a sealed container vehicle at the port. We were delighted with the attendance and lively participation, not withstanding the national rail strike on the same day.
We heard about a number of ground breaking initiatives, including the work done by the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Ukrainian Chaplaincy and a first-hand account of life in Calais by Brother Johannes Maertens from the London Catholic Worker House.
Download accounts of what was said here or contact Marie at the diocesan office if you encounter problems.
Several of the sisters from Minster Abbey, some 20 miles from Dover, felt honoured to have attended and appreciated not only the excellent speakers but the beautifully prepared and very generous lunch provided by the ladies of Dover Parish.
Sister Benedict commented. The terrible War in Ukraine was in our minds that day and this was, in many ways, a focus. We learned about local projects to support Migrants and the many acts of practical kindness extended to those in need, both locally and far off. We were shared prayer on the Dover Seafront, joining in 'A litany for the Victims'
We stood alongside a place where so many Migrants had lost their lives, and will of course, continue to do so. The Litany began with the prayer:
'O Lord, Our hearts are heavy with the sufferings of the innocent victims who have paid the price of seeking sanctuary with their lives. The cries of the victims still haunt us. Each day lives are risked in desperate attempts to escape death and persecution.'
We heard of the experience of a Catholic Worker who lived with the people of Calais before the 'jungle' was destroyed. This brought home to us the reality of what has happened just over the sea. Where now is the cry of the poor and who will hear their voices?
We were invited for an Ice cream and tea at the local Premier Inn at the end of the day, from which one image stays in my mind and heart.
One of the speakers, Andriy Marchenko from the Ukrainian church in London, left his seat to watch the news on the TV screen. It was a scene we are so 'used to', of a housing block being bombed by the Russians somewhere in Ukraine. I noticed him standing bolt upright. Life carried on around him. People were chatting and laughing, and I was finishing my ice cream.
I went over to him and stood beside him. What to do, what to say? Nothing. I just put my hand on his shoulder. I promised prayer. That is all I could murmur. He responded with quiet gratitude.
A few mornings ago at about 1.00 am we welcomed our Ukrainian family who will stay in our property. They range from Svitlana a Granny of 83 to little Yaroslaw aged 4. This may be only a drop in the ocean, but they have become our family for as long as it takes. They are overwhelmingly grateful, but we are the true recipients of the unbearable injustice.
Our motto is Peace, PAX. This lovely family has been through Hell to find it, and we pray that it will be seasoned with Justice as they strive to rebuild their lives. They certainly have the will and courage to do just that!
'The soldiers knocked on my door'
'The soldiers knocked on my door. But I had no way of knowing if they were government forces or fighting for a local warlord. Either way we decided we had to flee there and then.'
Each month we focus on a different area of conflict in the world. Few can be as long lasting as the civil war in South Sudan where warlords often hold sway. And safety lies in Uganda, but to get there involves a hazardous trip, requiring walking for long distances, taking a canoe on the Nile and finally standing on the back of a truck. The camps are usually full and so refugees have to camp outside. Even worse, the World Food programme has had to cut its distribution drastically. Plus recent (unreported) floods have left many needing to leave their homes. It is tragic because South Sudan is rich in mineral resources ...
Question: If my family and I are faced with starvation, is it OK to become an economic migrant?
A gesture of 'levelling up'
How to mark the World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees on 25th September. We are all used to enjoying a meal, perhaps in social time with our friends and family in pubs and restaurants – it is a normal part of everyday life. But what about our refugee sisters and brothers who might never get this opportunity? We would like to mark the day by inviting 10 or more residents of Napier Barracks to be our guests at a local Inn for lunch. A slight problem – we have no money to fund the meals for our guests! If you would like to contribute a small amount to help this event, please feel free. It's all part of helping to assert the equality and dignity of those who find themselves in the surroundings of the Barracks through no fault of their own.
A final thought
Is there something special about our memorial to deceased migrants being situated just next to the worst of the current traffic queues trying to get into the Port of Dover? The situations both symbolise frustration at not being able to reach a destination. A reminder that humanity is never static and that those facing a challenging journey deserve our sympathy and support, whatever the circumstances.
With thanks for your continued support.
Phil + Ben.
21 June 2022
Update for June 2022
I enjoyed the Queen's Jubilee service at St Paul's Cathedral with all its pomp and ceremony. The service itself was full of of hymns and prayers which represent the Christian values upheld by our country and the monarchy. Prayers were appropriately offered for those who are suffering and the service represented all that is best in reminding us of our traditional national values.
It wasn't long before my thoughts turned to the young men detained in Brook House. just 25 miles from St Paul's Cathedral, trembling with fear in their cells as they await deportation to Rwanda. Have they not suffered enough? From their initial trauma in Syria and then elsewhere, reaching the dangerous Channel crossings, with the thought of an uncertain future it is unsurprising that they are resorting to hunger strikes: they have already endured trauma at least three times.
There is an increasing dissonance between in our nation's values and its government's actions this has led to a situation never before recorded in this country's history, in which refugees who are welcome are deported to a destination whose credentials seem questionable at the very least.
Perhaps the real lesson of the jubilee is a reaffirmation of what it means to hold a value system based on freedom from oppression and the restatement of humanitarian values and then putting it into action.
THE POPE'S BLESSING FOR NAPIER BARRACKS
We are delighted to let you know that immediately upon receiving the Nuncio's report on his earlier visit, Pope Francis has sent a special certificate of blessing for the young people resident at the Barracks. A lovely and powerful gesture of compassion. You will find full details and pictures here
RWANDA - A LAND OF SAFETY ?
As we started to write this Update we were unsure if the first flight to Rwanda would actually take place. But can refugees really build a better life there? The helpful BBC report linked below describes the reality of being at the bottom of the pile in often unsatisfactory conditions, and in fear of being seen to be 'out of line' in what is an authoritarian society. Read the full report here:
CONTINUING OUR ACCOUNTS OF CONFLICT...
An under-reported but topical conflict is the fierce fighting between Congolese forces and M23 rebels. Just a few hours away from Kigali, tensions have continued to mount. There are dozens of armed groups in the Eastern Congo, many looking to exploit the mineral wealth which among other things is essential for the world's electric cars and mobile phones. Thousands have fled from Bumagana into Uganda and the Congolese have a ccused Rwanda of backing the M23. Millions have.died in the Congo in decades of conflict. Could we be seeing a potential repeat of these major tragedies?
HAVE YOU HEARD OF ROBERT GOLOB ?
He is the newly elected Prime Minister of Slovenia who stood on a green and progressive ticket, in contrast to his authoritarian predecessor who looked to Hungary as his model. In his first weeks in office he is dismantling the border fence to keep out migrants and has described conditions in Slovenian reception centres as 'scandalous.' Yes - there are exceptions to our government and the hostile environment ....
REFUGEE WEEK AT DOVER
The Samphire Project started life as the Dover Detainee Visitor Group back in 2002, responding to concerns about the plight of the people detained at the newly established Dover Immigration Removal Centre which could detain up to 400 migrants in a disused Young Offenders' Institution on Dover’s Western Heights. After the closure of the Centre in 2015, several aspects of the work ended, but the Ex-Detainee Project continued and work on Awareness-Raising became important, with a Community Engagement Project starting in 2016. This focuses on working with migrant and British communities to improve social cohesion and better inclusion of migrants in Dover and surrounding areas of Kent. Free legal advice has been provided since 2021.
The project will be holding a vigil on Friday 24th June from 6.00pm at the seafront plaques near the port entrance that remember deaths in the Channel. Seeking Sanctuary is pleased to support this initiative, and our logo will appear on documentation.
Phil has been working to prepare another event on the following day. This is the June Assembly organised by the Southwark Archdiocesan Commission for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. (The diocese covers Kent as well as South London.) The title is 'Caught in the Act' , the Act in question being the UK Nationality and Borders Act 2022. Dover, on the fringe of the diocese, is nationally regarded as an iconic venue for the arrival of asylum seekers who are starting to become entangled in the provisions of this legislation.
The event will go ahead despite all trains to Dover being cancelled due to a national strike, as the Assembly addresses a timely topic and some knowledgeable speakers are lined up. A Livestream facility is being organised for those who are unable to join in person, although rail travel has been used by only a minority of past London participants in Dover events. The roads remain open; if the M20 is congested the M2 is an excellent alternative, in fact preferred by many. So, do still come down to the coast, if you can, and enjoy the hospitality and hot lunch provided by the Dover parishioners; please contact the JPIC Office ( email@example.com ) if possible, to let them know that you are coming, so that there are enough chairs and food! Or if you are not driving, contact the JPIC Office to find out the livestream link.
Proceedings will start at 11.00am, with the doors open from 10.40am, and we will conclude with a visit to the seafront memorial plaques at 4.00pm. The day's aim is to help people to discern the correct actions to take when faced with evident injustice. We will hear accounts of life in and around Calais, of life in UK detention centres and ex-military premises (with residents from the nearby Napier Barracks expected to join us), of the welcome being given to Ukrainian citizens, and a concluding outline of relevant Church Teaching and the continuing pleas for support from Pope Francis.
Little Amal’s New Steps, New Friends tour of England will mark World Refugee Week (19-27 June).
One year on from leaving Syria and 5 weeks after her visit to Ukraine, Little Amal arrived in Manchester on 19 June. She will mark World Refugee Week by visiting 10 other towns and cities across England, meeting old friends and making new ones. Amal will be sharing a message of resilience and hope with anyone who has been forced to leave their homes.
Little Amal will also visit Bradford (20 June), Leeds (20 June), Liverpool (21 June), Birmingham (23 June), Cheltenham (23 June), Bristol, (24 June), Stonehenge (25 June), London Southbank Centre (25 June), and Canterbury University (27 June).
Her journey will end on Sunny Sands Beach at Folkestone in Kent on 27 June, where she previously arrived in the UK, standing on the shore remembering the life she left behind and her first days in her new home.
10 May 2022
May 2022 Update
From the latest newsletter of the Passionist Order of clergy
We start this month's update with an extract from the latest newsletter of the Passionists. They are a religious order and deeply committed to the causes of Justice and Peace. We quote here from their latest newsletter...
Meeting today in the shadow of the horrors of the war in Ukraine brings home all too starkly the burden of sin and evil under which our world labours, and has laboured, for millennia.
Our Judaeo-Christian story almost from its opening chapters, shows human beings, made in God's loving and creative image, all too quickly falling into deceit, selfishness, resentment, murder, and disobedience to God's Moral laws - seduced by the wiles of the "enemy" who is intent on destroying God's beautiful new creation out of jealousy, bitter rage, and spite. From this follows all war and hatred, and the desire to exercise tyrannical power, that we see demonstrated so tragically today in Syria, in Ukraine, in Myanmar, in Yemen, in Eritrea, in Afghanistan, and even in the UK's latest asylum legislation.
And still today this Exodus is enacted again and again as our persecuted, oppressed and traumatised sisters and brothers flee in fear of their lives from war-torn countries across the world in search of safety. 28,000 of them last year crossed, not the Red Sea, but the English Channel, pursued by their nightmares of torture, death, rape, and imprisonment.
And it is these very people, when they arrive exhausted, alone, destitute, and distraught on the streets of London, with no means of support or shelter, that 100's of "front line" refugee projects across London are there to help.
'Liberal lawyers' - or defenders of human rights?
And so it goes on...the sad news is that the new Immigration bill finally passed into law as an Act of Parliament without even the most minimal changes that had been demanded by NGOs and peers. It was heartening to hear from the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Easter message that this policy is not the will of God. Will the government dare to implement its new policy of deportations to Rwanda? The hostel intended to house the deportees in Kigali is already occupied by other asylum seekers - who apparently will be displaced. There are disturbing accounts of the infringement of human rights in Rwanda.
There is a community of Ukrainian refugees in Northern France - if any of them should arrive here in a small boat will they be sent to Rwanda? And which airline - if any - will take part in these deportations? The new (or revived) narrative of 'lefty lawyers' is reminiscent of Trumpism and the narrative of rulers such as Victor Orban and is an attempt to denigrate those who believe in human rights and the rule of law. Where next? It's an insult to their professionalism to label people who are doing their job as 'lefty'. Taken with the latest attempts to block the power of the courts over judicial review we must continue to speak up for the voiceless. Monthly vigils to remember those who have died trying to reach the UK take place outside the Home Office in London's Marsham Street on the third Monday of every month at 12.30pm. All are invited to join in, and to take all other opportunities to hold prayers for this disastrous situation.
Professor Ian Linden looks at the Home Secretary's Rwandan proposals in a recent article, which we summarise at length.
Priti Patel's defence of her money-for-migrants scheme contains at least three claims. Firstly proposing that Britain receives an unacceptable number of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Channel in small boats. Secondly, that criminal gangs make a great deal of money from these crossings and that deportation to Rwanda of young male 'illegal migrants' who adopt this route to Britain is the only means of destroying the business model and prevent drownings. Thirdly. that the passengers on these unsafe dinghies are mostly economic migrants not genuine refugees.
Each of these claims sounds plausible, but all of them are based on false assumptions, misinformation or simply ignore what is known from research on migration.
Compared with other European countries we do not have a severe migrant problem. Some two-thirds of those crossing the Channel crossing turn out to be genuine asylum seekers when their claims are processed - not economic migrants, though war does cause poverty. Looking at the number of asylum claims per 100,000 of population, Britain ranks 14th in Europe with Germany, Spain, France, Belgium and Switzerland all receiving applications at double our rate. Between 2015 and 2016, Angela Merkel's Germany admitted 1.25 million Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees. By 2018, 72% had gained permission to work, 44% had learnt German and by 2021 some 50% had jobs, were in training or had internships. Britain with a similarly ageing population and labour shortage should study how a country can successfully turn migrants into an asset. The real problem is dog-whistling by the political Right and its supportive Press creating fear of 'swamping'.
The Channel crossing lies at the end of a very long and dangerous journey involving negotiations with ruthless gangs and their collaborators, often working on commission within transnational networks from hubs such as Agadez in Niger. In such poor countries the gangs provide employment for a penumbra of independent guides, drivers, recruiters and middle-men, forgers of travel documents, providers of boats and accommodation. The smugglers' 'business model' is simple: lowest risk with highest profits. The young men who arrive also have a business model. They are often 'crowdfunded' by their village or by relatives, becoming a cross between a human lottery ticket and a living investment made in the expectation of returns through regular remittances home. Many are burdened by the sense of a responsibility to reach the UK and pay back their investors. They are the product of the corruption and incompetence of their own governments, inadequate debt relief and cuts in development aid. Deportation to Rwanda will address none of this.
Limiting demand for the services of smugglers could be achieved by measures directly under our control such as increasing and broadening the channels for regular migration, simpler checking procedures, making it easier to obtain legitimate travel documents. Such opportunities need to increase and be made more accessible in countries of origin as well as in UNHCR refugee camps. The Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme for Syrian refugees ended in March 2021, but should resume with increased annual targets. Better staffed migration and asylum bureaux in Europe are also necessary. The shambles of the Ukrainian visa application system is an example of how to create an incentive to pay smugglers and risk the Channel crossing. With increased government investment in authorised routes fewer people would want to pay smugglers!
The £120 million initially going to Rwanda (plus attendant transportation and accommodation costs) would be better spent on increasing the staffing of the UK's National Crime Agency IN8VIGOR programme which deals with criminally organized immigration. What would also help is better liaison and cooperation with France's 'Office Central Pour la Répression de l'Immigration Irrégulière' et de l'Emploi d'Étrangers Sans Titre', with French immigration and border police, and with Interpol's Integrated Border Management Task Force.
In reality, the money-for-migrants partnership seems unlikely to be implemented and judges and 'left-wing lawyers' will be blamed, while Government headline-grabbing will continue. Irresponsible, deceptive and shameless.
The 'Twilight of Democracy'
Ben writes: I have been reading the excellent recent book 'Twilight of Democracy' by Anne Applebaum. She describes the relentless drift to the Right over the past twenty years and the growing authoritarian narrative - from which our government is not immune - in becoming the new normal. How else do we explain the violent dismantling of camps in Calais, the truly terrible conditions for refugees on the Polish border, the pushbacks in Greece, and so much else. The proposed deportations to Rwanda are an extension of this narrative alongside other repressive measures.
And yet - has the Ukrainian crisis forced us to think again? In the face of suffering of our European neighbours a new response has been found - one of humanity and understanding for people seeking sanctuary. In Poland the welcoming response to people displaced sits alongside the game of ping pong being played out on the Polish/Belarusian border, Are there seeds of hope that we might yet be able to build on the welcome to Ukrainians to build a more tolerant narrative in the face of the rightward trends in our political trends? All of us, dear friends, will need to be the standard bearers in taking this forward.
Tragedy and upheaval in Darfur repeated
in this month's update as we focus on the world's trouble spots which provoke upheaval and seeking sanctuary we turn our attention to Darfur. For so many years the centre of countless human tragedy, for those of you who are Guardian readers you will be aware of the upheavals in West Darfur where many towns and villages have become no-go areas. The many armed militias have been accused of recent atrocities, for example in the town of Kreinik which has suffered severe damage.
Residents can no longer leave their towns to go shopping or seek medical help without an armed escort. Some may have to wait up to 21 days to find a seat in the convoy. The roads are patrolled by armed men and the conflict is driven in part over competition for scarce resources over water supply as well as land. Although local self defence forces have developed, the Arab militias are usually better equipped and thousands have fled their villages. And the legacy of Bashir's rule is still there, with the UN estimating that in the earlier fighting 300000 people were killed and 2.5 million people were displaced.
As we are made aware of the numerous Sudanese in Northern France who are seeking sanctuary, it helps to understand just how tragic and barbaric the recent history of Sudan has become.
14 April 2022
Update for April
Seeking Sanctuary - a new dimension
Seeking sanctuary has now found a new dimension. Who could have imagined that millions seeking sanctuary are now on our doorstep ? We are used to images from war torn countries far away from our consciousness with packed refugee camps in conditions hard to imagine. We have come to associate the act of sanctuary with dangerous journeys in small boats, with squalid conditions in camps in Calais. But this narrative has been displaced by another - that these new arrivals are our white skinned, European neighbours.
Ukrainians are no better, or worse, than Syrians, Yemenis, Eritreans or Iraqis at telling people stories and making them laugh. And yet the West has fallen in love with them as refugees in a way it has proved incapable of doing with those from Africa and the Arab world. The inhumanity and hypocrisy are self-evident. In Calais, Ukrainians are put up in hotels for free while Sudanese and Eritrean teenagers are evicted from campsites by armed police.
What are the lessons which we can draw from this experience ? The background of the 'hostile environment' is still evident in the thousands of Ukrainians waiting to come to the UK, unlike countries in the EU which have provided an immediate welcome.
First, we need to resist the temptation to divide those seeking sanctuary into the 'worthy' and 'less worthy' - otherwise we risk falling into a conscious or unconscious form of racism which devalues and demonises many of our brothers and sisters in humanity.
Secondly, as our friends and supporters are active in defending human rights we need to bring home to our friends and families the serious nature of the existential and humanitarian crisis facing us. In the face of the growing evidence of potential mass murder I am saddened by the extent to which we can shut our minds to one of ther greatest humanitarian disasters in all times.
What about our own consciousness in facing the greatest existential threat in modern times. At our local pub yesterday the conversation seemed indifferent to the suffering so close at hand. Are we at risk of developing a collective amnesia ?
I recently received an invitation to a wine and cheese party, but I wondered how I could attend this in the knowledge that so many people have lost their lives vin tragic circumstances. A recent U3a meeting of which I am a member here in Deal drew over 100 people to a talk but my request to have a collection for the Disasters Emergency Committee was turned down on the grounds that 'we are not political'.
At a recent lunch organised by a group of Town Mayors (I am a past Mayor of our Town), the taking of a collection was deemed 'inappropriate'. And so an important part of our role is to continue to raise consciousness of the major existential and humanitarian crisis facing us. Indifference to the plight of our brothers and sisters in humanity will become the main challenge. What do you think ?
Ukrainians will be able to apply for asylum during their initial three-year time in the UK, during which they will be allowed to take employment and will be eligible to various benefits. Also, unlike most other exiles, Ukrainian nationals can access further education in the UK immediately without any requirement for three-year residency in the UK before accessing government-funded courses.
Having a name and an address in Calais
The people exiled in Calais and the solidarity associations are implementing a new legal strategy to fight against violent evictions with forced transfers to shelters and without social diagnosis.
After the prefect of Pas-de-Calais was sentenced last week for exceeding his powers in a “flagrant” expulsion from an informal camp on September 29, 2020, mailboxes were set up this week in similar informal living spaces.
In Calais, thousands of people in exile are forced to survive on the streets in extremely precarious conditions and are subjected almost daily to illegal evictions.
In order to protect certain informal living spaces from these evictions and to oblige the authorities to set up a dignified reception policy, mailboxes with the names of the inhabitants have been set up at the entrance to the premises as well as explanatory messages reminding the police and bailiffs that the rules of law must be respected.
Letters have also been sent to the President of the Judicial Court of Boulogne-sur-Mer, to the Mayor of Calais as well as to the offices of the bailiffs, by which the people living in these places make known their desire to defend themselves in the event of an eviction demand by landowners.
From now on, evictions can no longer take place without these people being heard within a reasonable time beforehand by a judge.
Indeed, since the people are established on these areas, these constitute their residence.
A home is protected by law. Any eviction measure must therefore be subject to a fair and equitable procedure before a court: the inhabitants of the land must be summoned to court and be able to defend themselves with the assistance of a lawyer.
In fact, in Calais, the inhabitants of these places are sadly considered by the authorities as “unnamed persons”.
This allows a single judge to order certain expulsions through an arbitrary and expeditious procedure. But the exiled people are identifiable: it would suffice for the bailiffs to address them with interpreters in the languages that they speak.
However, the message from the bailiffs is tirelessly as follows: “I am trying to get in touch but no one speaks French. They discuss among themselves in a language that I do not master... It is impossible to establish anyone's identity.”
Through this action, we hope for an end to arbitrary evictions, the return to the rule of law in Calais and in particular the effective application of the rights to defense in all circumstances.
Welcoming the Papal Nuncio
We were delighted to welcome the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, to Folkestone and Dover on 31st March who came at the request of Pope Francis. Accompanied by Bishop Paul McAleenan, the Nuncio visited Napier Barracks and impressed everyone in striking up a warm relationship with th e residents there. He later met with a number of refugee support groups who had come with residents of Napier Barracks - this was followed by a visit and prayers at the memorial on Dover seafront. You will find the full reports here and here, as well as pictures from his visit here.
Continuing our looks at worldwide conflict ....
This month we focus on the long running civil war displacing innocent people in the south of Senegal and Gambia. This little known conflict has displaced thousands of innocent civilians. For some time a rebel group known as the 'Movement of Democratic forces of Casamance who call for separation from the rest of Senegal, have been suspected of trafficking drugs and and rosewood which is exported to China.Thousands of people are fleeing the conflict in Senegal seeking sanctuary in Gambia often with nothing but their children. The Casamance area, is divided from the rest of Senegal by Gambia, and many Gambians on the border are also fleeing their homes because of the insecurity. The war has lasted more than 40 years and it is estimated that up to 6000 people have been displaced and the conflict has flared up considerably in recent months. Yet another example of instability in an unstable and uncertain world.
And so dear friends let us to continue to work for a more just and humane world and not give in to indifference and powerlessness. Our suffering humanity deserves nothing less.
10 March 2022
Update for March
If only we could be like this ...The scene is the Central Station in Berlin at the end of February. Hundreds of people are gathered to greet a train bringing Ukrainian refugees from Poland. Most people carry a placard such as 'room for a mother and two children', or 'families welcome'. There are heart rending scenes on the platform as exhausted people fall into the arms of their prospective hostesses and gratefully accept their offers. After a short period most people have found not just shelter but a temporary home. If only we in the UK could have found and shown this kind of spontaneity more rapidly, instead of requiring in-person visits to one of the few appropriate and ill-staffed offices to try to apply for visas, fingerprinting and much else ...
How to help refugees in the current crisis. Our hearts go out to the people experiencing trauma and suffering and it is natural that we will want to do whatever we can. Our advice is to donate to one of the many deserving charities rather than just give material goods. Some years ago in response to the crisis in Calais we were overwhelmed by offers of clothing and much else. Much effort had to be put into sorting clothes and goods that were not suitable and the volunteers doing the sorting soon became exhausted themselves. We learned that donations could fund bulk buys of items such as trainers and toiletries - after all, people seeking sanctuary deserve and value clothing and goods which are new.
Seeking Sanctuary - the 'worthy' and the 'less worthy'. As we look to the heroic efforts to welcome Ukrainian refugees, particularly in Poland, we have become increasingly aware of the difference in welcome of European and refugees from further afield. As tragic as the suffering under Russian bombardment is, it is not different from the experiences of so many thousands of people in Aleppo in Syria, or that of the Yazidi in the Middle East. And let's remember the many Roma families caught up in the fighting. In Calais the authorities are at least giving homeless Ukrainians shelter in the Youth Hostel but others have to endure life in tents and the like.There should be no differentiation in our treatment of refugees - all must be treated equally.
A call from the Calais NGOs. "We ask the authorities to put into practice the same reception conditions as those for Ukrainian refugees. Whether they come from Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia or Sudan, all refugees deserve and must be the object of protection, compassion and security. Europe has just proven that it is possible to establish safe pathways and decent reception conditions for those fleeing their country because of persecution or war. All should benefit from it."
Continuing violations of Human Rights. As we reported in February, the political strategy of avoiding "fixation points" has led to daily evictions in Calais, forcing displaced people to move their tents and personal property, anywhere between 2 to 500 metres. Personal belongings and basic necessities are often seized and/or destroyed. These operations are often accompanied by harassment also by abusive identity checks. Arbitrary arrests and illegal stays in administrative detention may follow. There were at least 153 evictions of informal settlements at Calais during February, when at least 306 tents and tarps, 23 sleeping-bags and blankets, 41 backpacks and at least 12 mattresses were seized. At least 12 arrests were recorded during these evictions.
Observers are regularly intimidated and obstructed. In January, disproportionate police convoys were present, almost always heavily armed, contributing to increasing the hostility and pressure against displaced people blocked at the border. In addition, no shelter is offered to the evicted inhabitants despite the freezing temperatures, nor are they given any kind of information about the possibility of recovering their belongings On occasion there are large-scale dismantling operations, during which inhabitants are forced on to buses and transported out of the area.These repeated evictions are a source of increased fragility and even disappearance of youngsters, and therefore increase the risk of trafficking and exploitation.
Another senseless loss of life. The damaged asylum system, not fit for purpose, continues to see funds going towards further security measures instead of providing safety and dignity for exiles in Northern France. Abubaker Alsaken, a 26-year old Sudanese man died on February 28, hit by a train near Old Lidl.
He is described as upright, caring and generous and had been in Calais for about 6 months. He quietly organised himself to best welcome new arrivals and soften a terrifying daily life. He died a violent death while carrying the belongings of a newcomer and helping him to settle into the makeshift camp He was hit by a train at a location where the track borders the informal camp. A place where no sign or alarm warns of the danger of a train arriving at high speed, where no barrier defines the footpath. A place, like others in Calais, where it seems that the authorities do not think that the lives of exiled people are worth protecting.
25 February 2022
Seeking Sanctuary - a new dimension
As the Ukrainian crisis unfolds we are seeing a new phenomenon – the spectre of millions of people from Ukraine seeking sanctuary within Europe's borders in the face of dangers to themselves and their loved ones.
Seeking sanctuary in the face of danger is no longer the preserve of people from Africa and Asia – instead it has become an all too present reality as people seek safety in the countries bordering Ukraine. The plight of inhabitants of Ukranian descent living in the disputed territories of Eastern Ukraine is of particular concern as many elderly and vulnerable people are caught in the crossfire, alongside families who had been living peacefully with their Russian speaking fellow citizens.
We have received details from CSAN of the relief efforts being made by Caritas Ukraine if you would like to help as the humanitarian disaster unfolds. Caritas points out that even before the start of this week's violence, most of the 25 000 inhabitants of the eastern industrial town of Avdiivka had already lost water and power supplies due to fighting between government forces and Russian-backed separatists, while temperatures had fallen as low as -17C. (Links to more recent Caritas news can be found below.)
This is the donation link: https://www.caritas.org/where-caritas-pawork/europe/ukraine-spes/
At the moment the fastest and most efficient way to get help to where it is urgently needed is to donate to organisations working directly on the ground in Ukraine, or neighbouring countries, as they are able to assess exactly what aid is needed and the aid will not be held up by transport delays, paperwork and duties.
We encourage support through channels that allow the most appropriate and efficient aid getting to where it is urgently needed. Local relief organisations truly risk being swamped with material donations.
The Ukranian foreign Affairs Ministry offers the following advice.
- We invite everyone willing to support Ukraine and Ukrainians fleeing from Russia's attack on their homeland. In particular, we encourage local government units, foundations, associations and other social organizations, enterprises and private persons to cooperate.
- The aid will be directed to people staying in the territory of Ukraine, as well as to Ukrainian citizens who are already in the territory of Poland.
Do you want to help? There are several ways!
You decide to what extent you can help. You can donate the necessary things, provide a flat or shelter for those in need, but also support organizational activities and become a volunteer.
There are several options for help:
- material support: people who have left their homes often have only the most necessary things and supplies for a few days. Direct support for them is primarily: water, food, medical supplies and dressings, blankets, sleeping bags, camp beds, clothing;
- a flat or shelter: some refugees need a flat - for a few - several days;
- means of transport: to transport aid to the territory of Ukraine, as well as people in need;
- personal support: delivering support to a large group of people is a logistical challenge. You can get involved as a volunteer who will help those in need on the spot.
An application form for anyone interested in helping Ukraine was launched on 27 February and is available on the website: pomocamukrainie.gov.pl
Information on Caritas efforts in other locations and more recent news can be found via the following links:
Many members of Caritas Internationalis have united in appeals for Ukraine (https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/44174), headed in the UK by SCIAF and CAFOD, whose March 1 appeals are linked from this article. Afew days later, CAFOD joined with the UK Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) to bring help in a rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis. Every £ donated to the DEC appeal will be match-funded pound-for-pound by the UK Government up to £20 million. CAFOD had already committed £100,000 in funds to its partners in Caritas Internationalis, one of the world's largest aid networks: Caritas Ukraine, Caritas Spes Ukraine and partdners in neighbouring countries are on the ground, supporting families caught up in the conflict. On 1 March Caritas Spes shelter in Kharkiv was hit by shelling while families sheltered on a lower floor of the building.
Tetiana Stawnychy, President of Caritas Ukraine, said: "People are moving. We have 25 welcome centres throughout Ukraine that have been providing hot food, shelter, psychosocial support, and a warm place to sleep, and then help people on their way. We've also been helping along the borders - providing tents, heaters, hot food and drinks, and support to women and children who are scared."
Father Vyacheslav Grynevych, Director of Caritas Spes Ukraine, said: "War makes both adults and children cry. We learn this when hiding in basements during air strikes. War-wounded hearts will never be healed. Aside from material losses that can be rebuilt over time, the pain and fear that people experience will take a long time to recover. In Kyiv, most grocery shops are empty and at this time when the city is closed, we cannot leave our houses. We have to remain inside in a safe place. In my house we have 37 people, children usually, with their mothers, and they have this space in our Church, in our house. Usually these people come from our neighbourhood. They also have dogs, they have birds, they have cats, so we have a little zoo."
On 1 March, a Caritas Spes (Ukraine) shelter in Kharkiv was hit by shelling while families sheltered on a lower floor of the building.
7 February 2022
Update for February 2022
A rationale for our work with migrants and refugees ?
For all of us involved in advocating for the rights of migrants and refugees, what is it that sustains us and takes us for forward, particularly in the midst of the hostile environment ? These questions are often important for us particularly where our active concerns can lead to potential burnout.
As you will be aware we continue to be inspired by the supportive words and action of Pope Francis, who helpfully provides a rationale for our work.
Action for those who are oppressed, as Francis expressed it continually throughout the Jubilee, is a four-stage dynamic:
- coming close (“welcoming”);
- sensing need (“discerning”);
- responding concretely and individually (“accompanying”);
- a final stage that involves change, conversion, and belonging (“integrating”)
In the next few months we hope to find partner agencies to work with in organising an event where we can reflect on our own experiences of this dynamic and provide mutual support and encouragement.
From terror to boredom - the transition to life in a hotel room
From the accounts we receive, there is a clear sense of relief for many who are seeking sanctuary from terror and oppression to find themselves and their families in the safety of the UK. But however comfortable a hotel room might appear, prolonged stays in such an environment are a constant challenge.
Many people rightly queried the compulsory quarantine period of 10 days during the worst of the covid pandemic - imagine the feeling when 10 days stretch to months for asylum seekers as well as for those displaced from Afghanistan. For many, takeaway meals are the only source of sustenance. For children wanting to play - or do their homework or see their friends - the confined space of a hotel room is enough to drive stress levels to a point which in some cases becomes unbearable. Laundry is a constant challenge in this confined space.Add to this the constant uncertainty about another move - to anywhere in the UK - it is not surprising that people experience severe mental health issues on top of the stress of their journeys to safety and the sufferings that forced them to leave their homes. We learn that from the end of March the costs of various items such as toiletries will no longer be covered by the Home Office.
Simple measures such as allowing those involved to work - even part time - would do much to relieve the stress. It would also contribute to addressing the skills shortage in the care sector - and even have a financial benefit where people pay tax and national insurance.
The Home Office intends to use Napier Barracks near Folkestone as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers for a further four years.beyond the initial 12 months for which permission was granted. To comply with the law it has had to issue a Planning Statement for public comment. Phil has posted a blog based upon his reading of this statement: you can read it at https://www.csan.org.uk/napier-barracks/
And do also read this excellent account from the Guardian of the experiences of asylum seekers and volunteers in Folkestone: https://tinyurl.com/45r8dzku
2021 In Calais and Grande-Synthe
The political strategy of avoiding "fixation points" at the Franco-British border has led to increasingly frequent evictions. Often, no options for alternative shelter are communicated to the inhabitants, who may be forced into buses that take them to unknown destinations.
During evictions, the personal belongings of the inhabitants (shelters, tents, documents, essential supplies, mobile phones, medicine, clothes, etc.) are destroyed and/or thrown into a skip, without allowing the owners to keep them: illegal actions, committed under the eyes of the bailiff in charge of the evictions.
These harassment operations are also often accompanied by abusive identity checks, followed by arbitrary arrests and illegal administrative detention. Additional ID checks and arrests happen daily, independently of the evictions.
The Human RIghts Observers project, supported by the Auberge des Migrants, has been observing, documenting and denouncing daily State violence against displaced people at the Franco-British border since 2017. It has just reported annual figures collected during daily evictions, which took place at least 1226 times in Calais and 61 in Grande-Synthe - and on many more occasions when the Observers were not present.
5794 tents and tarps, 2833 sleeping bags and blankets were seized in Calais, the corresponding figures for Grande-Synthe being 4327 and 918 (plus 57 shelters destroyed). At least 205 arrests were made at the two sites, with at least 127 episodes of violence against displaced people and at least 596 intimidation attempts against observers
And some people wonder why asylum claims are not lodged in France!
Remembering Gadissa, whose body was found in Saltburn at the end of December
'Gadissa, like those who flee for their lives, you were hurt. But you moved us with your intelligence and determination.
The European and Belgian practice towards displaced people who are looking for a better life made you feel worse.
The Belgian detention centres repeatedly applied non-assistance to a person in danger, and subjected you to underhand treatment and attempted deportation. You had arrived at your destination and seemed so relaxed.
Gadissa, for the Belgian families who accompanied you, you will remain the upright, sensitive, respectful man, attached to your convictions.
The world will miss you, your family and friends too. We love you, Gadissa"
( A tribute from his friends)
'Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen'.
Ezzadine and Abdullah, RIP
'May God care for them more than we did' (inscription on the memorial)
A reminder that Ezzadine and Abdullah who died tragically in Calais last month, were laid to rest in Calais on 21st January. At the same time we remembered them at the memorial on the sea front in Dover. A 'groupe décès' in Calais seeks to provide dignified funerals, each costing €2000. alongside urgent financial support that may be needed. If you or your organisation can help do let us know and we will provide payment details.
A focus on Cameroon
Migration and seeking sanctuary is so often the result of war and conflict. Each month we will feature a war torn area which is often under-reported in the media but which forces innocent people and their families to seek sanctuary. for their own safety.
This month we focus on the longstanding conflict in Cameroon in West Africa, a troubled country which has been hosting the Africa Cup of Nations. Cinflict has uprooted lives and caused instability since 2017.
The country has two English speaking provinces, the remainder being Francophone.This is the result of treaty which resulted in the German colony being split into two protectorates after the First World War. In 1960-61 a few provinces voted to join neighbouring countries and the rest became a federal republic with both languages recognised and protected. Today's problems really started in 1972 when the federal system was abandoned leaving the French-speaking provinces with the vast majority of votes and the English region with the greater share of mineral resources.
English-speaking politicians have advocated for greater decentralisation and even complete separation or independence. The veteran President Paul Biya (89 this month), who spends much of his time outside the country, has reacted harshly and violently, stubbornly refusing to consider change. In recent years people have become caught between separatist groups and government forces and it is estimated that over a million people have been displaced.
In some parts of the Anglophone region people are too scared to send their children to school and normal economic activity is often impossible. A prominent senator was assassinated during the tournament and the more militant separatists who have labelled the region 'Ambazonia' continue to go about their deadly business. facing up against the military. Hospitals and schools run by religious orders have often suffered aggressive armed intrusion for continuing to use the English language
"Canadians for Peace in Cameroon" produce an excellent free weekly update on the situation: you can subscribe by emailing Canadiansforpeaceincameroon@gmail.com. They promote nonviolent paths to peaceful resolution of the conflict, hoping that Canada, as an English-French bilingual country with a large Cameroonian diaspora, can be a champion for human rights and peacebuilding.
29 December 2021
Update for Christmas and the New Year, 2021-2022.
In the wake of 27 deaths …
It is still difficult to grasp the magnitude of the recent 27 deaths in the English Channel. A very moving vigil was held at the site of the memorial last month but more needs to be done to ensure that the sacrifices made by the 27 who lost their lives and those of so many others are not forgotten. We have to combat the UK/French blame game which only feeds the popular press and other prejudices. We were particularly concerned about the claims and counter claims as to which country's emergency services were responsible for the rescue operation. And so we have to continue to press for safe and legal routes to claim asylum in the midst of so much confusion. The French authorities continue to insist that posting police on the beaches will never be sufficient and that safe and legal routes are required for those wishing to claim asylum in the UK.
What makes the recent tragedy so poignant is the evidence emerging of how families in Kurdistan were able to learn of the fate of their loved ones. Over the past few years we have taken it for granted that families were often the last to know of the fate of their loved ones.
However, given the technology available on mobile phones there is now evidence that anxious families were able to track the GPS coordinates of the small boat involved in the middle of the Channel and became increasingly alarmed when these did not change over many hours – suggesting that their loved ones were in trouble – an assumption which of course turned out to be correct. What anguish must have been felt by families during those anxious hours. And a word of appreciation to those brave lifeboat volunteers who never expected to have to deal with the challenges of their new role. We learn also that before boats set off there is one telephone ready to call 112 and another to call 999.
Channel officials are facing legal action after being accused of failing to provide help to the 27 people who drowned on November 24.On December 27 the NGO Utopia 56 initiated legal proceedings against the maritime prefect of the Channel, the director of the Regional operational observation and rescue centre Gris-Nez and the director of Her Majesty’s Coastguard. The case seeks “transparency and truth for the victims and their families,” calling for an investigation into “involuntary homicide” and “failure to help people in need.”
The victims have been identified and are made up of sixteen Iraqi Kurds, four Afghans, three Ethiopians, one Iranian Kurd, one Somali, one Vietnamese and one Egyptian; they include seven women and two minors (aged 16 and 7). The two survivors were an Iraqi Kurd and a Somalian.
Deaths Continue. A body was found on 11 December on the beach at Marck (near Calais), apparently difficult to identify after a long period in the sea. On 20 December a sixteen-year-old Sudanese youth, Moussab, died after attempting to clamber on to an HGV near Calais. He managed to get between the cab and the trailer, but fell when the truck moved off.
And so back to the current proposed legislation. If I am stranded in a leaking boat and there is no one to take control it is a natural assumption that I would do what I can to lead those on board to safety. We note with interest a recent court judgement that under UK and International Law (and contrary to the opinion of the UK Home Office) those responsible for steering a boat in difficulty should not be seen as traffickers but as rescuers – otherwise it is all too easy in the current febrile atmosphere to label them as criminals.
Indeed, the scope of currently proposed legislation is to make everyone on board a boat the subject of a criminal prosecution – even Afghans who take the dangerous overland route via Pakistan to secure their safety and that of their families. It is a sad reflection that Afghans who risk their lives taking overland routes can be criminalised, especially as the main UK Afghan resettlement scheme is not yet up and running, so that about 4000 Afghans have had to wait for the results of their asylum claims.
It was not until 23 December that it was confirmed the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS) will open some time in January, providing up to 20,000 Afghan women, children, and others most at risk with a safe and legal route to resettle in the UK. Ten days earlier changes were announced to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (ARAP), narrowing the eligibility criteria from those used during the Operation Pitting evacuation in August 2021. The rule changes mean those directly employed in Afghanistan by a UK government department on or after 1 October 2001 must now have a “high and imminent risk” of threat to their life to be able to come to the UK, rather than an “imminent” risk.
When survival may soon become impossible ...
The list grows ever longer – Madagascar, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen and so many other places where survival will soon become impossible for many people due to drought and the other effects of climate change. Can we restore the missing amount in the overseas aid budget and give at least some people a chance which lessens the attraction of making dangerous and risky journeys to seek safety and security?
And conditions at 'Tug Haven' in Dover
Disturbing reports reach us about the conditions for the reception of those who make it across in small boats. It appears that some people have to sleep on the floor or have to spend the night on a bus, according to reports. The Independent Monitoring Board have issued a report expressing their concerns about the premises at 'Tug Haven' where people are initially received and processed.
There is another potential solution – Dover has two currently underused cruise terminals which would provide a much more suitable and dignified reception for people who have already experienced a traumatic crossing.
Near the French coast
Traffickers now tend to use somewhat larger boats – still overcrowded – and to launch them from a much longer stretch of coastline. The larger camps are still near Calais and Dunkirk and people remain subject to frequent evictions, transfer to shelter at a distance from the coast, and confiscation of property. Aid groups are prohibited from distributing meals and drinking water in many parts of the town; as of 28 December there was considerable demand for both tents and shoes in Calais, but we are unable to transport goods ourselves, faced with the costs of compliance with current Covid regulations at border crossings.
In a statement issued just before Christmas, the Catholic Church in France comments that its members have long been involved in welcoming migrants and refugees. In recent years, especially since Pope Francis' appeal in 2015, hospitality and support projects have multiplied in most dioceses and many Catholics are committed, in collaboration with others, to work for the reception, protection, promotion and integration of people. The Church again repeats its desire to contribute to the reception process and reiterates its availability for dialogue with the government.
In England, the Archbishop of Canterbury used his Christmas sermon to celebrate the work of volunteers helping refugees, saying: “The Christmas story shows us how we must treat those who are unlike us.” He said the Christmas story of Joseph and Mary searching for shelter demonstrates the need to treat with compassion those people “who have far less than us, who have lived with the devastating limits of war and national tragedy – those who risk everything to arrive on the beaches”. He went on to say, “there is no doubting” the human capacity to show “great kindness”, and volunteers working to welcome refugees arriving on beaches close to Canterbury Cathedral are “extraordinary people”.
Archbishop Welby praised rescuers such as the crews of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, saying: “I saw them the other day, a couple of days back, just getting on with it: five times as many "shouts" – call-outs – as they’ve ever had in the history of the Dover lifeboat, and they do one thing – save life at sea. It’s not politics, it’s simply humanity."
Concession in the UK.
Pre-Christmas media reports indicate that "Care Assistant" is to be added to the otherwise obscure list of paid jobs that asylum seekers may be allowed to take up if the UK processing of their claims is prolonged. The Covid pandemic has shown that there is a severe shortage of staff available to work in care homes for the elderly and chronically ill or to visit them at home, and the authorities have previously failed to take up many proposals that this concession should be opened.
9 November 2021
Update for November 2021
So why claim asylum in the UK?
It's an oft-repeated mantra that migrants should claim asylum in the first safe country which they reach. (Ben writes). Some years ago I asked young people attending a drop-in for young Afghan refugees what had drawn them to the UK. Apart from the presence of family their answer was nearly unanimous – Manchester United! We have invested many millions, mainly through the British Council, in making sure that appreciation of British culture is embedded in education systems in Afghanistan as well as many other countries. As a nation with this 'pull' factor we have only ourselves to blame!
Refugees or Economic Migrants?
'And they are not refugees – they are economic migrants'. This is the latest false narrative being spread in answer to the continuing numbers of desperate people attempting to cross the Channel. Whether in Afghanistan, Sudan or elsewhere, when a hostile force – be it rebel or government forces – comes into your village, or if your employment meets with the anger of the Taliban, the first effect is often on the loss of precarious jobs. When economic activity can no longer function one becomes a refugee.
As you know, arrivals that are deemed to be 'illegal' will shortly be criminalised under pending new legislation – the Nationality and Borders Bill. So what about those Afghans who are forced to flee because their lives are in peril because of their work in jobs disapproved by the Taliban: will they also be 'illegal'? A a very helpful resource on the Bill has been developed by the SVP and JRS-UK: it comes in a long and a short version, each providing the sort of information that will help individuals and groups engage in detail with what needs to be changed to make the legislation more humane and evidence based as it moves on from the House of Commons to consideration by the the Lords.
Lest we forget … . May they rest in peace ...
We learnt recently of the tragic deaths of Mohammed and Yasser, both dying in their attempts to reach the UK. After each death we lay flowers at the memorial in Dover which we did again some ten days ago. Our friends in Calais have formed a group to organise funeral rites in the Muslim tradition – 'le groupe décès'. They have made an appeal for help to pay for the most recent funerals – you will find details here ....
And on 4 November we learned of the death through hypothermia of a young man on the Wissant beach, near Calais, as well as that of an Sudanese man, Ali Ismail (initially reported to have been an Eritrean), killed by a passing train as he was walking along the tracks. This followed the loss of a Somali refugee overboard off the East coast a week earlier. Also, on 28 September a 15 year old Sudanese boy was run over by a truck near a petrol station in the Calais commercial zone containing many of the wine and beer outlets.
And in the Church of St Pierre in Calais ...
Three brave people, including a 72 year old Jesuit priest, started a hunger strike on 11 October. Their demands include an end to summary expulsions and their demands have led to a very small change – see above. The response of Calaisiens to their action is the subject of a statement from the two priests in charge of the Church – it is well worth reading– you will find a link here.
Latest – Père Philippe finished his hunger strike in early November, leaving his younger fellow strikers to continue. He will still be very involved with the refugees in Calais and plans to celebrate Christmas Midnight Mass in the wasteland where many tents are pitched.
A financial blow for NGOs
We learn that seven NGOs in Calais and Dunkirk who do vital work with refugees will shortly see their funding withdrawn due to a change of policy by the 'Choose love' charity. This will leave a considerable gap with a major impact on the vital work which is being carried out, and an appeal which you will find here has been made to plug the gap.
Expulsions in Nord Pas de Calais region
Frequent reports are reaching us of evictions taking place on a daily basis, where tents are dismantled at dawn and possessions confiscated without warning. This is all leading to continued numbers of attempts to cross the Channel further South – we hear of the rather incongruous situation in which visitors on the beach in Wissant are mixing with migrants taking their boats to the water.
One cruel effect of these evictions is that, on a day when weather conditions are poor, people will be tempted to make the crossing because they have nowhere else to turn. And of course safety is the least concern of unscrupulous traffickers.
There has been a slight positive change following the appointment of a mediator by President Macron, whose ignorance about Calais and the hunger strikers was exposed when he was caught unawares when visiting a town in the Loire on 25 October and responding to questions from a passer-by which were recorded and widely distributed. Those affected are now supposed to be given 45 minutes notice to safeguard their possessions and be taken to a new 'facility' housing up to 300 people in Calais for one night and then be taken further afield. But of course most will find their way back to Calais or Grande Synthe within days.
With our appreciation of your continued concern for those on the margins of society.
8 October 2021
Update for October 2021
A Welcoming Country
What is the most welcoming country in Europe for asylum seekers at the moment ? (Ben writes) Certainly not Germany or France or the UK - instead we should turn to Albania which has received 4000 Afghan refugees in its seaside resorts while their ongoing visa applications are processed. And it was heartening to hear their prime minister speak of Albania's moral duty to help. (He is, by the way, a well known artist turned politician who has just had an exhibition in New York.) And interestingly, Albania and its neighbouring Balkan countries still seem a long way from joining the EU.
Degrading Treatment of Migrants Around Calais - A Depressing Tale
French officials regularly subject adults and children living in migrant encampments around Calais to degrading treatment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on 8 October. Five years after French authorities demolished the sprawling Calais “Jungle,” more than 1,000 people are staying in encampments in and around the town.
The 79-page report, “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France,” documents repeated mass eviction operations, near-daily police harassment, and restrictions on provision of and access to humanitarian assistance. The authorities carry out these abusive practices with the primary purposes of forcing people to move elsewhere, without resolving their migration status or lack of housing, or of deterring new arrivals.
“Subjecting people to daily harassment and humiliation is never justifiable,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “If the aim is to discourage migrants from gathering in northern France, these policies are a manifest failure and result in serious harm.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 60 migrants, including 40 who identified themselves as unaccompanied children, in and around Calais and the nearby commune of Grande-Synthe from October through December 2020 and June to July 2021. Human Rights Watch also met with officials from the prefecture and child protection office for the Pas-de-Calais department, and the Grande-Synthe mayor’s office.
An estimated 2,000 people, including at least 300 unaccompanied children, were staying in and around encampments in Calais in mid-2021, according to humanitarian groups. Several hundred more, including many families with children, were in a forest in Grande-Synthe, adjacent to the Dunkirk.
Police efforts to push migrant adults and children out of Calais and Grande-Synthe have not discouraged new arrivals and do not appear to have reduced irregular Channel crossings, which hit record highs in July and August. But policing practices have inflicted increasing misery on migrants.
“When the police arrive, we have five minutes to get out of the tent before they destroy everything. It is not possible for five people, including young children, to get dressed in five minutes in a tent,” a Kurdish woman from Iraq told Human Rights Watch in December 2020.
Police routinely require migrants to move temporarily off the land they are occupying while police confiscate – and often destroy – the tents, tarps, and sleeping bags the people have not managed to take with them. Police subjected most Calais encampments to these routine eviction operations every other day in 2020 and the first half of 2021. In Grande-Synthe, these evictions took place once or twice a week.
Police conducted more than 950 routine eviction operations in Calais and at least 90 routine evictions in Grande-Synthe in 2020, seizing nearly 5,000 tents and tarps and hundreds of sleeping bags and blankets, according to Human Rights Observers (HRO), a group that regularly monitors police evictions of these encampments.
Police also periodically evict everyone from an encampment, claiming that these are “shelter” operations. But shelter is only provided for a few days. The authorities carrying out mass evictions also do not effectively identify and take specific steps to protect unaccompanied children.
These tactics leave children and adults constantly on alert and focused on their day-to-day survival. Many are haggard, sleep-deprived, and, as the national ombudsperson’s office, the French Defender of Rights, observed in September 2020, “in a state of physical and mental exhaustion.”
Officials have also placed legal and practical restrictions on provision of and access to humanitarian assistance. Local ordinances prohibit food and water distributions by aid groups in the Calais town centre Government aid sites are often moved, or aid is distributed at the same time as evictions.
Government services do not meet the needs of women and girls. The Calais encampments have no separate toilets for women, and Grande-Synthe has no toilets. Toilets lack adequate lighting, with particular risks for women and girls. Barriers to water access mean scarcity for everybody and problems for women and girls during menstruation.
Police have also harassed volunteers with HRO, Utopia 56, and other NGOs that observe police conduct. “Exiles aren’t travelling to northern France because they’ve heard they can camp in the woods or stay under a bridge. They aren’t coming because groups are giving them a little food and water. They come because that’s where the border is,” said Charlotte Kwantes, Utopia 56’s national coordinator.
French child protection authorities should do more to inform unaccompanied children about their options, including entry into the child protection system, which offers the possibility of receiving legal status at age 18.
The European Union should create a system for sharing responsibility among EU member states that avoids unfair stress on countries of first arrival and the most popular destination countries, and takes into due consideration the family and social ties as well as individual preferences of asylum seekers.
The UK government should develop safe and legal means for migrants to travel to the United Kingdom to seek safe haven, reunify with family members, or work or study.
“French authorities should abandon their failed playbook toward migrants of the past five years,” Jeannerod said. “They need a new approach to help people, not repeatedly harass and abuse them.”
The crime of navigating a boat ... justice for Nabil
Did you know that it is a criminal offence to navigate a boat towards the English coast, even though the intention is to save lives in desperate conditions? We set out below an appeal for help from Justice for Nabil. Please read it carefully and help if you can ....
Justice for Nabil - Drop the charges now - Free ALL refugees convicted of 'assisting unlawful immigration' for boat steering - STOP THE BORDERS BILL!
Demonstrate at Nabil's court hearing in Canterbury Crown Court at 10 am (time may change) on 22 October 2021 (date will not change)
Nabil is a refugee from Sudan who crossed the Channel in a small boat to find asylum in Britain, a member of Movement for Justice (MFJ). He is being targeted by the Home Office as though seeking asylum is a crime.
Nabil’s journey was similar to those of thousands of other cross-Channel refugees. He was a victim of persecution in Sudan because of his ethnicity. He escaped by travelling through Libya, and like many other refugees from African countries, he was enslaved and tortured there. He eventually escaped and crossed the Mediterranean, reaching France through Italy, but he was deported back to Italy under the EU’s Dublin Agreement. He was destitute in Italy and crossed more borders to reach Germany, where he claimed asylum, but his claim was refused. The German authorities planned to send him back to persecution in Sudan.
Faced with that threat, Nabil made the choice to save his life and join the people crossing the Channel to Britain. He contributed to buying a boat and put to sea with other Sudanese refugees. He steered the boat, doing his best to keep them all safe until they could be rescued.
Later Nabil was arrested and charged with "assisting unlawful immigration", something that scores of cross channel refugees have been convicted of because they steered boats so they and others could survive the crossing. That is the Home Office policy; it even uses drones to get pictures of the refugees doing the steering. Then they are prosecuted as though they are criminals.
A Court of Appeal decision in April forced the Home Office to drop some of these cases. That was a setback for the Home Office, but we still know of around 12 refugees in prison convicted of this offence, and still they continue to prosecute Nabil.
The prosecution of Nabil is entirely political. The government is planning the biggest attack on refugees and immigrants this country has ever seen – the new Borders Bill. This Bill will make it a crime for any refugees to come across the Channel to Britain in small boats or in the back of lorries, or by any route the Home Office decides is ‘irregular.’ It will deny the right to claim asylum to any refugee who has come through a country that the Home Office says is ‘safe.’
Nabil's prosecution is an attack on the growing number of cross-Channel refugees, who are now on the frontline of the fight against racism and immigrant-bashing. It is part of the drive by Boris Johnson’s government to fire up every racist in Britain in order to preserve the wealth and power of his class - Britain’s rich and powerful ruling class. That is why the attack on Nabil is an attack on all cross-Channel refugees and a threat to every asylum seeker and every immigrant without papers.
*We Are All Nabil*
We demand that the Home Office drops the charges or the Court throws them out. That will be the issue at the next stage in Nabil’s case – Join us at Canterbury Crown Court on Friday 22nd October.
I hope you can join us there. If you respond to let us know if you are able to support this, we will keep you informed of any change of time.
Kent Refugee Help
And what about the children ?
We rightly place importance on the welfare of children - indeed this is required of us under the Children Act of 1989 and much subsequent legislation. And so it came as something of a shock to learn that unaccompanied children have been housed in a hotel in Brighton without appropriate support. It is a sad fact that many children make the dangerous and often traumatic journey to seek sanctuary on their own - if you know of any similar situations in your area please highlight any concerns with the responsible local authority
A Reception in Dover ...
Conditions are bad enough for refugees on small and flimsy boats, but the Chair of Dover's Independent Monitoring Board has just published a report describing conditions at the initial reception point in the harbour as unacceptable. Those arriving are sleeping on the floor and on benches. Sanitary conditions are basic and catering facilities haphazard - at one point staff had to order take-away pizzas as there was no other provision. Children are being misidentified as adults and treated accordingly. Let's hope that this report is a wake-up call.
Afghans are getting patchy support around the country, probably due to poor communication from Whitehall. Most local authorities are working well but different volunteer skills are needed in different places.
World Day for Migrants and Refugees
Some 25 of us gathered on Dover seafront at the memorial on 20th September to mark this important day. Led by Bishop Paul McAleenan we reflected on some of the key messages of this day - as the Bishop pointed out, the seafront in Dover was a more poignant setting than any Church or Cathedral. You can see a video of the event here.
9 September 2021
A COMING EVENT
1 September 2021
Update for September 2021
AFGHANISTAN - WHERE NOW ?
You know that our concern has not been for the situations that displace people from their homes, but for those of the exiles who travel and gather on the Channel coast. However, over the years, many of these have come from Afghanistan and, like so many of you. we have been increasingly concerned about the worsening there.
Deb Barry from Canterbury-based Care4Humanity worked on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan nearly 20 years ago, the hope of those refugees who fled during the Taliban rule and fighting to return to Afghanistan. She has written the following.
“I clearly remember the hope of those thousands of people that I met that with the Taliban no longer in power, they could return home and rebuild their lives. 18 months later I would witness rural villages allowing their girls to go to school for the first time and the hope of so many people. I lived there for 3 ½ years and made many friends there and beautiful memories. I also had quite a few challenges while living there and for every step forward we made with communities, we certainly faced our challenges, but we all continued. There were still though people that did need to leave the country because of their association with different groups, or having to leave abusive relationships etc. I could write a book on the amazing people of Afghanistan and what they taught me.
“Fast forward a few years and our Care4Humanity team had one of its first projects in Calais to provide temporary shelter for Afghan refugees and we have continued to help those who are seeking refuge both in Calais and in the UK. Throughout the pandemic we’ve continued to work in the UK and Calais to help refugees. A refugee is person seeking refugee status demonstrating that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
“Our team has been in daily contact with people that we know in Afghanistan to find out how we can help and what is currently happening, the real human stories of those that have given so much already to the humanitarian work in the country. We are also working with groups in the UK as well to help support those who can leave Afghanistan and are seeking refuge.
“Here are just a few ways that we can all help at this time, and we are grateful for those who’ve all reached out to find out ways that you can help.
• If you are concerned about specific people in Afghanistan who can meet the definition of a refugee, they are able to apply for P2 Visa application – lots of the NGOs around the world are providing letters of support to those applying for this. If they were associated with an organisation, they will need a letter stating the dates that they worked with the organization or international company.
• Cities of Sanctuary – Click on this link to see your nearest community that is part of the cities of sanctuary for those arriving from Afghanistan and other countries. We are working with Canterbury and Cardiff councils now to find out when they will be putting out their lists and will also share that information as we receive it.
• Speak up. – There are a large number of organisations that have signed up to ask parliament in the UK to take more action to help address the issues facing Afghan people. See www.jcwi.org.uk/dont-criminalise-refugees-our...
• Donate to organisations working in Afghanistan. We are still finding out who on the ground is able to continue to deliver humanitarian assistance and what it will look like. We are grateful that PARSA are continuing to work with the Afghans seeking shelter in Kabul. Their majority female workforce continues to try to find ways to reach the people every day and is demonstrating amazing courage. We are currently trying to find out the best way to donate to them for them to get the resources that they need and will keep you updated.
“Care4Humanity will continue to be in regular contact with partners in Afghanistan, here in the UK and in Calais. We know that there is still a lot of change to come in Afghanistan as the international forces end those flights and new laws come into place in the country. We remain committed as a team to help the Afghan people in the choices that they make for themselves and their families. We are grateful for all our Afghan friends and colleagues who with their families continue to show amazing courage and resilience in the face of so much current opposition.
“As opportunities arise for people to do more collectively, we will keep you posted. If you have a specific question or query/idea about something you want to do to help the people of Afghanistan, we would be more than happy to help explore that idea as well. This is a global effort, and every action really is helping to make a difference: email contactus[at]care4humanityuk.org .“
Like others, 'Seeking Sanctuary' is concerned for the 'worthy' and 'less worthy'. While we are delighted that people arriving under the 'official' schemes are provided with decent initial hotel accommodation and a welcome, we worry about those who are equally at risk and who put their lives in the hands of people smugglers out of desperation. Will they be victims of the 'hostile environment'? Even criminalised for crossing the Channel? We hear that all claims for asylum are 'on hold' currently and so claimants – like those in the already appalling backlog of cases – could have years of uncertainty ahead of them, while they are housed in places such as Napier barracks.
For those living near Canterbury, an Afghan resident has started a new Facebook Group "Help For The Afghan Asylum Seekers-Canterbury" which will be working alongside the local council and "Canterbury Welcomes Refugees", accepting sorting, labelling and storing donations that are relevant to those supported by those organisations. You can find out more by posting on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/groups/194342835946828
A page on the UK Government website lists Councils that will welcome volunteer help, and you can click through to find out what sort of assistance each of them requires..
It seems that traffickers are now sourcing larger boats direct from manufacturers, perhaps in China, and coordinating launch times in batches along some 60 miles of the Channel coast to make life difficult for French officials hoping to prevent more departures. Arrivals in the UK, when not escorted by Border Force vessels, seem to occur more at more locations tens of miles East and West of Dover.
Annette, also from Care4Humanity, writes about this team. They are a grassroots organisation founded last year by humanitarians who had previously been active on rescue vessels in the Mediterranean.
Their boat is currently undergoing upgrading but will be relaunched soon under a new name: Artin. After Artin Irannezhad, the little boy from Iran who drowned, together with his family, while crossing the Channel. Experienced sea-faring folk who are able to commit regularly or longer term will be considered to join the boat team.
Determined to do what they can to avoid another such tragedy happening again, Channel Rescue actively monitors the Channel from various locations along the Kent Coast. They need many more volunteers to form a regular rota of ‘spotters’ in different locations. If you enjoy being out and about early morning in beautiful locations on the Kent cliffs and beaches while helping out with an important cause, please sign up by completing this form: docs.google.com/.../1FAIpQLSekGrEfdqSkUt.../viewform. Or for more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
More often than not, the dinghies carrying refugees are intercepted by Border Force who bring them into harbour. However, they fail to spot some dinghies, such as one that made a landing one morning on Kingsdown beach. Having spotted the dinghy approaching, Channel Rescue quickly made their way to the beach and ensured a safe landing and debarkation.
Channel Rescue also act as human rights monitors, observing treatment of the arrivals by Border Force, police, extreme right activists and annoyed locals. The group also offers spotting training (using binoculars, telescope and marine traffic and weather apps) and landing training (how to help debark safely and offer first aid specific to water rescue and exposure).
MEANWHILE, ON THE FRENCH COAST
The official estimate of the number of migrants in the city of Calais is around 900. They generally distrust the state authorities and prefer to get food and water from volunteers. Officials do their best to frustrate such assistance. A 2000 litre (440 gallon) plastic tank 'cube' set up for distribution of drinking water one Saturday was slashed by police during its first night in place!
On 23 August the Pas-de-Calais prefecture, on the pretext of avoiding Covid transmission, again extended the Order originally imposed 11 months earlier to prohibit free distribution of food and drinks in parts of central Calais. The measure is decried by the associations supporting the migrants. The state mandates only the Vie Active association to provide meals to migrants and it claims that an average of 2,500 meals have been distributed every day since the beginning of August.
There are three small cabins made up from odds and ends in the heart of the Grande-Synthe 'camp'. They house restaurants run mostly by Iraqi Kurds from Kirkuk or Erbil, and sell sandwiches, soda and cigarettes. Nearly 300 people, including families and children, wait in the woods hoping to cross the Channel. The Afghans have taken up residence at the end of a road, under large pylons of high-voltage lines which soar above their heads.
There are scores of exiles near most of the French Channel ports, not only near Calais and Dunkirk. As yet more arrive, reports of violent quarrels between different ethnic groups increase. According to the BBC nearly 8,000 people have arrived near the coast since the start of the year. Faced with the multiplication of boat crossings, volunteers make risk prevention one of their priorities, trying to warn the exiles about the dangers of the sea. They make the travellers remember 112, the only emergency number – even without a network signal – and show them how to find out their GPS location and use it in the event of distress at sea.
Sunday 21 September is a World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees. Bishop Paul McAleenan, the lead Catholic bishop on migration issues in England and Wales is visiting Dover on Saturday 25 September – the eve of that Day – to lead prayers at noon by the memorial plaques on the Dover seafront near the entrance to the Ferry Terminal. Anyone who shares our concerns is welcome to attend.
Incidentally, the Nationality and Borders Bill starts its Committee Stage in Parliament on the Monday, a few days earlier. There will doubtless be much ill-conceived media and political comment to accompany this process.
Please maintain your efforts to share the correct facts about displaced people. Our response must be a welcome, and a welcome is not something a government alone can create, it's up to everybody.
6 August 2021
Update for August 2021
Afghan Refugees – a never ending story: Ben writes: It was some 15 years ago when my wife and I found ourselves running a drop-in Club in Dover for young Afghan men who were seeking asylum, staffed by volunteers from the Salvation Army and religious sisters.
In between the many games of tennis and football they were always keen to talk in spite of of the traumas they had suffered. They were always warm-hearted and optimistic. There is something in the personality of Afghan people that I have found particularly warm and positive even when faced with the restrictions of detention and the 'no access to public funds' regime.
Some years later we found that the Calais 'Jungle' had a large Afghan community and it is no surprise that Afghans are still well represented in the desperate struggles to find safety in the UK. The Afghan crisis has been with us for at least 20 years and as we look forward we can can only envisage millions more Afghans seeking sanctuary from the Taliban in the desperate situation in which they find themselves. The tragedy is that so many educated and motivated people are likely to be labelled in a disparaging way rather than being able to fulfil their potential.
These are the same people who, as the year progresses, will be vilified as 'illegal' under the pending new UK legislation. As their lives are obviously in danger they cannot be sent back and so many will at best experience a long period of limbo in refugee camps if they are lucky.
The crisis in Ethiopia: Elsewhere there are numerous other hotspots generating large flows of refugees, and in particular in Ethiopia where the under-reported humanitarian crisis has led to famine and destitution. As thousands attempt to make their way way to safety the response of European countries is less and less welcoming and pushback is becoming the norm in several places. Politicians are hardening their attitudes often in attempts to respond to the clamour of far-right and populist groups.
Denmark – a new approach: Denmark is now proposing to process all asylum seekers in a third country and threatening to send back Syrian asylum seekers who have been in Denmark for many years with expulsion and return to Syria. We hear disturbing accounts of other areas of pushback including the construction of a wall in Greece and the continuance of of large and under-resourced refugee camps where are so many thousands linger with little hope.
Even efforts to save lives are blighted by the gradual withdrawal of rescue vessels and other initiatives to save lives. And if we add the effects of drought, flooding and climate change, together with Covid-19, we see our world carry forward a toxic mix which simply must not be ignored by the global community. The narrative of the government which seeks to to demonise those who arrive on our shores by describing them as criminals just exacerbates the problems.
Remembering Alpha: Alpha from Mauritania was one of the first residents of the Calais 'Jungle' in 2014. Not content to live in a shack, he organised a compound for himself in which he kept chickens. He organised another tent to which he invited others to come and develop their painting and creative skills. Over time, materials donated from the UK helped to bring about much satisfaction and self esteem. He organised various signs at the entrance, such as 'Love, not Hate'. We don't know what became of Alpha but we hope that he was able to put his generous and warm hearted character to good use. In our frequent visits to the 'Jungle' at this time we were always struck by the gestures of hospitality we received - when we brought much needed supplies such as milk and sugar we were always invited to share them around makeshift tables
Can't we do better?The recent report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee makes depressing reading. Their visit to the Dover Intake Unit found 54 people crammed for days into a small space with mattresses on the floor between benches. And several young people were being held in an office space for more than 24 hours while awaiting placement because Kent County Council are no longer able to accept unaccompanied minors.
On the bright side: Invisible migrant workers have become visible during this COVID time, because many work in essential economic sectors that kept going during lockdown. So the pandemic has made the need to promote the human dignity and rights of all migrant workers yet more clear.
Seeking Sanctuary has always affirmed the dignity of work and urged not only that all workers be respected and valued, but also that migrants should not be prevented from finding secure jobs that enable them to lead decent lives and contribute to the lives of the communities that welcome them.
More of the same in France: Human Rights Observers yet again report that during a morning eviction operation at Grande Synthe – this time on 3 August – members of the cleaning team seized, slashed and destroyed tents and shelters of exiles, with utter disregard for the victims of this operation. https://twitter.com/i/status/1422838156483874818
And again on 5 August, Utopia 56 reported a further morning expulsion aimed at the 400+ people - including dozens of children - sleeping on the ground near Grande Synthe. More tents were destroyed and just six people got access to an official respite centre. https://pbs.twimg.com/media/E8BDw6tWYAEn2gq?format=jpg&name=large
Some relevant thoughts:'Our encounter is rooted in the ultimate alterity ["otherness"] of the other, with acceptance even to suffer in response to the suffering of the other and an awakening of one’s feeling of one’s responsibility for and to the other.'
(From the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.)
'Let us learn to live together in diversity'. (A plea from Pope Francis in preparation for his World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees on 26 September.) In our next update we will cover plans to mark this day.
5 July 2021
Update for July 2021
Two special days – Fathers' Day and World Refugee Day. [Ben writes.] By a curious coincidence the 20th June marked both World Refugee Day and Fathers' Day. I thought of these two occasions not just in terms of our traditional celebrations marked by gifts and goodwill, but in terms of the realities facing so many fathers in war torn and conflict ridden areas of the world where there is not time or opportunity to celebrate. I thought of the fathers in war torn Tigray and so many other parts of the world, where the UN estimates that 400,000 people are facing famine as a result of conflict. With livelihoods lost and families in grave danger, the natural instinct of a father is to save his family and ensure their survival. When war hits a population the first thing to go is often economic activity and sources of employment. Desperate choices have to be made – if disloyalty towards a ruling regime or a rebel army is suspected, the consequences can be fatal.
No time to to celebrate the joys of fatherhood – instead just a despairing struggle to provide safety, let alone economic security. Contrary to popular myths, no one uproots lightly from a community in which they have their roots – their family, friends and much else. And the reality for many young fathers is of years of military service, as in Eritrea, forced to fight in wars. And in their desperate search for safety for themselves and their families, they face the prospect of being cast as 'illegal' in their journeys to seek safety in the UK. (You will find more on the implications of the proposed new UK legislation further down in this update.)
In memory of Artin – A few of you sent donations to pay for flowers which we laid at the memorial for deceased migrants on the seafront in Dover on 20th June. Many thanks for these – and as we laid them we remembered especially Artin, the little toddler whose body was found in Norway many months after his family had drowned in their attempt to cross the Channel. Photos taken at Calais before their attempt show Artin as a sweet, innocent little boy whose smiling face belies the dangers that he and his family faced in their perilous attempt to cross the Channel in a flimsy boat. May he and his family rest in peace.
Facts and figures – It's useful to check some facts as yet another Immigration Bill is laid before Parliament. If you flee persecution and want the protection of the UK government, you must must reach UK soil and apply to the Home Office for recognition as a refugee. Traditionally around two-thirds of these applications are refused, although in 2019 and 2020, around half of the applicants were granted refugee status or another form of legal protection at the first time of asking. Many of these decisions are wrong: thousands of appeals are allowed every year, amounting to 49% in 2020/21. Combining initial grants of asylum with the successful appeals, a clear majority of asylum seekers become recognised refugees or get a similar status. The Home Office’s own figure for 2019 is 64%. The right to seek asylum is universal and does not depend upon how people travel. Our government's proposals set out to undermine the refugee convention and categorise people as 'inadmissible' if they reach Britain by irregular means or have passed through third countries, despite the fact that more than half of them are likely to have valid reasons for claiming asylum.
In 2020, almost 30,000 people applied for asylum (not including dependent family members). This is well below the 2019 level despite the increased number arriving across the Channel by boat. In fact these do not form an extra new flow, but rather represent people who have diverted from crossings in vehicles. Getting on for half of these – 46% – were from five countries: Iran, Albania, Eritrea, Iraq and Sudan, whilst other significant contributors include Afghanistan, Vietnam, Pakistan and Syria. None noted as territories of peace and safety.
The UK’s share of the world’s refugees is light. The World Bank put the number of refugees in the UK in 2018 at around 127,000, or 0.5% of the world’s total. Even by UK standards, the number of asylum seekers today is not particularly high. Numbers peaked around the turn of the century, reaching over 100,000 during 2002, if dependants are included, and have been fairly steady recently, averaging 39,000 over the past five years. The cost of food and shelter for asylum seekers has not risen because more applications are being made, but because they are not dealt with efficiently. The number waiting for more than a year for an initial decision increased almost tenfold from 3,588 people in 2010 to 33,016 in 2020. Within this total, the number of children waiting longer than a year increased more than twelve-fold from 563 children in 2010 to 6,887 in 2020. What is needed is a system that works by making timely decisions and ensures that everybody in need of safety gets a fair hearing.
Some refugees are 'resettled', i.e., brought directly to the UK. Politicians like to stress that resettlement is good and coming to the UK under your own steam (“jumping the queue”) is bad. There are said to be 26 million refugees worldwide, while over the past five years, the UK has resettled around 26 thousand. No-one can apply directly for resettlement in the UK, but instead they must wait in camps near their places of origin and hope to one day be pulled out of the pile by UN agents and assigned to a resettlement programme (not in a country of their choice). There is, in fact, no queue to join! Despite the announcement of a new UK resettlement programme for about 5,000 people a year in 2019, hardly anyone has been resettled since the Covid pandemic began.
Six Bishops unite in calling for migrants rights to be respected – In 2015, at a time when the Calais 'jungle' was still very much in the news, we arranged for the Bishops of Dover, Arras and Southwark to jointly make a statement calling for migrants in Northern France and elsewhere to be treated with dignity and humanity. Six years later – on World Refugee Day, 21 June – we arranged for the joint declaration to be renewed. This time the declaration was signed by three more bishops, with responsibility for more of the Channel coast, from the dioceses of Lille and Bruges and the Anglican Bishop in Europe. It is hoped that this can be the start of continued ecumenical cooperation between British, Belgian and French bishops. The declaration was publicised widely on social media – the post on the Facebook page of the official Vatican News (linked to an article) has attracted over 600 likes.
And some positive stories – Over in Calais we learnt through 'La Voix du Nord' of the activities of 'Mammy Brigitte', who for 14 years has provided a bank of charging points for mobile phones in her garage, as well as providing friendship and support. She may not have made herself popular with her neighbours or the authorities, but she has provided a vital service for people to keep in touch with their relatives thousands of miles away.
Keep a lookout for little Amal – who will set out on 27 July from near the Syrian border in Turkey on an 8000km trek across eight countries. She is nine years old and is searching for her mother, who went off to find food and never returned. She is not so little, being a 12ft (3.5m) tall puppet operated by teams of three performers! She will carry a single message, on behalf of all the thousands of displaced children who will meet her along the way: 'Don’t forget about us.' The Walk is a single theatre show that takes place over four months and had its origins in a geodesic dome in the Calais 'jungle' in 2015, among the artists involved in the 'Good Chance Theatre' .
She arrives at Folkestone on 19 October and reaches Manchester on 3 November, having passed Dover, Canterbury, Lewisham, London, Oxford, Coventry, Birmingham, Sheffield and the Peak District. (There is a "prelude" in Manchester on 18 July, where a young girl struggles to sleep, troubled by the memories of her journey, eventually letting drop her puppet, which slips away into her past …)
June 19, 2021.
Statement for Refugee Week, 2021.
'Seeking Sanctuary is pleased to have facilitated a groundbreaking joint statement by a number of Bishops responsible for the coastline on both sides of the Channel. They express their concern that migrants should be treated with humanity and decency and be provided with a welcome rather than a hostile rejection.
The Bishops represent the Anglican Dioceses of Canterbury and Europe, and the Catholic supporters are the Archbishops of Southwark and Lille, the Bishop of Arras, Boulogne & Saint-Omer, and the Bishop of Bruges.
The statement responds to the ongoing human misery in and around Calais, surrounding ports and coastline towns running from Northern France to Belgium, where many displaced people seek shelter. Download the joint statement here.
Ben Bano and Phil Kerton of Seeking Sanctuary said, 'Countless numbers of people fleeing persecution and violence are still subject to rejection and a hostile environment. In their joint statement the Bishops from the UK, France and Belgium have joined together to speak out against this injustice as well as calling on people of faith to show solidarity for the plight of the victims of persecution, war, and climate change.'
5 June 2021
Update for June 2021
1. The impact upon mental health of war and becoming a refugee.
(Having concluded last month's bulletin with a note about people in Glasgow supporting asylum seekers who were being detained by immigration enforcement officials, we are pleased to start this month with a long extract from a Blog posted by Justice and Peace Scotland on 21 May. In it, Richard Kayumba reflects on the experience of being a refugee and having to flee your home in search of safety, and the impacts that this has upon mental health.)
Wars and becoming a refugee have many consequences on the physical and mental health of civilians and soldiers. Death, injury, sexual violence, malnutrition, illness, and disability are some of the common physical consequences of war, while post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety are the emotional effects.
Many asylum seekers and refugees are survivors or escapees from these traumatic experiences. People escaping from such environments are convinced that when they reach their destinations, they will have a chance to live or to re-build new life and be able to heal these terrible wounds.
However, nothing torments asylum seekers more than being informed that after their miraculous escape from near death situations, they’re unwanted by the country in which they have sought freedom. These torments are intensified by the anxiety of not knowing the outcome of their asylum application. This goes from anxiety to depression once they are disappointed with a declined application following countless years of waiting for the Home Office’s decision.
From this stage onwards, a nightmare begins for asylum seekers, due to the inhumane treatment received during the time prior to their deportation. At this stage, asylum seekers are living in extreme fear of what would happen to them once they are deported. At the same time, they are forced to live on the street by not having a place to stay. Also, this is a period when asylum seekers are made to frequent detention centres without committing any crime. To me, asylum-seeking is the worst thing one would wish his enemy and an asylum seeker’s deportation is equal to being sentenced to the death penalty.
We occasionally report news from this town near Dunkirk, but it figures less in mainstream media than does Calais. We have delved into recent news, Tweets and blogs from NGOs and volunteers to gain a flavour of what goes on.
2.1 The role of the town.
The former mayor Damien Carême, now an MEP, was noted as a champion of exiles, ensuring that a camp meeting UNHCR standards was established and refusing government demands for harsher treatment. Socialist Martial Beyaert succeeded him in July 2019. At the end of April he proudly announced the re-opening of the Puythouck country park whose undesirable occupants had left for a different site a couple of weeks earlier.
In reality, some 500 migrants who had been sleeping rough in the woods this had been forcibly removed in an early morning raid by municipal police. The first time that the local authority had taken such a step. Earlier, most support groups had been refused entry to the area, including the car park where food was distributed. This left mentally and physically fragile people further isolated and vulnerable as conditions deteriorated
The move was for about a kilometre into the woodland, to a site totally out of sight from the road, delimited by barbed wire into separate spaces for each nationality, It is far from normal human life, and occasionally swept by fumes from industrial units. The single water point installed by the State looks like a cattle trough and offers not the slightest modicum of dignity.
Observers comment that the main objective was to make hundreds of lives invisible, abandoning people in a secret location. Adolescents are not seen by social workers and are open to unrecorded contact by traffickers and sexual abuse networks.
2.2 The Role of the state.
On 26 May about 15 van-loads of CRS, (riot) police came to evict people from the new site in line with the government policy of sending them to 'welcome and orientation centres'. There were the usual displays of violence and harassment with batons, flash balls and tear gas against the exiled people. Police tore down the tents and plastic sheeting that had provided some protection from storms. Their next target was the stands where food and tea were served, but unexpectedly a Kurdish man raised his voice in protest, putting forward good arguments and saying, 'We are human beings, we can talk but we cannot fight with you.'
The CRS force withdrew but then returned making a lot of noise. Eventually they did leave and took no passengers on their buses. Former mayor Damien Carême Tweeted, 'This morning at a “shelter” in Grande-Synthe: What a horror! What inhumanity! There are 400 exiles left to survive unworthily on this spot because the State and the city do not have a policy of welcome. These people were fleeing from war, and an army welcomes them. Shame on these leaders!'
The mayor made an unexpected visit on the next morning, along with his team and leaders of opposition parties. They promised a visit from a cleaning team for the next day, but nothing about showers or toilets, nor about cutting back on destruction and displays of power or offering structural solutions, while the mayor agreed that forced evictions may take place twice a week.
And a day later a clean-up operation did take place …. but also a different massive forced eviction of some derelict buildings in the town. It is said that the aim is to fill the orientation centres, creating more profit for hospitality contractors. And few days later on 3 June it was time for more evictions. Repeated dismantling – at least three times per month – remains the norm.
3. More of the same in Calais.
Regular destruction of informal settlements continues, accompanied by an ever stronger police presence. This worsens the already precarious living conditions of the 1500 or more exiles, whose number continues to increase. Difficulty in getting fresh water and food, destruction of tents, confiscation of belongings, tree clearances and installation of fencing on areas occupied by migrants amount to a policy of physical and mental harassment, provoking heightened tensions and increased violence.
This “unlivable” environment pushes people to take more and more risks in attempts to cross the Channel. Secours Catholique suggests that state-sponsored violence has consequences.
At 3.00am in the morning of 2 June some 50 migrants were prevented from getting into the port but later returned in far greater numbers, violently attacking police with iron bars, cobblestones and sticks until 8.00am. Seven police needed hospital treatment. This is said to be the worst violence since the elimination of the “Jungle” in 2016.
With clearance of open areas, many migrants have found shelter in sheds and rough and ready refuges in the southern part of the town. On 4 June 300 police dismantled a makeshift migrant shelter in disused industrial buildings. 500 or more people, including about 30 children, were removed in one of biggest operations of its kind in recent months, starting at around 6.00am, and the buildings were demolished in the afternoon.
The number of small boat arrivals in the UK from northern France reached record levels in May with 568 arriving in the last four days of the month. The total for the first four months of 2021 was 2,108, more than double the figure of 896 crossings in the same period in 2020. Officials at Dover are having to work for extended hours to cater for the increased demand at that location and extra transport capacity has been arranged to move people on to short-term holding facilities inland. However, the increased number of asylum applications at the coast has not caused any increase in the overall number. There was a 20-year low in the number of applications in 2010 – 17,916 – before the figure rose, reaching 35,737 in 2019, well below the record of 84,132 in 2002. It is important to note that the number of applications fell to 29,456 in 2020, as far fewer arrived by routes other than crossing the Channel. More accommodation has been needed because applications are not dealt with efficiently, not because of Channel crossings!
Home Office staff say that Vietnamese people-smugglers are switching from lorries to small boats because they consider that these offer a better chance of success in reaching the UK. The increased numbers in Calais include a higher proportion of families, perhaps associated with small changes in the distribution of nationalities involved. Countries in southern Europe face greater challenges. For example, Italy had registered 14,412 coastal arrivals from North Africa by 1 June, almost three times greater than the number for the same period in 2020.
The arrivals are accompanied by a rising death toll. The UNHCR indicates that at least 500 died in the first four months of 2021 during the dangerous sea crossing, up from 150 during the same period in 2020.
5. A feast of flowers.
Sunday 20th June is World Refugee Day when we try if possible to have an event at the memorial on Dover seafront, dedicated to those who have died when seeking to reach the UK. This year we will remember not just those who have lost their lives crossing the Channel but the hundreds who have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa as well those who lose their lives in flimsy boats trying to reach the Canary Islands. If you would like us to lay some flowers on your behalf on that day we invite you to make a donation of £5.00 which we will use to buy flowers on your behalf. The account details are (Halifax): Ben Bano – Sort Code 11 02 32, No. 00490105. Remember to put your name in the payment reference. In this way we will help to raise public awareness of of the tragedy of so many lives lost in the search for sanctuary.
6. An end note.
We are aware of the risk of 'compassion fatigue' from the bleak news which we have given you in this update. We are increasingly aware that migrants and refugees are potential proxies for millions of other marginalised people in our world today in the context of a culture which excludes those of other brothers and sisters in humanity – both in the UK and further afield. That is why we are encouraged by the latest message from the Vatican on the theme of 'towards an ever wider 'we' – in order to combat the notion of shutting ourselves off in nationalistic narratives. Do take a few minutes to watch the latest encouraging video on this theme featuring a Bishop working with migrants on the border of Mexico and Texas: https://youtu.be/bVOJMl-0Aro
With thanks for your continued concern and support
24 May 2021
Phil Interviewed on BBC Radio Kent about New Plan for Immigration
[Click on "Interviewed" to listen.]
18 May 2021
Update for May 2021
We open this month's update with an apposite quote from Pope Francis:
'This is the time to dream together, This as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all” (Fratelli Tutti, 8).
When is an asylum seeker a trafficker?
The Guardian reports that an Iranian man, Fouad Kakaei, who took over steering a boat 'because he didn't want to die' was jailed and spent 17 months in prison before his conviction was overturned. To date the Home Office has prosecuted asylum seekers forced to take a turn in piloting boats. This original verdict was overturned in March 2021 – a retrial took place and he was acquitted. The obvious argument in gaining the acquittal was that those on the boat did not plan to disembark and enter without respecting the law: like so many others they were hoping to be rescued at sea. It is hoped that others convicted of similar offences will have their cases reviewed.
Countering the narrative of the 'illegals'
Once again we make the point – and we ask you to make a similar point, that to board a boat to cross the Channel in the hope of being rescued is not an illegal act. We cannot imagine how it feels to put your lives at risk in small boats on the open sea. But we can be quite sure that for the majority of those struggling for hours, the sight of a rescue vessel where they can claim asylum is much more attractive than pressing on to attempt a landing and try to exercise their legal right to claim asylum. (An act recently declared illegal by the UK despite the fact that it cannot be claimed in another country.) Hence we prefer the term 'irregular' to 'illegal'.
Black Lives do matter ...
Ben has been reflecting on the relevance of our work to the controversial recent report on racial equality in the UK. Over many years we have done our best to highlight the lack of rights and the discrimination faced by those seeking sanctuary. But have we missed something in focusing our efforts on raising awareness? Ben was told about the abuse suffered by a group of young Eritrean refugees outside a supermarket in Kent, becoming even more telling when they tried to attend a local football match. It made him realise that some those seeking asylum not only have to contend with trauma and marginalisation, but with direct experience of racial abuse. Our sisters and brothers seeking sanctuary are all too readily targets of racial discrimination and abuse. Faith Communities and other organisations do sterling work already – but we all need to understand the impact on migrants – destitution, racism, marginalisation as well as trauma.
And still they keep coming ...
In spite of £34 million outlay, the appointment of a migrant crossing 'supremo' and £98 million spent on previous security measures, the boats keep coming across the Channel, particularly in the milder Spring weather. An interesting article in the Guardian points to the growing blurring of roles between migrants and traffickers as desperate people seeking sanctuary are forced to aid smugglers in preparing boats for the Channel crossing in return for cheaper crossings. And the smugglers get more sophisticated in response to UK tactics.
There is little doubt that the termination of the Dublin agreement has left people even more desperate to be reunited with their families by using irregular means. (Note our use of the term 'irregular; rather than 'illegal' which describes their situation more accurately as they have no safe or legal way of claiming asylum in the UK.) And the Home Office finds itself in further difficulty owing to the impossibility of returning migrants to Europe without the provisions of the Dublin agreement and no agreements from EU countries to accept returns.
Over the last week several boatloads have arrived in Kent. No doubt this puts strain on services, but compare this to the situation over the last week the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa where more than 2000 migrants have arrived – most from sub Saharan Africa as well as from Syria. The list of 'no hope' countries is growing – in addition to the Sahel, atrocities are being witnessed in the Tigray region where 3 million civilians are under attack, meaning that the flow of refugees will be even greater. And between January and April this year there have been 360 deaths. Will the UK offer solidarity by providing assistance in this unprecedented situation? Very unlikely.
Pushback – a Europe wide phenomenon
A recent critical report from the Council of Europe highlights the increasing and dangerous practice of pushback – forcing migrants back across the border when they try to enter a country. The authorities in Hungary, Greece, Slovenia and Italy are among those accused of pushing migrants back to avoid asylum claims. In particular, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe has highlighted Greece as one of the main culprits in pushing back migrants trying to enter from Turkey. There are disturbing reports that the French authorities are doing the same at the Italian border. The UK narrative of pushing back migrants across the Channel is just part of a much wider European problem.
'We are not safe until everyone is vaccinated ...'
We entirely agree, but we are aware of the millions living in war torn areas across the world, for example in Syria, the Sahel or the Congo, who have no chance of being vaccinated. And nearer to home, those living rough in Calais and who are unregistered have difficulty getting vaccinated. And nearer to home, what about those in the UK who are worried that their personal details supplied to vaccination clinics could be passed on and lead to their deportation? And those who are afraid to report that they have tested positive for Covid in case their details are passed to the Home Office? This is an issue which needs to be addressed if those most at risk are to be protected.
Mental Health Awareness Week
Mental Health Awareness Week is marked this month. It's timely to note that research suggests that asylum seekers are five times more likely to have have mental health needs than the general population and more than 60% will experience serious mental distress. The incidence of PTSD is also significant, given the trauma experienced when they suffer the effects of war and persecution as well as the trauma in making difficult and dangerous journeys and having to to cross borders in the face of a hostile reception, not to mention finding the prospect of being destitute in the UK. As we work towards better mental health services for all, particularly in the Covid pandemic, let us remember to advocate for a comprehensive and culturally sensitive service for all the migrants who require it, particularly since many refused asylum seekers are not eligible for most secondary medical care (except in Scotland and Wales).
Academic studies in Sweden have found that psychological damage is approximately twice as common among immigrants than in the native population – and three times more prevalent among asylum seekers.
Joint response to government proposals by over 60 faith based organisations
We were pleased to be able to participate in this joint response from numerous people of Faith to the government consultation on new proposals for managing the asylum system. The response points out that we should treat asylum seekers with dignity, which means addressing their problems as individuals. We cannot neatly label all asylum seekers in the same manner; each person’s situation is different, and a streamlined plan for immigration cannot be flexible enough to assess and address the complexity of their issues.
If the Home Secretary's proposals become law, undocumented entry to the UK will be criminalised, with penalties for those falling foul of the new legislation. In practice, this will mean that it will be impossible for most people to claim asylum because “safe and legal” to reach the UK and make a claim are extremely limited because of our island geography and “acceptable” routes under the proposals could never feasibly be made available to all who need them.
Criminalising people for seeking sanctuary seems perverse. In a modern and enlightened society the dignity and humanity of each individual should be central, following any alternative theme ignores the many benefits of welcoming refugees and is likely to create a divisive culture in our communities.
Meanwhile, in France ...
Sad to say, conditions near the French coast show no signs of improvement. We will not yet again repeat the details of both petty and violent discrimination: the repeated evictions from rudimentary open air camps, lack of food and water, barring from certain streets, difficulty in accessing medical care, showers and sanitation, and shortages of clothes – all ameliorated by the dogged efforts of volunteers.
Instead we describe yet another tragic death, in some ways similar to that of two-year-old Mawda three years ago this week.
On 3 May, a number of organisations supporting exiles wrote a statement to express support for the complaint against the police filed by Rupak Hazhar in February, blaming them for the death of her newborn daughter a few months earlier.
On the night of 1-2 September 2020, the Kurdish-Iraqi couple Rupak and Hazhar Sharif, with their children aged 10 and 2, were detained by police along with a dozen others on the shore between Calais and Dunkirk. They were held outdoors for several hours, forbidden to leave, before being freed.
Rupak was in the eighth month of a normal pregnancy, monitored by the local hospital. Later, she told a passing police patrol that she had been in severe pain when detained and that her waters had broken. Five hours after her arrest, she was eventually taken to hospital by ambulance for an emergency Cæserean section. Her child, Aleksandra, was placed in intensive care, being unable breathe without assistance ,and was allowed to die three days later. She is buried in the Muslim section of the Calais cemetery; her family are in London waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. Rupak has said that she wants the truth to come out to save others from suffering the same trauma.
Officials maintain that "none of the migrants mentioned any particular difficulties" at the time. However, the General Inspectorate of the National Police has started investigations, considering a possible criminal offence of failing to provide help.
A Last Word, from Glasgow ...
Staff from Immigration Enforcement detained two men during a dawn raid in a mainly Muslim area on the first day of Eid – a festival devoted to peaceful celebration. By mid-morning, a crowd of about 200 residents had surrounded their vehicle, preventing it from driving away, and chanting “these are our neighbours, let them go”, one of them lying under the van. Police intervened to ensure their release. Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “I am proud to represent a constituency and lead a country that welcomes and shows support to asylum seekers and refugees.”
Scotland relies on immigrants to offset the pressures of depopulation and on the same day new MSPs were sworn in to to a diverse parliament, taking their oaths in British Sign Language, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, Doric, Scots Gaelic, Welsh and Orcadian.
13 April 2021
Update for April
''HAVE FAITH, HEART, YOU WERE NOT BORN IN VAIN: YOU HAVE NOT LIVED IN VAIN OR SUFFERED IN VAIN..."
'I (Ben) often think of these words from Mahler's fifth symphony. They inspire me and many others in these times of darkness as we seek to come to terms with the psychological as well as physical effects of the Covid pandemic. But these words also challenge us to reflect on what they mean for the millions of people seeking sanctuary and who are displaced. Can we hold out this hope to those who we meet who eke out a fragile existence in the context of the hostile environment and so many other barriers? That is the question which challenges those involved in fighting against injustice – these words are no less than a raison d'être for all that we seek to achieve.'
CAN WE STOP CALLING PEOPLE 'ILLEGAL'?
Yet again politicians use this term to describe people who seek asylum through crossing the Channel in small boats. It is not illegal to take to a boat with the intention of claiming asylum with the first UK point of contact – usually the Border Force. – this is the case with most if not all those involved. It is only illegal to cross in this irregular manner if an attempt is made to evade the relevant authorities. Is there this degree of misinformation because the Dublin mechanism of repatriation to EU countries is no longer available to UK authorities? To describe people as 'illegal' immediately stigmatises them and plays to the populist narrative. The government proposes in its 'New Plan for Immigration' that those who arrive 'illegally' should not be given permanent refugee status. This suggestion is just another example of the hostile environment in action, as well being contrary to international treaties, notably the UN convention on refugees.
Sarah Teather, UK head of the Jesuit Refugee Service, has said: 'The Government knows full well that those seeking safety are forced to cross borders irregularly. An asylum system designed to penalise this is lying about its purpose.' A government consultation using an online questionnaire is open here and closes on 6 May: it is important that sensible comments and proposals are submitted.
FRENCH COURT DECIDES THAT SOME CALAIS EXPULSIONS ARE NOT LEGAL
A new and clearly more sympathetic judge in France has decided that the expulsions from the area of Calais known as BMX are unjustified and illegal – this is welcome news for the various supporters and organisations who have been campaigning to put an end to the often brutal expulsions carried out by the Police, usually in the early hours of the morning. It will ease pressure on those who feel sufficiently desperate to put their lives and those of their families in the hands of smugglers to make the dangerous crossing of the Channel.
However, frequent expulsions still occur at other sites in and around Calais and Dunkirk, not to mention Paris.
MAY THEY REST IN PEACE – FOUR YOUNG ERITREANS WHO DID NOT FIND SANCTUARY
We learn of the tragic death by suicide of four young Eritreans who suffered the trauma of leaving their country and arriving in the UK through dangerous means only each to take their own life within a 16 month period. We have always felt a special connection with the Eritrean community ever since our association with the Church in the jungle.
The Coroner at the inquest of the most recent to die, Mulubrhane Medhane Kfleyosu, ruled that more should have been done to recognise and treat his serious mental illness – he was the latest of a group of four feeling so hopeless that it led to their suicide. He had recently been moved from London to Milton Keynes following his 18th birthday despite the fact that those involved with his care considered that he was vulnerable. Sadly this community are often targets of racial abuse: a group of Eritreans left Ben's home town of Deal after being racially abused outside the local supermarket.
As April began, dozens of asylum seekers were again moved into the disused Napier Barracks near Folkestone despite concerns about its suitability and the legality of such a measure. There was a major Covid outbreak there in January and residents were gradually moved elsewhere until it was fully emptied on 2 April. But a week later a new residents started to be brought in without any measures being taken to improve the scope for social distancing. Officials anticipate that they will remain for between 60 and 90 days
Yet again, the Home Office procedures seem to be in chaos. One man was due to be transferred on 9 April before his move was cancelled after charities and lawyers contacted Clearsprings (the contractor that manages the camp), raising concerns over his ability to cope there. Despite being identified as a potential modern slavery victim,he had spent two months in the barracks last year, before being moved out in December because of his deteriorating mental health problems.
'THEY ARE TREATED WORSE THAN DOGS'
These are the words of the recently appointed Bishop of Arras who is responsible for Calais, following a visit he made there at the end of last year, witnessing the consequences of the forced early morning evictions. In his message he expressed his solidarity with all those seeking to alleviate the plight of those on the margins. Let us hope that this might lead to fresh UK/French inter-Church messages to highlight the concerns on both sides of the Channel.
A SENSE OF PROPORTION...
If those in positions of power and influence are alarmed at the pitiful number of migrants crossing the Channel, then spare a thought for those seeking sanctuary from Central America, where the numbers trying to enter the US are rising, not least because of the perception of a more humane attitude by the Biden administration.
This migration is often climate driven, alongside other factors. Two deadly hurricanes – Eta and Iota – struck within two weeks of each other last November, leaving the land flooded for two months devastating the harvest and leaving farmers unable to prepare for the next season. Guatemala and Honduras are among the hardest hit countries. And the number of children seeking to cross the border has hit an all time record.
In the circumstances it is no wonder that, alongside the Covid pandemic and gang violence and lawlessness, climate disasters leave those affected with no choice other than to migrate if they and their families are to survive … and so often worse, to place their lives in the hands of criminal gangs and organised crime groups. Thank goodness for the charities, many of them involving the Church, who are doing their best to alleviate the suffering involved.
OPINION FROM ROME
A new booklet published by the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, 'Pastoral Orientations on Climate Displaced People', calls upon us to 'broaden the way we look at this drama of our time – the drama of those driven from their homes by the climate crisis.' The booklet invites us to become aware of the indifference of societies and governments to this tragedy, asking us to see, and to care.
A COMING EVENT
The regular annual Mass for London migrant workers will take place on Saturday 1 May, livestreamed from the parish church in Forest Hill in South London. Attendance of Londoners in pre-Covid years exceeded 2000, but the livestream will be accessible nationwide. (The livestream will come from either the parish or from London Citizens - ahead of the event, the correct address will appear on the parish website, www.swoy.org.uk). The organisers have picked up our reports of the death of the two-year-old Eritrean girl, Mawda, killed by a police bullet fired into a moving van on a Belgian motorway. She will get a mention during the Mass and her story will be outlined in material that supports the event.
The principal celebrant will be Bishop Paul McAleenan, who is the Catholic bishops' main spokesman on migration issues. In a statement issued at the end of March, he called for a just approach to asylum that has 'people and families at its centre'.He points out that the assistance that we provide to our sisters and brothers fleeing war, poverty, or persecution is a fundamental test of our society. … Tackling the evils of human trafficking, opening more safe routes to resettlement, and treating those who have arrived by other means with fairness and humanity, are not mutually exclusive endeavours. We must recognise the diverse and complex factors that shape the journeys of refugees and welcome all who need our protection.'
AND NEARLY 80 YEARS AGO....
A quote from Lord Baldwin, previously Sir Stanley Baldwin pleading for Jewish child victims of genocide during World War 2.
'I have to ask you to come to the aid of the victims, not of any catastrophe in the natural world, not of an earthquake, but of an explosion of man’s inhumanity to man.”
How relevant today!
AND FINALLY ....
We note with interest the recent publication of the Government-commissioned report on race and equality. It is not our place to provide a detailed commentary, but we do ask one question – to what extent should the way forward be influenced by the lived experiences of those of our migrant and asylum seeker friends who experience marginalisation at first hand?
With, as ever, our appreciation for your concern for these frequently dehumanised exiles and for you actions in their support.
Ben + Phil.
'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute' (Proverbs 31:8)
22 February 2021
UPDATE FOR FEBRUARY & MARCH 2021
WHICH COUNTRY IS THE KINDEST IN THE WORLD TO REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS?
We were taken by a recent press report which sought to measure welcome to refugees in terms of humanitarian welcome, access to education and health care, and rights of residence after a period of time in the country. We have noted the 'answer' at the end of this update and we are sure that there are examples of good practice in many other countries as well.
THE SAGA OF NAPIER BARRACKS CONTINUES ...
You will have read over the last month of the saga of the various upsets at the disused barracks in Folkestone. The situation is currently very confused and the NGOs such as Care4Calais and others are still not allowed in to the barracks. Some very generous donations to 'Seeking Sanctuary' have now been collected by Care4Calais and await distribution to those in need in the barracks, a good number of whom are in a very fragile state due to the traumas that thy have suffered. While the numbers were reduced in the barracks following the recent fire, a significant proportion of those who remained were still supposed to self isolate in totally unsuitable conditions. While we do not condone acts of arson, we are equally concerned by the developing narrative that the residents there have 'abused our hospitality'. Several aspects of the history of the Barracks have come to light. In response to the narrative that that Barracks housed 'our brave service men and women' for many years, a report compiled some years ago in connection with the redevelopment of the site for housing made clear that the Barracks would always be unsuitable for housing Armed Forces personnel due to its ageing infrastructure and poor state of repair. Time to look again at earlier plans to develop the site of for a mix of private and social housing and provide more suitable initial accommodation for asylum seekers?
MORE ON THE POLICE SHOOTING OF TWO-YEAR-OLD MAWDA
It's been quite a while since there was fresh news about this sad case, but now a verdict has been announced. During the night of May 16 to 17, 2018, Mawda was the victim of a police shooting on the motorway near Mons. Born on the road to exile, this little Kurdish girl never had a fixed abode during her short life. Not a single day. An existence spent on the roads, in parking lots and inhospitable camps. A life suddenly interrupted by a 9mm bullet. Right in the face.
Her parents were looking for a better future, wandering from country to country for several years, caught between greedy smugglers and police services seeking to prevent them from passing as part of the fight against trafficking. In today's Europe, policies of excluding migrants result in daily control operations on highways, in ports and in stations.
Mawda and her parents were loaded into a van with twenty others hoping to get to Britain. Avoiding police checks in France, they drove along Belgian motorways in the hope of finding a parked truck bound for England .
However, traffic police patrols were engaged the “Medusa” operations aimed at 'dissuading transmigration on Belgian territory,' started by the former Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, member of a minority nationalist party, on the basis that 'people staying illegally constitute a threat to national security'.
The van was spotted in Namur by highway police, who gave chase. Eventually an officer fired a shot. He has been given a 1-year suspended sentence for manslaughter for lack of caution or foresight. The driver of the van got a 4-year prison sentence for "malicious obstruction of traffic and armed rebellion".
The traffic police were apparently unaware that the van, carrying false Belgian plates, had been seen loading passengers in Dunkirk. French police suspected that it was being used by smugglers and were watching for its return.
Mawda's parents received inhumane treatment. After her death they were treated as criminals rather than victims. The father got out with his bleeding little girl and was himself shot at, then handcuffed next to his 4-year-old son. Her mother was prevented from joining the ambulance to accompany her fatally injured baby.
A number of Belgian parliamentarians are calling for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the secrecy of police and legal authorities and the degree to which various anti-migrant statements and regulations may have influenced them to see exiled people as dangerous criminals.
THINK OF CLIMATE CHANGE – THINK OF REFUGEES
With COP21 on the horizon and the UK government's clear commitment to address the climate change agenda, spare a thought for another growing crisis – that of climate driven migration. A specific project – Climate Refugees – focuses attention on this growing problem (www.climate-refugees.org). There is now a significant degree of evidence that climate change is contributing to human displacement. For example, an estimated 38 million people from various ethnicities live in the Lake Chad basin. The economy covers a mixture of pastoral livelihoods and farming. There is now a desperate daily search for sources of water and arable land. 17 million of this population live in the conflict affected areas of the Basin.
But as Lake Chad is shrinking, so the diminution of natural resources feeds the insurgency of Boko Haram with pressure on those caught up in the conflict to escape the lawlessness which resulted. If you would like to know more about climate change and refugees, the UNHCR (www.unhcr.org) has some helpful information on climate change and disaster displacement. extreme weather episodes such as flooding in the Philippines and drought in Afghanistan are only set to continue with increasing frequency. The Global Compact on Refugees, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2018, directly addresses the concern that 'climate, environmental degradation and natural disasters increasingly interact with the drivers of refugee movements.' Let's hope that this issue remains an important agenda item as COP21 happens later this year.
OFFERS OF HELP
Sincere thanks to those who have offered to help us. Sadly, with various cross-Channel lorry jams, travel restrictions and anti-Covid regulations both here and in France, we have found ourselves helpless to know what can safely be planned. We hope (again) that we can start to make plans again in just a few months' time and start to decide just how we can be helped.
Answer: Colombia has one of the best records in receiving and settling up to 1.7 million refugees from neighbouring Venezuela. It provides basic health care as well as education and allows refugees to apply for residence rights after a period of time in the country. An example to so many 'rich' countries which turn their backs on asylum seekers.
11 January 2021
UPDATE FOR JANUARY 2021
'FINDING THE HIDDEN TREASURE'
In so many of our updates over the past year we have talked a lot about being a victim – the need to escape violence and oppression simply to find safety and sanctuary for oneself and one's family. Indeed the terms 'migrant' or 'asylum seeker' do little to enhance human dignity – instead they place the recipients of these terms in a subordinate, victim-like context. The prevailing narrative which condemns people seeking asylum as quasi criminals or 'scroungers' simply reinforces this impression.
And yet our need to respect the dignity and humanity of those concerned must lead us in a another direction – to see the 'other' as a person in the way that Martin Buber describes so well in his writing on the 'I-thou' relationship – a person of value, and holding the dreams and aspirations which we hold in common as we grow up.
The young people who come ashore from their flimsy boats in Dover want to contribute to society rather than be seen as victims, even though they are not allowed to work. Many would be ideal volunteers in our NHS in the fight against Covid. There are estimated to be 800 experienced doctors from Syria and elsewhere who could be assisting with vaccinations or working in hospitals during the crisis. A career such as being a doctor or engineer is often in the minds of many of the young people who arrive here. For the 400 or so young men currently in Napier Barracks near Folkestone, there is a huge, as yet unmet need to develop a full programme of educational and vocational activities.
Many of the youngsters who are in the care of local authorities often show outstanding educational achievements – it is tragic that at a time when they can gain qualifications while in care they must live with the spectre of deportation once they are classified as adults
We are often reminded, not least by leaders such as Pope Francis, about about the innate dignity of our sisters and brothers in humanity. Over the next challenging year let us remind ourselves of the need to work with those who seek asylum in a way that enables them to have hope and to dream their individual dreams. Each person has a 'hidden treasure' – let us help those involved to discover and nurture it in order to find their complete humanity.
IF ONLY THIS WERE TRUE...
Minister for immigration compliance Chris Philp said: "France is a safe country with a well-functioning asylum system".
A review is attached, looking back at key events of the past year and how they affected us and those we support.
Our partner organisation 'People not Walls' has posted a few short videos from people expressing hope for better news for exiles during the coming year. To find out how you can contribute, please email email@example.com – and here's a link to one example of a video cutt.ly/hjxcWGg
With our thanks for all your support and our best wishes for 2021.
Ben and Phil.
15 DECEMBER 2020
UPDATE FOR DECEMBER 2020
THE WORLD IN TURMOIL AGAIN
As we mark the UN International Migrants Day on 18 December, we reflect on the sacrifices that refugees are making to find sanctuary – the barriers seem to multiply as each day passes. The Horn of Africa is once again in turmoil, and families who have been settled in the Tigray area are being forced to leave and reach desperately poor refugee camps in Sudan. And the route to safety is even more arduous – a 'direct' journey to the Mediterranean through Libya is fraught with hazards and risks of being trafficked or sold into slavery. The refugee camps are equally fraught with danger. The journey out of Africa now often involves long and hazardous journeys with traffickers offering journeys from Dakar in Senegal on dangerous waters and in flimsy boats to the Canary Islands – many hundreds of lives are lost in this journey as well as those who attempt the equally dangerous journey from Libya to Lampedusa. Our world in turmoil has one main outcome – the flight to safety and sanctuary for millions of displaced people.
Reports from contacts in Calais are disturbing.
There are usually around 300 people at the Secours Catholique day centre in the afternoons, but at the start of December only 150 turned up on some days. It is very cold and people cannot warm up. They suffer from living in the open, with complaints about frostbite, cracked skin and muscular or bone pains. The usual problems with access to showers and laundry persist: many do their laundry at the centre, but there is no time to dry things. The centre will remain open during the Christmas holidays.
The Red Cross has treated people who have been clubbed. Police violence seems to have increased and phones are seized when people use them to record incidents.
Evictions from informal places of shelter continue to occur on a daily basis, though not always from all sites and not always following the same sequence. Observers are being fined.
In addition to the continuing harassment of refugees in Calais we learn of other initiatives to stigmatise refugees: there is a little known report that 100's of extra gendarmes have been posted to the Alpine border area between France and Italy – near Ventimiglia and Menton – to deter 'terrorists'. And so yet more hazards arise as migrants make the journey through the snowbound French Alps in conditions which are similar to the flights to safety in the second world war.
AND A WELCOME FOR SOME MIGRANTS?
We are well used to the 'hostile environment' – and to the narrative which seeks to stigmatise honest and law abiding people who only want to make their contribution to society. We read that some 600,000 people are expected to emigrate to the UK from Hong Kong.
A QUESTION OF DOUBLE STANDARDS?
It seems to be OK for people to arrive from Hong Kong as a result of anti-democratic policies but not for those who are fleeing worse repression elsewhere. And the 600,000 are just the tip of the iceberg. A question of double standards?
LIFE IN FORMER UK ARMY BARRACKS
Our main concern is with people who find themselves stuck near the French coast and the dangers that they face in trying to reach the UK and claim asylum. However recognition as an asylum seeker is not the end of the story. Claims take months to be processed and the system has operated even more slowly during the pandemic.
Initial Accommodation has been in hostel-type environments where people stay until longer-term – dispersed – accommodation is arranged. Stays should be around 4-5 weeks, but no-one has moved out of their current accommodation during the Covid lock-down. Consequently, asylum seekers have initially stayed for indeterminate periods in one of over 90 hotels – generally the cheapest.
As reported last month, space has been found in disused army barracks for around 600 young men who had arrived in small boats and subsequently spent time in precautionary quarantine. The premises are at Penally Training Camp in Pembrokeshire and in Napier Barracks, near Folkestone in Kent. There have been worrying reports of poor conditions and lack of support, with agencies such as the Red Cross demanding an end to their use.
WHAT WAS ASSURED
Folkestone and Hythe District Council organised a live-streamed community engagement meeting about the Napier accommodation, addressed by a number of people, including Deborah Chittenden, the Home Office Director of Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System.
She stated that residents would receive three daily meals, toiletries and a bed. The site has space for activities and exercise, so people need not leave. (But they are not detained and are free to leave, sticking to the Covid precautionary 'rule of six' and face-mask wearing when indoors.) Appropriate Covid precautions on site are those for community living, treating each dormitory as a 'household'. There is provision for social distancing e.g., spacing between beds, partitions etc. Health services will be provided by a nurse.
A number of others provided information and the Council has an FAQ page on its website, updated as necessary.
The Home Office has contracted Clearsprings Ready Homes Ltd to ensure that the facility is habitable. They will manage the site and provide security. There would be TVs, WiFi, sports facilities, entertainment and pastoral support, and local volunteers would provide English classes (in Covid-safe meeting rooms and training rooms). Telephone interpretation will be available, with briefing documents in the top 10 languages. Hand sanitiser and face coverings will be available for all. Those leaving the site should return by 10.00pm, and mobile phones will be issued as necessary, so that people can be contacted off site. (Daily management is subcontracted to Nationwide Accommodation Services, an East London property management firm.)
The charity, 'Migrant Help', is to provide help and support for topics such as education, health, form filling and discovering the local area. Residents are selected as being relatively fit and healthy with no mental health problems that might be aggravated by boredom; only those no indicators of vulnerability, modern slavery or exploitation will be accommodated. Migrant Help will liaise with Clearsprings to resolve issues brought up by the residents and collate offers of help from local groups. Considerations are being given to providing specific mental health care support to complement offers made by charitable organisations and faith leaders.
WHAT IS THE REPORTED REALITY?
Reports suggest that conditions are far more grim than suggested. Up to 14 share rooms, even with some cases of Covid-19 confirmed in some rooms. There are not generally partitions and sheets hang between beds to provide privacy and dignity. No clothing is supplied and many still wear the clothes in which they crossed the Channel. Numbers even share shoes. They apparently complain of queues for food with no social distancing and of frequent queues for the few leaky toilets.
The likely spread of Covid-19 is a concern. Residents complain of a lack of soap dispensers, crowded washing facilities and little social distancing. There is a nurse on site five days a week, yet there are allegedly complaints of not getting necessary treatment. Some say that the camp is like a prison with Far Right groups protesting outside. Many who fled conflict and danger, suffer from stress and depression, whilst reporters have been told of frequent cases of self harm and at least one suicide in surroundings that resemble a prison. It would appear that there is little mental health support available.
Some staff speak Arabic, but a third of residents speak neither English nor Arabic and communication is difficult. It appears that, despite assurances that the premises are for accommodation prior to dispersal, 14 people were removed to be deported on 23 November, while the only others to leave are those who have threatened legal action against the conditions.
One of the first requests for aid was for bedding, as the provision was inadequate for the the cold buildings dating from the 1890s. Next came requests for donations of toilet rolls, toiletries, books and equipment for indoor and outdoor games, whilst later the need was for socks and underwear.
It seems that a good number do not understand where they are or why, and do not get enough answers about how long they will be staying, aggravating their mental disturbance. Both residents and lawyers have complained about access and it is likely that some do not understand the process by which they can get legal advice.
As we write, it is reported that eight of the residents have gone missing.
Public concern is growing, but rather than being seen to address the issues, Clearsprings has told local volunteers who wish to continue visiting to sign confidentiality agreements forbidding reports of what they see. These are based around the Official Secrets Act – relevant to contractors, but not to charity volunteers – and as a consequence most volunteers have refused to return until the matter is resolved. We have heard that, in the absence of volunteers, security staff refuse to take delivery of aid packages.
Similar concerns have been expressed about Immigration Detention Centres. Seeking Sanctuary joined 62 other organisations and individuals in signing a letter (attached) asking for improvements, sent on 8 December to the responsible Minister (Chris Philp, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State – Home Office), copied to his Opposition shadow (Nick Thomas-Symonds). Other signatories include Refugee Action, Detention Action, Care4Calais, Migrant Rights Network, Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN), Doctors of the World UK, Choose Love/Help Refugees, Liberty, Jesuit Refugee Service UK and Samphire.
We say, that: "While we want to see the barracks closed, closing them won’t solve the problem, the residents will simply be moved to more unsuitable ad hoc accommodation. A first vital step is the immediate release of everyone from the barracks into safe, supported, community-based alternatives. The issue then has to be fixed at the source, and that is the often-glacial processing of asylum claims. … There is growing evidence that managing people’s cases while they remain in the community with access to support is both less expensive and more effective. Given the significant backlog in processing asylum applications, made worse during the current pandemic, it is time to consider alternatives. The government has talked about a reset moment for migration. Now is the time, but this can only be done by involving and engaging with civil society and people with experience of the system."
It is unfortunate that the reality of daily life has not lived up to that expected from early assurances. Perhaps too little preparatory work was done or budgets are proving inadequate – or reports are not reaching those who can make decisions?
And so dear friends and supporters we wish you a happy festive season in these challenging times. We thank all of you who have offered and continue to offer both practical and moral support. We salute those volunteers both in the UK and further afield who give up their time and sacrifice their careers at a time when obstacles never cease to be put in their way. And equally we salute those put their lives at risk end endure countless traumas just to survive. And as we find ourselves needing to make sacrifices we might find it easier to focus our minds on the stories and struggles of so many of our brothers and sisters in humanity as they seek sanctuary and in many cases just survival.
With renewed thanks for your concern and for your help.
Ben and Phil.
2 NOVEMBER 2020
UPDATE: ARE WE ALL SEEKING SANCTUARY?
Just as new lock-downs are being announced, it feels as if many of us are having to find ways of living with the Covid pandemic. These often involve making difficult sacrifices and discovering ways of dealing with so many types of loss and bereavement. Just as our lives are turned upside down we might find a glimpse of what it feels like to suffer the losses and traumas faced by refugees seeking sanctuary. And for many refugees, particularly those awaiting decisions on their claim, life is particularly challenging. The recently-announced 3p per week increase in the asylum seeker subsistence allowance is nothing less than an insult. The weekly amount is now to be £39.63; 14 years ago it was £40.22.
MAY THEY REST IN PEACE
In this month of November, at a time when the thoughts of many turn to remembering loved ones who have died, our thoughts this month are dominated by the tragic deaths of refugees trying to cross the Channel in dangerous conditions. First we heard of a corpse found on the beach at Sangatte near Calais on Sunday 18 October. Initially known only as 'BB' the deceased was eventually identified as Behzad Bagheri-Parvin, an Iranian due to celebrate his 32nd birthday on 12 November.
And on Tuesday 27 October there was the tragic drowning of a family of five (pictured here) of Kurdish/Iranian origin from the city of Sardasht in western Iran, near the border with Iraq. Rasoul Iran-Nejad, 35, his wife Shiva Mohammad Panahi, 35 and their children Anita, nine, and Armin, six, were crossing from France to the UK in an overcrowded small boat that set off into rough seas and soon capsized in the Dunkirk Channel. The body of their younger son, 15-month-old Artin, is yet to be recovered, as are those of two additional adults thought to have been on the boat.
The Bishop of Dover, Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, spoke for many when she said: 'My heart is full of sadness. We cannot stand by while those who seek refuge and safety are dying at the hands of those who exploit them and their hope. Children and their families are being washed away just miles from our shores. We must do more to help our fellow sisters, brothers, sons and daughters seek safe haven and be offered the same chances to live their lives as we do, with peace and love.'
HONOURING THE DEAD
At Seeking Sanctuary, our hearts go out to their families and loved ones. Like others, we have pledged to lay flowers at the memorial on the Dover seafront after every death of this nature. After the intolerant words of the Home Secretary we were grateful that our simple act of remembrance was filmed for the BBC and ITV news programmes, and our simple act of humanity was also covered by other media outlets. On the evening of 30 October, Kent Action Against Racism organised a candlelit vigil which drew over 50 people to the memorial on the seafront at Dover – a true action of solidarity. (See photo and video in press reports.) We cannot imagine the desperation which leads parents to make such agonising choices about their family's future.
In response to the so called 'words of sympathy' from official sources we have a simple message – forget walls and fences and security guards and instead devise ways for people to apply for asylum in the UK in safe and legal ways, and so prevent these tragedies at source. And, by the way, despite the sympathy of many individuals it's wrong to see France as a safe country – certainly not when the State ensures that riot police harass refugees every day and bar their access to the most basic amenities from the moment that they come across a spot in Calais where they might find shelter and rest.
You will be aware that the costs of a dignified and respectful funeral cannot usually be met by the family concerned. Our colleagues in Calais – Secours Catholique – have made an appeal to initially cover funeral costs for BB who was laid to rest in Calais on Tuesday 27 October. The sum that needs to be found is €2130. At the end of this update you will find details of the account in France to which money can be transferred: if this is too complicated, Ben will be happy to receive your donation for conversion to euros and transmission to France. His account details are also shown below.
ACCOMMODATION IN KENT
The British Army has used land at Shorncliffe near Folkestone since 1794. with the permanent barracks buildings dating from 1890. In 1803, Sir John Moore trained the first Light Infantry Division at Shorncliffe to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. His 'Shorncliffe System' yielded military methods from which the modern British Army developed. In the twentieth century it was a vital staging post for troops gathering for service on the continent in the two World Wars. Three recipients of the Victoria Cross are buried in the nearby cemetery.
Large parts of the site have been prepared for sale to civilian developers over the past twenty years and there are no longer any significant numbers of active military staff living there. Other units come for temporary stays when training. One set of buildings, Napier Barracks, is now housing asylum seekers while their claims are assessed. These are young men previously placed in some of the 90+ hotels used as contingency accommodation this year. The eventual capacity will be up to 400.
Within a couple of weeks of the first refugees arriving, ugly scenes started at a result of anti-migrant demonstrators visiting daily outside the gates. As a consequence various local groups decided to demonstrate a more friendly stance.
An hour's 'Welcome Event' held outside the barracks on Saturday 17 October attracted more than 300 supporters. There were heart-warming placards and banners on display, and many chants, songs and cheers sounded out to welcome the newcomers, who also showed up in the barracks courtyard with their own messages in response. Despite the wire fence surrounding the site, all were connected by their common humanity, and even with mask wearing and attempts at social distancing, the mood was one of pure celebration and solidarity. (See here and here.) A strong police presence kept a few dozen protestors some distance away until the welcome party broke up.
A message was received, saying: 'I am a resident of Napier Barracks, and I felt very satisfied with everyone who came to welcome us. You broke the barrier of fear and anxiety that we had. You made us feel welcome in your beautiful town. Thank you all from the bottom of the heart.'
In the outside communities a number of local initiatives are getting started at gathering supplies for the asylum seekers. As the season changes, bedding very much appreciated and there are repeated requests for toilet paper. The government logistics and procurement operations seem to be as haphazard here as they have been in some of the efforts to counter the Covid pandemic. Because meals are provided the unit has been classed as “full board” and no allowance is provided for the cost of essential sundries such toiletries, hand sanitiser, non-prescription medicines, phone calls and bus fares, despite demands to keep in touch with solicitors and travel to the checks and interviews that are part of the asylum system.
But there is good news! After a long legal battle, refugee charities were told at the end of October that payments of £3 per week for clothing will be made (backdated to March) and £4.70 per week for travel needs (backdated to July), in light of Covid restrictions that were in place before that.
The Red Cross points out that military premises are totally inappropriate for housing many asylum seekers, who have fled unimaginable horrors, including conflict, persecution, and imprisonment in their home countries. Poor communication during transfers to Shorncliffe led to many panic, believing that they were being readied for deportation. Others fear that the 200-year-old and run-down buildings, vacant for a number of years, are unsuited to Covid-proof life, with up to 14 beds per room separated into 'cubicles' by hanging sheets and only one leaky toilet per 100 residents. (Was refurbishment left incomplete due to pressure to reduce the use of hotels?)
A confirmed case of Covid has left many residents literally confined to barracks.
The Children's Commissioner recently reported upon visits to the intake unit for new arrivals in the port of Dover. She has expressed serious concern for the welfare of young people who get stuck there, sleeping on the floor alongside adults for as long as two or three days while homes are found for them across the country, places in Kent having been filled. Another critical report emerged from the Chief Inspector of Prisons, whose staff had also visited reception facilities in Dover and Folkestone. They, despite praise for the sympathetic attitude of staff, found the premises to be “very poorly equipped to meet their purpose”.
With our appreciation of your continued concern,
Phil & Ben.
BANK DETAILS FOR FUNERAL DONATIONS
Account name “Sécours Catholique, Délégation du Pas de Calais”
Bank: Société Générale
Account number: 30003 01678 00050014638 50
Swift Code: SOGEFRPP
IBAN: FR76 3000 3016 7800 0500 1463 850
Account name: B W Bano
Sort code:11 02 32
Account Number: 00490105
Reference: Calais Funeral
8 OCTOBER 2020
UPDATE FOR OCTOBER 2020
On the Coasts of the English Channel
We sometimes wish we could bring you better news - indeed as you will see in this update there are many inspiring stories of solidarity and support across the country. To mention just one – Doverstandup2racism is organising an event to promote tolerance and understanding in a park in Dover on 17th October. And Ben reports on an occasion not long ago when a jogger out running at 5.30 in the morning in the village of Kingsdown encountered a family which had just landed and was able to give words of welcome before the Police arrived.
But the anti-migrant narrative continues unabated – indeed migrants and refugees are increasingly becoming a proxy for those who are condemned as 'illegals' – the latest attack by the Home Secretary on immigration lawyers does not bode well. The suggestion that migrants can be 'pushed back' into French territorial waters (an illegal and dangerous act) is part of this narrative. At what cost the deportation flight that took just 14 migrants to Germany, the majority having been kept back in the UK due to failures to correctly process their asylum claims? As you will see from this update the popular myth that migrants are safe in France is an illusion – instead they are harassed by the Police and deprived of food and water. No wonder they put their lives and those of their family into the hand of traffickers.
Songs of Praise
The Catholic Church observed its annual Day for Migrants and Refugees on 27 September. This saw the issue of several statements from Rome, and also from Bishop Paul McAleenan, who is the spokesman on these issues for the bishops of England and Wales. He visited Dover in advance of the Day to meet volunteers working alongside the people who arrive from France in small boats and pass briefly through the port. 'Seeking Sanctuary' was delighted to find local people willing to meet him and also provide similar advice to a TV team who visited on the same day to record material which is expected to be included in the BBC1 broadcast of 'Songs of Praise' on the afternoon of Sunday 11 October.
Fortunately Bishop Paul was willing join in and be filmed on the Dover seafront: his contribution and those of local volunteers will hopefully conclude the Songs of Praise episode. The day of his visit was marked by extreme traffic jams on the major roads towards Dover, but all went well and an account of the visit can be found here.
But what has been happening in Calais?
Charity volunteers have been officially prohibited from making free distributions of food and water in many streets in central Calais. With repeated clearance of shelters and confiscation of property every few days, people have started to sleep at places remote from the officially sanctioned food distributions and to reach these many must walk for several hours each way (if they are strong enough), while others stay away due to the prominent police presence. The human rights ombudsman (Défenseur des droits) reports that preventing the charitable provision of essential supplies removes several human and constitutional rights.
However, that opinion failed to convince the courts that the ban should be overturned. Secours Catholique and others organised a solidarity gathering to protest about the situation and British members of the cross-Channel network of NGOs and charities, 'People not Walls' (with which Seeking Sanctuary is associated), organised an on-line petition in support. This was delivered by hand at the French Embassy in London but, despite having been given several days notice of the pending delivery, the Home Office refused to accept their copy unless a solicitor was in attendance – a hitherto unknown requirement. The small delivery group was hardly threatening, being made up of two ladies, a monk and two Catholic priests!
As a consequence the petition remains open for signature – please sign, as the total is just a handful of votes short of 500 as we write – and it will be delivered when a helpful lawyer can be recruited. Our friends are trying to find out just how this ban has come about, and whether it has any legal basis.
As September drew to a close, Calais saw the largest eviction since the elimination of the infamous 'Jungle' in 2016. According to the State 800 migrants were taken away in coaches in the early morning to 'places of shelter' elsewhere, 38% of them in the north of France and the majority further away. Aid workers expect a similar operation near Dunkirk at any moment. We expect that, as in the past, almost all will make their way back to Calais within week or two, with their fear and distrust of French officials further confirmed. The first returnees turned up within 48 hours and found that prohibition on distribution of aid had been extended to a larger area of the town and that access to more areas of shelter had been blocked.
The Défenseur des droits visited Calais for two days to assess the situation, meeting at length with many exiles and associations coming to their aid, as well as with State services, the Prefect, the heads of all the security forces present in the area, the services in charge of welcoming unaccompanied minors for the Department and the Mayor. At the end of this visit, she issued a report that reiterates the observations on violations of basic human rights previously made by her team and by her predecessor. Whilst aware of the difficulty of the situation, she asks that urgent solutions be found to “put an end to these unworthy and shameful living conditions”.
The apparent response by the authorities in the area has been to start daily disruptions of areas of shelter around dawn, confiscating tents and property and leaving the exiles to wander in search of alternative places to avoid extremes of weather (among the smaller number that remain accessible).
On the English Coast …
At least two relevant Parliamentary Inquiries are taking place. Firstly, the Home Affairs Committee is looking into “Channel crossings, migration and asylum-seeking routes through the EU”. It has held several Oral Hearings and links to accounts of these can be found on one of its pages on the Parliamentary website, also to the 32 written submissions that have been received. Secondly, the Public Accounts Committee has more recently begun investigation of “Asylum accommodation and support transformation programme”, and its publications appear here. It has unearthed the fact that logjams in the system have resulted in asylum seekers being housed in 90 hotels.
Alternatives to the hotels are being sought, and offers of two disused military barracks are being followed up as locations to house young men, leaving space in hotels for families and women, One of these is near Folkestone, where the District Council set up a useful Q&A session with Home Office officials and others. A video recording of this event is available, A gathering of local supporters is planned outside the barracks to convey the fact that some people do welcome the “inmates” despite the likely run-down state of the interior.
'Seeking Sanctuary' finds no joy in reporting such grim news, but we are buoyed support by repeated generous individual responses from members of churches and community groups whose examples continue to contradict the claim that a hostile environment prevails throughout the UK.
Thank you for all that you do to dispel myths and respond to our news.
1 SEPTEMBER 2020
UPDATE FOR SEPTEMBER 2020
Our most recent update (in August) dealt largely with 'myth busting', so this issue will deal more with news and views.
A LOST LIFE
The body of a 16-year-old boy washed up on a beach in Calais on 19 August. He had been trying to reach England in an inflatable dinghy using shovels for oars. He was identified as Abdulfatah Hamdallah, originally from West Kordofan, a Sudanese state bordering the war-torn areas of Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. His age was first listed as 20, then reduced to 16, subsequently moved to 28 (as found on fake identity papers that he carried), and finally 22 – based upon reports from family members.
He was buried in Calais. The Canterbury-based aid group, Care4Humanity, laid a wreath in the colours of the Sudanese national flag at the plaque on the Dover seafront that remembers all those who have died trying to reach the UK. More flowers were soon added by Ben and his family.
This tragic event led to many requests for media comment, sadly, often responding to reports of increasingly hostile treatment of new arrivals and other immigrants in the UK.
The number of exiles in and and around Calais remains high, and conditions have gone from bad to worse. Frequent forcible evictions and erection of fresh barriers continue and it is not easy for exiles to get access to showers, soap and drinking water. Food distributions can also be disrupted. Despite this, the number of exiles surviving along the French coast remains high and there are frequent reports of attempts to cross the Channel in small boats, many at the hands of traffickers.
A number of French associations have asked the Défenseur des Droits (an independent Human Rights ombudsman) to investigate human rights violations, and a protest about the lack of access to fresh water and showers is scheduled in Calais for 26 September. A gathering in solidarity is being called in London on 25 or 26 September to deliver a letter at the French Embassy (copied to the Home Office). Details will be provided nearer the date. An associated petition demanding greater respect for human rights is available to sign, and we commend it to you.
Another petition that is open for signature calls upon the Home Secretary to put an end to charter flights used to forcibly expel migrants to countries such as France and Spain where, rather than having asylum claims investigated, they face rapid onward removal to unsafe locations. Reports suggest that recent, often brutal, deportations have been carried out in a rush as a knee-jerk reaction to pressure from anti-immigrant voices and may often have involved significant legal irregularities.
UK PARLIAMENTARY INQUIRY
An inquiry into Channel crossings, migration and asylum-seeking routes through the EU was announced on 6 August by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Yvette Cooper.
This will examine the reasons behind the growth in migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats. It will look at the role of criminal gangs in facilitating the growth of this form of illegal [sic] immigration and the response of UK and French authorities to combat illegal migration and support legal routes to asylum.
The Committee wants to hear views and welcomes submissions from anyone with answers to the questions listed in its terms of reference. Information about how to submit evidence is available here. Our associated 'People not Walls' consortium has informed its French members about this process and has obtained confirmation that their submissions will be welcomed. The deadline for written submissions is 12 noon on Monday 14 September 2020. Further background, including a link to the on-line process for submitting evidence can be found at this page.
ARRIVING IN THE UK
The increasing number of successful Channel crossings has put pressure on accommodation and some empty hotels are being used. Facilities for youngsters in Kent will soon also be full and there is an appeal for other local authorities to accept transfers.
There is no legal difference in claiming asylum after arriving by boat, on a plane, or any other way. However, these small boat crossers have been singled out by our government to be processed in a special way seemingly designed to obstruct their rights to claim asylum.
Once people are safely on shore the strategy to make this route unviable moves along. In practice, there is no way that the UK can deport everyone who makes it across, but the aim is to be seen to be tough both to deter other arrivals, but probably also to play to key media audiences.
Initially, after a health check and a meal, people spend a day or two either in the Kent Intake Unit (a small prefab holding facility at the tug haven in Dover's Western Docks) or in the police station at the port. The next destination for adults is usually Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire which was, until recently, a longer term facility, mainly for women. However, on 18 August it was repurposed as a 'Short Term Holding Facility' specifically to process people who have crossed the Channel. People stay usually just a few days, the legal maximum stay being a week.
The Home Office conducts initial asylum screening interviews whilst people are at Yarl’s Wood, sometimes in person, sometimes by phone. This crucial first interview decides many people’s chances of claiming asylum. Information from this interview is used to deport the Channel crossers to France and Germany under the EU's 'Dublin III' regulation, which allows governments to pass on responsibility for assessing asylum claims to another (willing) state without even starting to look at individual cases.
According to 'Corporate Watch', many of these assessments have been made in a rushed and irregular way, perhaps using only weak circumstantial evidence and with few having any chance to get legal advice, or even interpreters to explain the process.
From Yarl’s Wood, people may be given immigration bail and sent to asylum accommodation. At the moment, this means a cheap hotel because due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the usual initial asylum accommodation was closed and those held were moved into hotels. People usually stay in initial accommodation for several weeks before being moved into normal 'asylum dispersal' – shared houses in the cheapest parts of cities far from London.
People are picked up for deportation directly from these hotels, usually in dawn raids. All the people on recent flights had claimed asylum immediately upon arrival at Dover some weeks earlier. They were not known to be 'dangerous criminals' and had faced no charges. All had well-founded fears of persecution in their countries of origin, where there have been extensive and well-documented human rights abuses. At least some were survivors of torture – and had been documented as such in the Home Office’s own assessments.
Many, if not all, have friends and families in the UK, a factor which is supposed to be examined at the outset of each 'Dublin' process. France is accepting these requests to 'take charge' , i.e., to take legal responsibility for asylum claims. But reports show that it has denied people the chance to claim asylum by immediately issuing expulsion papers as soon as the charter flights arrive.
ALL IS NOT LOST ...
And yet in these challenging times all is not lost. We are constantly heartened by the messages of support and the unexpected offers of help and donations. A recent donation by a religious community will provide food for a few days in Calais. In spite of the various obstacles and high fares on the ferries, goods and supplies are still being taken to France and our garages in Kent have got space for donations – just contact us to find out more details about essential requirements and ways of getting goods to Calais. At this time there is a severe shortage of tents, party due to rapid police clearances and also to the lack of tents abandoned during this year's festival season in the UK.
And we need your involvement more than ever in the midst of the hostile narrative of intolerance and indifference to the plight of refugees – both in signing petitions and in your practical support.
Keep up the good work!
21 AUGUST 2020
UPDATE FOR AUGUST 2020
DEMONISATION OF THE INNOCENTS
We bring you this update a little earlier than usual this month, because the narrative surrounding those seeking sanctuary on our shores is little short of a demonisation of innocent people.
The sight of people risking their lives in small boats in the Channel gives rise to all sorts of extremist fantasies and is a golden opportunity for a post Brexit narrative. It allows fantasies to run riot, such as likening these hapless people in small boats to 'invaders with Napoleon and Hitler'.
No wonder jingoism can run riot in this febrile climate. Much ignorance, many lies, misunderstandings and untruths persist about these desperate human beings who have passed through France, mostly originating in Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran and Syria – all listed among the 28 most dangerous countries in the world.
We are both doing our best to counter this narrative – ten media interviews over the past week – but it is not enough – we need you – our supporters to help counter this narrative with your friends, family, politicians, Faith Communities and beyond. The the rest of this update consists of a 'myth-buster' that may be helpful.
Innocent people have become demonised by the vocabulary used by politicians and commentators to describe them, and some apparently consider them as less than human.
LET'S STOP TREATING THEM AS 'INVADERS'
It seems obvious that these people are not 'invaders', but have probably fled from violence and terror and are therefore likely to be granted asylum. Nevertheless, we hear calls of 'They are illegal', 'They should apply in the first safe country', 'Send them back' and 'Sink the boats'. They can, in fact, only claim asylum on UK soil and the international refugee convention recognises the fact that they will often arrive without appropriate documents: their journeys may be irregular, but they are not illegal. Indeed, having applied for asylum they achieve the legal status of 'asylum-seeker'.
Our government is expected to allow people to reach our soil and obliged is to consider the merits of each person's case without making sweeping assumptions about the likely merits of asylum claims made by groups of people who happen to arrive together.
Despite statements by government ministers and others, international law does not demand that asylum applications are lodged in the first safe country, but that travel should be 'direct'. France need not accept people back just because that was the last country visited – and did not do so a few decades ago when people from ex-Communist countries arrived on ferries. (There is an EU agreement that attempts to prevent multiple applications from being made, assuming that the first country where a claim was lodged will take charge of a case, but that will become irrelevant in 2021.)
And sinking the boats expecting most of those on board to drown is illegal, immoral and an act of murder.
THE LAW OF THE SEA
The law of the sea requires that people in distress are saved, and attempting to forcibly remove people from their fragile vessels actually adds to their distress.
There are no international waters in the Straits of Dover, which contains only either French or UK territorial waters. The Royal Navy may have more suitable vessels and experience in this field than the Border Force, but it needs consent to operate in French waters and further consent to have folk accepted back on French soil.
Seeking Sanctuary has long called for the setting up of safe and legal routes to claiming asylum. This could mean measure such as establishing facilities to make claims in France, negotiating with France to accept returns, bringing rescued people to the UK, re-invigorate sponsorship schemes for displaced people brought from Syria and nearby.
OTHER PRACTICAL STEPS
Other practical steps that would require less delicate diplomatic negotiations could be speeding up the family reunion process; allowing people to make claims for a new class of “humanitarian visas” at overseas embassies; hiring unused cruise liners to house people and setting up immigration facilities on board – or perhaps adapting shut-down oil platforms.
Walls and fences are a pointless investment. The many millions spent on fences and walls in Calais by the UK government have failed to deter the many hundreds reaching UK shores in dangerous and flimsy boats.
TREATING PEOPLE WITH HUMANITY AND DECENCY
Treating people with dignity and humanity will help to make people less desperate to make dangerous journeys and take their lives and those of their families into their hands.
Asylum claims often take a long time to be processed as part of the 'hostile environment'. They are not allowed to work unless there are extreme delays, and then only in a limited set of jobs. They get a weekly allowance of £37.75, plus accommodation. For a few, it's sometimes in hotels for short periods, but for most of the time it's in hostels and ‘hard to let’ properties, not wanted by other people. They are never placed in social – “council” – housing, so they are not "taking away" homes from British people. The private accommodation is really basic and often would not be deemed suitable to be put on the council list.
WE ARE NOT CROWDED
Urban areas cover just 10% of England and Wales: although cities are crowded, the rest of the land is not. Even though homelessness is still a problem, there are over 600,000 empty homes in England alone, with over 200,000 of these classed as long-term empty properties. The truth is that there is no need for anyone to be homeless and society has problems that need fixing for everyone.
Refused asylum seekers – perhaps after appeal – are expected to make arrangements for leaving the UK. The Home Office funds voluntary returns programmes and if a person does not leave the UK the Border Agency may arrange an enforced return. (Some who fail to meet the legal definition of refugee may be granted humanitarian protection, usually for 5 years, or discretionary leave to remain.)
DO THEY ALL COME HERE?
Far from it. Most of the world’s displaced people are currently hosted in the world’s poorest countries. In 2016, developing regions hosted 84% of the world’s refugees, according to the UN’s Refugee Agency.
Very few do want to get to the UK; the idea that everyone tries to reach the UK is a common, and false, misconception. For example, Sweden and Hungary, which both have much smaller populations than the UK, have taken several times more refugees per head of population than the UK has. About 5% of people crossing the Mediterranean end up trying to reach the UK.
There is no reason for the UK to take proportionately fewer refugees than any other country in Europe. People in the UK are no less compassionate and we know they want to help. We see this in the thousands of volunteers that come to Calais and those that work hard to help refugees all over the UK.
There are a number of interlinked factors for those who are keen to get here. People fleeing from conflict and persecution want to settle with relatives and friends of their own ethnic background and there are large communities of people from various countries in the UK. For unaccompanied children, relatives in the UK are often the only chance of family – hence the cruelty of ending all the Dublin regulations at the end of this year.
The top reason refugees for continuing journeys to the UK is that they have family ties here, and they have heard that it is possible to establish a decent life here. In fact, this covers at least 50% of cases. These ties run deep, especially when you have lost everything else. Other factors that people will take into account are more practical, such as speaking a language that gives you more chance of finding a job, and that you can better navigate everyday tasks like understanding public transport or going shopping – English is the accepted second language for billions of the world population.
A POST IMPERIAL LEGACY
Further, British culture is much admired, as are sporting sporting networks. Manchester United and other clubs are followed avidly across the world – this is after all big business!
Having been “sold” on the UK as a destination by gossip or by the alluring stories of smugglers, people make desperate attempts to finish their journeys because it seems that all other options have failed. Conditions in Northern France, with the frequent evictions and lack of access to basic amenities in all sorts of extreme weather are so dire that people put themselves and their families into the hands of unscrupulous traffickers.
French authorities have tried countless times to persuade people to stay elsewhere in France but people often very soon find a way back to the Northern French coast. They are perhaps offered accommodation that is unappealing and with few facilities and no choice but to accept food that is not to their taste. French is the dominant language with little effort made to accommodate others and there are often no established support groups.
WHY NOT CLAIM ASYLUM IN FRANCE?
A good number do claim asylum in France – more than attempt to do so in the UK – but it is a lengthy and complex process. Imagine trying to get to an office open one afternoon per week 100 kilometres away when you have no money and then waiting for a year or two with no income for a start to to be made to process your application.
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY MEN?
In the countries where they are from, such as Syria and Afghanistan, young men are often primary targets for recruitment by radical groups like ISIS and the Taliban. In Sudan, young men may be killed to stop them rebelling against the government and in Eritrea they can be conscripted for what is effectively a life sentence.
For all these reasons, men as young as 13 and 14 have to run away from their homes and their families.
YOUNG MEN ARE OFTEN OVERLOOKED IN PLACES OF ORIGIN
Moreover, young men understand that in the official refugee camps, host countries understandably prioritise selection of women, children and families first for their humanitarian quota intakes.
As young single men, therefore, their chances of selection are very slim and so they resort to their next best hope – which is to get to a makeshift camp by whatever route seems possible.
In Calais we see more women and children from certain countries such as Syria or Iran, but they are usually prioritised for social housing and not as often seen on the street.
The images that make their way into the news therefore tend more to be men, as often in Calais the women stay in the background and out of sight.
WHAT ABOUT MOBILE PHONES?
Refugees have mobile phones as they are the last lifeline back to the families they have left behind, who may still be in danger, and their primary hope of getting to a secure place of shelter. They use them to update their families on their perilous journeys, and to try to make sense of their route in an alien and often dangerous context. Making land-line calls to other continents is too expensive and in third world countries the lines are unstable, so even at home they need smartphones to use free WiFi networks and apps like WhatsApp and Viber.
If they have fashionable clothes, it's due to the generosity of donors in the UK and elsewhere.
AND THE EXAMPLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN
Life was more simple for the Good Samaritan when he went to the aid of a needy traveller from a hated race and saw to it that his wounds were treated and that he was given shelter. If only nation states could become inspired by the parable when establishing systems for dealing with the world's increasing supply of displaced people.
7 AUGUST 2020
Ben is interviewed on Premier Christian Radio
Every migrant has a name, a face, and a story!
1 AUGUST 2020
UPDATE FOR JULY 2020 – So near and yet so far ...
Living in Deal just a few metres from the seafront ,Ben can easily see the French coast near Dunkirk on a clear day. And his thoughts turn to the human tragedy which unfolds on a daily basis, not least as more people take their lives into their hands crossing the Channel in flimsy boats headed for Dover, with a number of them arriving on the beaches of nearby coastal towns such as Deal.
We have been focusing recently on the plight of unaccompanied minors, not just the 100 estimated to be in Calais but the many thousands (estimates suggest 12000) who are languishing in dismal camps in Greece and elsewhere without hope of a future and at the mercy of traffickers as well as sexual exploitation. Britain rightly has strict rules in place for safeguarding children – but only those within its borders.
The Home Secretary has stated her aim to put an end these crossings. But all safe and legal routes are being closed off. The 'Dubs scheme' is at an end and the Dublin regulations which permit family reunion will finish as the UK finally leaves the European Union at the end of the year. The result – yet more desperate attempts. The excellent charity 'Safe Passage' is, with others, challenging the failure to plan for the end of the Dublin framework – please do sign their petition and support their important work with your donations. Here at Seeking Sanctuary we will continue to press for the rights of these vulnerable children to be respected.
'THEIR LIVES MATTER'
We are founder members of the cross-Channel organisation 'People Not Walls', which has recently issued a wake-up call 'Their Lives Matter'. This was inspired by the moving address provided in Dover by Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkin on World Refugee Day last month. A copy of this wake-up call is attached: please share it as widely as possible.
CALAIS – HOSTILITY AND EVICTIONS
In mid-July we saw a large-scale eviction of over 1000 people from one of the biggest informal living sites in Calais, accompanied by continued hostility against refugees and displaced people and a worsening of the situation. The industrial wastelands where most makeshift camps have sprung up are now completely blocked off and people simply have nowhere left to go.
People who stop to rest are immediately removed by the authorities. State-funded basic food distribution at the biggest former informal campsite has been suspended and police installations prevent access to water points. NGOs are making all of their services mobile, working around the clock to get essential supplies to people in need. Hundreds of food packs, hot meals, blankets and plastic sheets for protection from the weather were distributed in the few days following the eviction.
The ramping up of these events started as Gérald Darmanin was appointed as Minister of the Interior, and he visited Calais within a week to meet the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel. They visited several security installations – but no NGOs – and agreed to set up a new joint anti-trafficking team and to meet again to discuss progress.
Secours Catholique reported that most of the removed exiles – who come principally from Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Syria and Iran – returned almost immediately, ending up spread through woodland with no access to water, toilets and food. The remaining state food distribution points were at least an hour's walk distant, as were departure points for the shuttle buses serving the shower blocks at the fringe of the town.
The regional Prefect stated that the government was intervening in this manner because it is determined to avoid the reappearance of shanty-towns and sees no alternative way doing this. Secours Catholique retorts that there is an obvious method: assure shelter; offer prospects of settling in France; suspend the operation of the parts of the Dublin agreement that require people to be returned to other countries in Europe; and regularise ways of reaching the UK.
Ben commented about the continuing and increasing small boat Channel crossings on a regional TV news programme, which resulted in the following email communication.
When are you dumb do gooders going to get it in your thick heads that the only reason these immigrants come to Britain is to claim benefits what is wrong with you 90% of us British DONT want them here ? You disgust me I hope you get karma for trying to destroy our British culture
Negative press coverage of people arriving in the UK across the English Channel has ramped up and appears to have convinced some that we should turn away from the plight of people across one of the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world.
Relentless evictions and intimidation tactics in Northern France deter people from wanting to stay, and create the conditions that convince them to try and get to the UK at any cost. Apart from resettlement schemes for people of certain nationalities, the only route to making a claim for asylum is to get into the country, even taking increasingly dangerous risks to do this. Despite the UK border controls being in Calais, people cannot claim asylum there, and it is not easy to access the French asylum system in that area. The UK has failed for decades to provide a system of safe, legal means for people to seek asylum or to enable people to reunite with their families.
We are often told that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, but this is not an obligation under international law, but a deliberate misreading of parts of the Dublin regulations. People have the right to seek asylum from persecution in any country and to have their claims properly considered. Nobody would put themselves or their children on to a small boat in the Channel unless they think it is safer than what they are leaving.
However, the daily media attack on these vulnerable people is working. Headlines create the idea of a crisis, building the assumption that our border controls are not good enough and Home Office policies are too lenient. Although this is not the case, people are being scapegoated and portrayed as less than human in order to justify even more hostility. Resentment and rage replace empathy.
Granting access to territory for people in need of international protection is an international obligation – an essential aspect of our long-term responsibility towards our fellows. Those drafting the International Refugee Convention hoped that governments would establish policies and programmes aimed at protecting the human rights and dignity of the needy and make their development as human beings possible. We should seriously work to ensure people's right to life, liberty and security of person, so that saving the lives of potential asylum seekers is always paramount.
Behind the headlines, the majority of these so-called 'illegal migrants' are individual people who have either experienced grinding poverty, discrimination or the adverse effects of climate change or who have fled war, persecution and terror, having experienced torture and human rights abuses. In the face of the worst this world has to offer, they have chosen hope and life.
A few days after her visit to Calais, our Home Secretary Priti Patel announced plans for a more 'compassionate' Home Office. With the major evictions just before her visit, she didn’t have to see any of the people at the sharp end of her policies, who see little compassion!
CALLS FOR CHANGE
The current framing of boat arrivals as a 'major threat' to the border needs to be challenged and put into perspective. In fact, the total number of arrivals by boat so far in 2020 is around 2000, compared to 1,890 in the full year 2019. This is a very small number in comparison to the 65,000 claims for international protection made in Europe in January 2020 alone. Stories about boat arrivals being a threat to public health via Covid-19 must also be scrutinised: the Minister for Immigration Compliance has stated that 'there is no evidence to show that there is an increased risk [of Covid-19 transmission] from migrants.'
The shift towards people resorting to increasingly risky boat crossings across the Channel (rather than using freight traffic) is a symptom of increased desperation amongst displaced people facing squalor in northern France. Increased security spending at the ferry port and Eurotunnel rather than investment in human security and long-term solutions, heightens desperation.
The heavy-handed French riot police presence with daily evictions of living spaces makes France an unappealing country in which to seek protection and acts as a push factor driving prospective asylum seekers away from police violence, lack of decent accommodation and anti-migrant sentiment. The increasing number of unaccompanied children making the crossing probably indicates inadequate resourcing of the overstretched French State Child Protection service that should provide support on French territory.
Priti Patel’s recent endeavours to introduce new powers to turn back individuals off the coast and return them to France (feeding into populist, demonising narratives) will do nothing to address this decades-long humanitarian disaster at our doorstep. Increased security and hostile treatment of vulnerable people only push people to take ever more dangerous routes. Provision of safe and legal routes is more likely to enable the UK to achieve its stated goal of dismantling trafficking and smuggling networks and reduce reliance on irregular pathways whilst whilst still upholding international and European law and its moral responsibility towards prospective asylum seekers. It is also likely to be a cheaper solution.
Local authorities across the UK have pledged more than 1,400 places for unaccompanied children if a safe and legal route to entry is devised.
FURTHER MEASURES IN CALAIS
As the month came to an end, another informal camp was dismantled in a pre-dawn raid, and its remaining occupants removed, after many had run into hiding. Observers comment that the policy has become even more repressive, based on the alleged pretext of 'protecting the frontier'. Another smaller site was also emptied and plans were announced for the closure of streets to prevent access to the pitiable territory where informal settlements have been most frequently located.
The migrant community has been dispersed and rendered invisible. It is now much more difficult to deliver humanitarian aid. Some have found hiding places in the town centre and more have relocated to Coquelles, which reports an increased population of exiles.
One glimmer of good news is that several humanitarian groups have recommenced operations, though typically on a limited scale until more people can readily travel to join them. As well as food, water and other emergency supplies, there is now an urgent need for tents and sleeping bags to replace those destroyed – and with the regular summer festivals cancelled, the usual supply from abandoned goods has dried up.There are several drop-off points around the country where goods can be dropped off without the need to travel to Calais and take the risk ot getting quarantined.
With our thanks for your continued concern –
Phil + Ben.
PS Do not forget the fight against human trafficking. The relevant UN Day has just passed by. [Click to open link]
3 JULY 2020
UPDATE FOR JUNE 2020 – 'And will they find sanctuary?'
We are late with issuing this Update! Refugee Week ran from 15 to 21 June and included UN World Refugee Day on 20 June. We were involved with planning and taking part in two new live-streamed events to mark the Day and afterwards, in thanking others and reporting upon their success, hence our delay
The first event was a cross-Channel “virtual rally” in which over 60 people took part 'live' and for which more have have since viewed the recording. A report has been posted, including a link to the recording.
The other took place on the Dover seafront, remembering all who have died trying to reach our shores – especially the 58 young Chinese found dead in a sealed container 20 years ago, as recounted in this article. Conforming to pandemic restrictions, this was attended “live” by just a handful of people, among them a deputy Lord Lieutenant of Kent, representing the Queen, and Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, who delivered a stirring and challenging address. This link leads to a report on the Dover event, including a further link to a video of the bishop's address. A video of the complete event is also available.
'We must always mourn them' - with these words Bishop Rose reminded us of our obligations to the 58 Chinese. From our socially distanced event next to the memorials on Dover seafront we were reminded of the many others who have lost their lives trying to reach the UK. These memorials are a place of tranquillity in an otherwise busy port town and we ended with determination that they and so many others will be remembered. As Bishop Rose reminded us, there are words from the Pope on the Chinese memorial plaque: 'Every migrant has a name, a face, and a story''. She also reminded us of the hypocrisy of calling for restrictions on migration when the history of the British Empire was all about emigration to seek a better life.
The theme of Refugee Week was “Imagine”. Imagine a world after the Covid-19 era. Old ways of working are already imaginatively adapted and some old ways no longer function. Many see signs of hope for a future where we see new ways to care for our planet, and protect and value human lives. Ways looking less at how much things cost or how much a person earns, but rather at the benefits they bring.
Hopefully more people will begin to imagine how desperate people are to leave homes and families, and take perilous journeys in the hope of reaching places where they may get away from conflict and famine and find decent shelter, education and employment, so becoming able to contribute to society and retrieve some sense of dignity.
A statement issued by the Catholic Religious calls for 'eyes and hearts to open to action by recognising, contemplating and sharing the lives of refugees and migrants'.
CURRENT SITUATION IN FRANCE
Little has changed near the French coast since our last update: it's a story of “more of the same”. Accordingly we are not reporting upon details (which, in any case, you can hear in the recording of the Virtual Rally on World Refugee Day). This is a chance to be a little more reflective!
It's easy to write off those stuck near Calais as only seeking better lives and to somehow drag the rest of us down. In fact they deserve better lives than those from which they have fled and genuine chances to realise their potential. Many of those who reach Calais come from three of the world's top four sources of forcibly displaced people – Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.
Calais has become known for its very visible array of fences, walls, ditches and barbed wire. There are also hidden walls: walls of indifference, even hostility, born from living alongside the inhumane ways in which the official policies of harassment are played out every day.
Our partner organisations in Calais also organised events to mark World Refugee Day. Testimonies and demands for the respect of human rights and chances of more dignified lives were posted around the town, with stories of solidarity and proverbs, all celebrating the strength of solidarity and paying tribute to the courage of the exiles. People whose voices are rarely heard and who attempt to hide and become invisible.
Later in the afternoon a socially-distanced group of about 50 marched to the beach, carrying a giant paper boat that attracted some attention. More testimonies of solidarity were read, and the paper boat led the way back to the promenade, with followers chanting, shouting and singing, handing out small paper boats to curious bystanders.
We can look back over some 30 years of the modern migratory phenomenon that affects Calais.
After the Berlin wall fell at the end of 1989, people from many former Communist countries came by bus and train in order reach the UK. Soon afterwards, in 1991, the Sangatte protocol was signed between France and the UK, notably outsourcing British border controls to French territory.
At first Yugoslav exiles joined the Germans, further attracted by the advent of more public transport services via the Channel tunnel after 1994. Then, from 1999 Kosovans came, followed by numerous Iraqis and Afghans. The Sangatte centre was opened to shelter them, but was closed in 2002. Successive waves of migrants came from conflict zones around the world: from the Balkans, Yemen, Vietnam, Iran, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, North Africa, Syria and yet more countries, all attempting to reach Britain.
Strategies to manage the influx were generally inadequate in vision and incompetent in execution, and 30 years after the Berlin Wall has fallen, it has been replaced by new fortifications around Calais.
Apparently, it makes better business sense to militarise and repress rather than regularise and welcome. And people suffering from border policies, are nevertheless determined to crumble them. If governments genuinely want to stop border crossings, in particular in small boats, securitisation has not worked and it is time to construct better and human-based solutions.
Our governments should take seriously their obligation under international law to ensure the right to life, liberty and the security of persons. Saving the lives of asylum seekers should always be a paramount duty. Limiting access to a nation's territory to those in need of international protection for the sake of national security, presupposes that it is valid to choose between human safety and national security. But the safety of people should always take priority over national security: the situation of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees requires that they are guaranteed personal safety and access to basic services.
Granting access to territory to persons in need of international protection is an international obligation and an essential element of our long-term responsibility towards our fellows. It should result in policies and programmes aimed at protecting their human rights and dignity and making their development as human beings possible.
LONE CHILD MIGRANTS
Just over 80 years ago there was a generosity of spirit in this country which led to a reluctant Neville Chamberlain being persuaded to accept thousands of child refugees fleeing from Nazi oppression on the kinder-transports from Prague and Vienna. Have we since become more mean spirited? Even a letter from 250 faith leaders failed to gain votes in the Commons to pass an amendment which would have protected channels for family reunion and relocation for unaccompanied children in Europe.
The letter organised through 'Safe Passage' pointed out the injustice following the announcement that the 480 places available under the Dubs scheme had been filled. A meagre token compared to the thousands who were brought to safety in earlier times. And the consequences? Young children make risky attempts to cross the Channel in flimsy boats, putting their lives and their futures at risk, not to mention all the children festering in dismal refugee camps in Greece and beyond. How can we call ourselves a 'civilised society' and allow these things to to happen? As time goes by there are enhanced safeguarding procedures in place to protect vulnerable children but these don't apply to all the children who are nearly, but not quite, in the UK.
Our partner's Virtual Rally on World Refugee Day was focused on the challenges affecting under-age exiles. If you are inclined to take action for these vulnerable people, you may be interested in a new on-line petition addressed to members of the EU Council. It asks them to task their Commission and negotiating team with finding a replacement for family reunion under the ‘Dublin III’ regulation as part of EU-UK post-Brexit negotiations .
30 May 2020
UPDATE FOR MAY 2020: Seeking Sanctuary in a Covid World
Our thoughts this month are influenced by the enormity of the pandemic crisis across the world and in particular its effect on all those seeking sanctuary. In our Update we note some of the direct effects on those concerned – a complete lack of access to centres and facilities which have been a lifeline in the past, the appalling sanitary conditions which spread infection and the growing stigmatising of migrants as potential Covid carriers, as seen in our report on Calais buses which refuse to take migrants, seeing them as potential sources of infection. Advice on hand hygiene is of no use when there is not even a water tap in the places where many of those seeking sanctuary are forced to exist.
WORLD REFUGEE DAY
This is marked on Saturday 20 June, at the end of Refugee Week, with the theme: 'Imagine'. We are keen to mark this in Dover because it is also the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the 58 dead Chinese migrants found in a sealed trailer at the port.
Ben remembers well the traumatic impact on all involved – the reports of the impact on families who sent their young people abroad with such high hopes, the traffickers who saw the young people as objects rather than people, and not least the impact on the emergency service workers and port staff who had the gruesome task of dealing with the aftermath.
In keeping with the current pandemic restrictions, instead of asking people to gather, we will mark the Day with a live-streamed time of remembrance from the Dover seafront starting at about 11.20 am. This considers all who have died trying to reach the UK, but especially the 58 Chinese,.
The Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, will follow her predecessor, Bishop Trevor Willmott by leading the event and providing food for thought. Additionally, 'People not Walls' will stream an interactive discussion beforehand, starting at 10.00 am.
Details of how to register for these combined live-streamed events via Eventbrite will be sent out beforehand.
THE CALAIS SITUATION
As reported last month, the outbreak of coronavirus and the consequent regulations have rendered an already bleak and desperate situation far bleaker. Prior to the virus outbreak, Northern France was home to between 1500 and 2000 migrants hoping to get to the UK and living on the outskirts of towns in abandoned warehouses, the edges of industrial estates and on barren wasteland. They continue to do so, the vast majority being male, aged 16 to 30.
The state’s hostile approach is based upon the assumption that migrants have chosen to come. But it is hardly a choice to leave destitution, poverty, climate breakdown, persecution, oppression and conflict. People would not take such enormous risks and live under such hostility if they were not desperate or had no other options.
Since the Covid-19 lock-down most support organisations have either suspended or drastically reduced their services. Meantime, we still read reports of police brutality where migrants are beaten, tear-gassed and in several instances hospitalised – sadly, a relatively normal practice. With a lack of volunteers on the ground, there are far less observations and nobody is held to account. The few remaining aid workers now rely more than ever before on monetary donations.
The state has provided some premises to house people safely, but this has been a slow process, and space is often still unsafe, unsanitary, ill-suited to proper social isolation, and unlikely to accommodate everyone. Forcible evictions from rough campsites continue every two days.
There is currently a dire lack of food for displaced communities, but a new group of volunteers have established an organisation alongside Care4Calais – the Calais Food Collective, which aims to provide dry food packs for communities to cook for themselves in a way that provides some safety from viral transmission. Over five weeks up to 18 May, they have provided food for over 40,000 meals. Migrants around Grande-Synthe are similarly supported by 'Solidarity Border' who bring hot meals prepared by Emmaus.
Of course, the 'camps' should not even be called camps, but ´survival areas´, and they are mostly in Calais (in five locations) and in Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk. The Zone Industrielle des Dunes is the most populated area in Calais, containing about 900 people at the moment. In Grande-Synthe, there are currently about half that number – but sometimes the situation is reversed.
The total population of displaced people remains quite stable because more arrive every day, and others return from accommodation that has turned out to be unsuitable for practising social distancing.
At the moment in Calais, there are more Sudanese than a year ago, and still quite a few Iranians, Eritreans, Ethiopians, and some people from Mali and Mauritania who couldn´t get asylum in France; also Afghans, but less than before. In Grande-Synthe, there is a great majority of Kurdish people from Iraq and a small group of Pakistanis. The proportion of Iranians has fallen in both locations.
There are very few families in Calais, plus a few single women, sometimes with a young child. There are about 30 families among the Kurdish people in Grande-Synthe. As for lone minors, the count in early May was about 60 in Calais and up to 150 in Grande-Synthe.
Another difference between Calais and Grande-Synthe is the behaviour of local government officials. In Calais the Prefecture was ordered in 2017 to provide showers and toilets and grant access to drinking water, and that still holds. Food is also handed out, although no hot meals since the pandemic started, just breakfast and a sandwich for lunch. The local council at Grande-Synthe has provided a few toilets with some access to water and a couple of showers. Another difference is that proposals to move into isolation from Calais have generally been on a voluntary basis, whereas people in Grande-Synthe, have been ordered on to buses and then all their belongings have been destroyed.
Individuals and organisations generously gathering donations in the UK are now prevented from crossing the border to deliver them. French border control staff claim that humanitarian aid work is non-essential. In fact, European countries should be ready share their privileges of economic prosperity, safety and stability with those who have been fled their homes to find such ‘ideals’. In fact, not ideals but basic rights which our European passports have provided for all of us. The Canterbury-based 'Care4Humanity' group have loaded pallets of food on to a commercial truck for delivery as it passed through Calais.
The lock-down has meant that everyone was limited in their movements, unable to go to shops without certifying the necessity (via a Form found on-line and needing printing out). In any event, security personnel at nearby supermarkets no longer let migrants in, despite management claims that no discrimination takes place. Additionally, local buses rarely stop for migrants, allegedly because locals fear that they are carriers of the virus.
The Calais deputy prefect says that medical teams regularly check on migrants and that shelter is on offer for up to 715. On the other hand he also states that evacuations are necessary every two days 'to prevent them from settling'.
Most migrants simply don't trust the government to help them: they'd rather stay at the camps and try to cross the Channel, and Amnesty reports that aid workers are harassed and taken into custody by police on flimsy pretexts.
MAWDA: 2 YEARS ON
We continue to report upon the killing of Mawda: a two-year old girl hit by the bullet of a Belgian policeman during a car chase two years ago. Her family was brutally treated by the Belgian police and courts following her death. In January 2020 the policeman who fired the shot was convicted of 'involuntary homicide'. A committee seeking justice has now launched a legal procedure against the Mons public prosecutor, citing ill-treatment of Mawda's family following her death, and legitimisation of the police force's defence.
ROYA VALLEY – AT THE ITALIAN BORDER
We have previously commented on the case of Cédric Herrou, a farmer in the Alpine valley who became a symbol of aid to migrants and an embodiment of the revolutionary call to 'liberty, solidarity and fraternity'. He was given a suspended four-month prison sentence in August 2017 for taking some 200 migrants, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, from the border to his home, and then organising a reception camp. He subsequently approached the Constitutional Council with two priority questions on the constitutionality of the 'Solidarity offence' of which he considered himself a victim.
At the end of 2018, the High Court retained the 'Principle of Fraternity' to set aside M. Herrou’s conviction and ordered a new trial before the Lyon Court of Appeal. On May 13, he was finally 'Dismissed from all proceedings '.
Then, a few days ago, the Lyon public prosecutor’s office appealed on points of law against the May decision. Such an appeal is very rare in a case that has already been considered by a higher court, and defence solicitors describe the prosecutor as 'obstinate'.
Sadly, over a period of a few weeks, boats have been stolen from the French national lifeguard stores around Calais and sold on the internet, ending up recovered by UK coastguards a few weeks later. The resultant damage amounts to some €50,000 and the workers are unable to properly continue their mission, including rescuing dozens of migrants from drowning every week.
'Utopia 56' published shocking photos of children at Grande-Synthe being fitted with bundles of empty plastic bottles as makeshift buoyancy aids for Channel crossing attempts. 'People not Walls', the Anglo-French network supported by Seeking Sanctuary, issued a Media Release regretting such desperate measures and calling for the establishment of safe and legal ways to claim asylum in the UK.
The numbers of both attempted and successful crossings have risen to new heights. The Auberge des Migrants estimates that, with good weather, probably less shipping in the Channel during the virus pandemic, and with potential eyewitnesses confined at home by the French virus regulations, the success rate has increased from around 60 to 80 percent.
The cost for the crossing in 2019 was €3,000 to €4,000 per person, with at least six people per boat. Others say that people-smugglers, despite now using more powerful vessels, have lowered their fees to some €1,600 per person or even €1,000 for a less seaworthy vessel, but there are fears that some proposed cheaper fares may prove to be enticements towards a route into slavery. The departure area now extends down to the Baie de Somme in Picardy, 75 miles from Calais.
ARRIVING IN BRITAIN
At least 1,000 migrants arrived in Britain in small boats during the eight weeks following the start of the virus lock-down on 23 March. 145 arrived on 8 May alone, including 17 unaccompanied minors. These claimed to be of various nationalities, including Iranian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Pakistani, Syrian, Yemeni and Afghan.
Kent officials face the tough task of dealing with the influx while social distancing measures are in place to add financial pressures to local budgets. The county council, perhaps the most experienced in the UK, is concerned at the number of under-age arrivals. Whereas last year Kent dealt with around 240 young migrants, the number arriving this year reached 469 by 22 May, coming mainly from the Middle East, especially Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to caring for these 469 minors, mostly boys aged 15 to 17 (younger children are usually part of a family group), the council is also responsible for supporting 932 young people aged 18 to 25 who have left the care system.
Two new reception centres for young migrants have been added to the single previous establishment, but social distancing measures during the pandemic have cut capacity and the county is appealing to other districts to volunteer to share the load.
Sky News reports that French Navy vessels escort small boats, rather than intercepting them. This is due to a requirement of the Law of the Sea. All mariners have a duty to provide assistance to vessels in distress under the 1974 International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea. Overloaded small boats in the Channel may be taking on water, but it seems that when French vessels attempt to intercept them, migrants have threatened to jump into the sea, or even to throw children overboard. Refusal to be rescued puts lives at risk, so that the French vessels have no option but to shadow the boats until they reach British waters, where the migrants know that they will be taken to the British coast, rather than back to France.
In a little-publicised move of questionable legality, Britain is working with France to rapidly send back more migrants who arrive by boat in an attempt to deter others thinking of making the dangerous journey. The Home Office confirmed to Sky News that, under 'Operation Sillath', whilst 157 people were intercepted on 22 May, only 57 were taken to Dover while 100 were returned to France.
According to the Guardian these swift returns to France are made without demanding enough evidence that people had either been fingerprinted, had claimed asylum or had spent time in their first EU country of arrival before moving to the second. In other words, migrants are not assessed properly but rather are being summarily returned to France without due process, whereas their cases should be processed by the EU country where they first registered an asylum claim – if any.
Human rights lawyers and campaigners say that they have gathered evidence upon which to base a legal challenge. The Home Office has reportedly refused to respond to a Freedom of Information request regarding Operation Sillath on the basis that this would be too costly.
An immigration detention centre visitor group has also raised concerns about the practice of returning people to France. They are concerned about 'an alarming trend' to attempt to remove asylum seekers from the UK to France even though their fingerprints cannot be found in the European-wide database and there is no clear evidence they have spent any significant amount of time in France or claimed asylum there. One person removed by the Home Office to France was then subjected to torture and abuse by traffickers.
Surely we should expect fair and proper treatment for those in distress, rather than sustained hostility?
There are concerns that more unaccompanied minors will be left in rapidly deteriorating conditions and at higher risk of exploitation in Europe since Home Office confirmed that the 480 places it had offered under the 'Dubs scheme' have been filled. There are renewed calls to bring unaccompanied child refugees to the UK – given that that thousands remain stranded in Europe.
Lord Alf Dubs, who proposed the amendment, said he was pleased for the 480 accepted under the scheme, but 'heartbroken' for the many more unaccompanied children who now have no hope of reaching safety in the UK.
Without safe and legal routes like the Dubs scheme, there’s a real risk that more will be pushed into the hands of traffickers and risk their lives in dangerous Channel crossings. 'Safe Passage' has said that the UK must replace the scheme with a long-term alternative that offers more children in Europe the same lifeline.
TRAFFICKING – THE ESSEX VICTIMS
It was announced yesterday that police in Belgium and France have arrested 26 new suspects in various towns as part of an investigation prompted by the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants found in a truck container in Grays last year. In addition, vehicles, cash and electronic equipment were seized and 21 migrants were taken to safety.
Belgian authorities said the suspects are part of an organised crime group that smuggles people from Asia, particularly Vietnam, which has likely transported up to several dozen people every day for several months. The suspected smugglers face sentences of up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to €150,000 per victim.
The people found dead in October comprised 31 men and 8 women, aged between 15 and 44, who had died in a container loaded on a freight ferry from Zeebrugge, having previously travelled to Dunkirk and Lille. Like the Chinese found in Dover 20 years ago, their deaths arose from a combination of asphyxiation and overheating.
Five other people have so far been charged by Britain. The truck driver, Maurice Robinson, 25, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last month at a central London court. Co-defendant Gheorghe Nica, 43, has denied manslaughter charges. A trial on remaining charges is scheduled to begin on 5 October. Several others have been arrested, including at least seven in Vietnam.
Many of you will be wondering how you can help in these challenging times. Here in the UK, with access to support either suspended or severely limited, there are newly created ways of financial help – such as a new scheme in the North East which provides £30 digital vouchers sent to the phones of refugees for use in supermarkets. You will find details here. Other relevant organisations include the Jesuit Refugee Service (UK) and various members of the Caritas network of charities, plus Care4Calais operating in France.
And so in the hope of better times ahead, we wish you safety and security.
Phil + Ben.
30 April 2020
COVID Takes Control - Update for April 2020
SEEKING SANCTUARY MARKS ITS FIFTH BIRTHDAY
It's a strange time to mark or even to celebrate our 5th anniversary but at the same time we did not want to let the occasion pass.
It was in Spring 2015 at the height of the crisis which marked the growth of the "Jungle" camp that we felt that we needed to take an initiative which could bring together all those who wanted to show their solidarity in the UK with those in Northern France who were desperately trying to meet the day-to-day needs of our exiled brothers and sisters.
Our early efforts were marked by our enthusiasm although not always by thinking through how we were going to operate effectively. We were overwhelmed by offers of help often, but not always, from Churches and Faith Communities, and then for some months we were not able to to ship over all the goods that we received.
Our thanks go to the Bruderhof for their help in storing goods as well as to Care4Humanity, based at the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Canterbury, who came to the rescue in organising the transport logistics. From our inception we took to speaking to the media about the conditions facing migrants, and at times we felt that we were one of the few voices to speak up on behalf of these exiled brothers and sisters.
We were also pleased to be able to channel offers of help – both goods as well as financial help – to those who needed support and our most satisfying memories are of Churches and Faith Communities mobilising their people – often driving to France with much needed goods and teams of volunteers.
And what of the future? Some of us felt that when the "jungle" was cleared in 2016 the need for our services and those of many other NGOs would come to an end, but it was not to be and in fact conditions worsened in Calais. Soon, the need for direct help was even greater. Meanwhile we were pleased to be one of the founder members of the new cross border organisation 'People not Walls'.
And so we will continue alongside other organisations for as long as we are needed. Thanks to all of you for your encouragement and support. After each update we get positive messages which help to sustain our motivation. We hope that that when the Covid-19 crisis has passed we can get back to work and continue making sure that support reaches those who are so vulnerable.
HOW THINGS LOOK NOW
What can we report from the coast of Northern France in this strange life of virus avoidance? The situation gets worse every day. Covid-19 is now prevalent and the few remaining volunteers try to support the homeless while wearing significant amounts of personal protective equipment to distribute water and basic food rations from dwindling stocks.
Those seeking sanctuary put their lives at risk by attempting crossings of the English Channel, which remains one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. The situation is so desperate that people at risk still choose this way to escape. These vulnerable people must not be abandoned to the global pandemic. We urge the British and French Governments to provide places of safety where the exiles spread along the Channel coast can safely practice isolation and receive food, clothes, shelter and medical support.
In normal times, well over 100 volunteers work in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk to provide for people’s basic needs. Now there are probably ony a dozen or so charity workers on the front line, stretched deadly thin as they try to support 1,500 people living across multiple sites. We continue to admire the hard work and energy of the volunteers who spend time in and around Calais and the patience of the refugees who are persistently harassed and humiliated by the authorities. The aid associations who soldier on during this time of crisis deserve both our our financial support and our prayers.
CAMPAIGNS AND PETITIONS
A list of relevant campaigns and petitions of possible interest can be found here. Please consider them with care.
Food in Calais comes in the form of picnic bags from the state-funded La Vie Active, and breakfast from Salam, who a offer a few extra ingredients to prepare a meal, when possible. A small grass-roots organisation has sprung up, the “Calais Food Collective”, working under the auspices of the Auberge des Migrants. It aims to distribute ingredients and cooking equipment so that the displaced people have the means with which to cook hot nutritious meals. Under the strict quarantine measures in place, without proper paperwork, migrants cannot visit supermarkets to buy food for themselves.
Different camps are dismantled every 48 hours, continuing to reinforce distrust of those in authority. Police supervise these operations, confiscating tents and personal property at the times when people have gone to get breakfast rations from La Vie Active. Rather than encouraging self-isolation, this repeated destruction of camps prevents people from staying in their tents and pushes them together, one on top of the other.
In Grande-Synthe, food is distributed three times a week by supporters of the national charity Secours Populaire, assisted by Salam. Social distancing is required and face masks and gloves are worn. They were joined at the end of March by members of a new group, “Solidarity Border” who bring hot meals prepared by Emmaus in Dunkirk. They also distribute blankets, sleeping bags and tents. For months, there have been no toilets or showers, just a single standpipe at one site and a daily delivery of a water bowser (with liquid soap) at the other. However, as evacuation began (see below) sanitary services and medical checks were established and arrangements for a refuse skip were promised.
To remove the need for trespass upon the tracks, the national rail company provided 24-hour access to electric power for people to charge their phones at La Linière in Grande-Synthe. A great solution, but one that was rendered useless after a few days' use: we do not know its current state. .
On 27 March, Prefects were instructed to look after vulnerable people during the pandemic. The state has proceeded on the basis that there are about 1300 people in need of care, whereas the aid associations consider the number to be more like 1800. About a third of these are at Grande-Synthe, including some 50 families with small children and expectant mothers. Official figures indicate that 5 migrants in the Nord/Pas-de-Calais region have contracted coronavirus, two of whom have recovered, while three remain in isolation.
The Prefecture contacted the heads of voluntary aid associations to say that they must accept strict restrictions upon their operations. A curfew prevents any distributions between 10h00 and 08h30, claiming that this is necessary to "respect the sanitary conditions for combating the spread of Covid-19". In particular, this would allow associations to intervene only "at favourable times of the day".
Alongside the time restrictions, geographic limits have also been imposed. For example a prohibition against distribution of food in the Calais town centre where there are a number of homeless people. This decision is allegedly justified by the fact that the associations must intervene "as close as possible to the migrants, on their camp located in the industrial zone". However, humanitarian work is also applied to the homeless, wherever they are. Many prefer to be in the town to avoid the unsanitary conditions in camps, which could well encourage the spread of the virus.
The police have issued numerous verbal warnings to those volunteers who are said to be breaking these rules or not respecting the principle of isolation..
The stated intention is that everyone is to be moved away to places of shelter. From 3 April, several times a week, buses have moved people to one of six accommodation centres some distance inland, where it is proposed that they can live in compliance with the appropriate health rules. The capacity is 659 places.
The authorities initially said that only the sick would be moved away from Grande-Synthe, but the operations have become more widespread. By 23 April the official figure was 322 voluntary departures from Calais, with no figure given for Grande-Synthe, though certainly several lightly loaded coaches had taken people away.
The forced operations of removal to shelter are extremely violent towards the exiles. First of all a moral violence since no information is given them prior to these operations: they do not know when things will happen and, when the buses are there, no one tells them their destinations. Secondly, because they are sometimes rightly reluctant to get on buses during evacuations, they are subjected to violence from the police. Finally, confinement in collective accommodation is far from optimal in times of health crisis, especially since many exiles have complained about the inadequacy of the meals distributed in these accommodation centres. For example, people returned 50km on foot from St Martin Boulogne to Calais on the night of April 16, having only just arrived.
(Similar evacuation measures are being taken in Dieppe and Cherbourg, among other places, while at Ouistrahem and Steenvorde there are already buildings in which people can, at least to some extent, self-isolate.)
Reports from Grande-Synthe suggest that most of the departures have been voluntary, although sometimes helped by rather “muscular” incentives. The presence of dozens of vans of CRS (riot police) has often been enough to scare people away. They hide and sleep elsewhere to isolate themselves and move away from existing services to avoid evacuation. They see police inviting them on to buses wearing the same uniforms as those who harass people. The necessary confidence does not exist: quite the contrary!
During the morning of Wednesday 22 April, gendarmes came to remove tents from a closed petrol station on the rue des Garennes (leading to the former “Jungle”, which is partly re-occupied by camps), and woke up some who were still asleep. Arguments degenerated into a riot that left the road strewn with broken glass, stones as big as tennis balls and a portion of completely blackened tar, all thrown by several dozen migrants. A passing delivery van owned by the Auberge des Migrants was intentionally set on fire. It has been a very long time since such tension has been experienced and the situation remained fraught for several further days, preventing some regular food distributions from taking place. Two gendarmes and two CRS officers received hospital treatment.
Reports eventually emerged in early April of the death a month earlier of 15-year-old Baqer Muslem Abdulaneer Al-Haddad, struck by a train on the line in Metz. He had spent some time in Dunkirk, looking forward to being reunited with his mother and sisters in the UK. The press hardly bothered to report his death, but as with with others, we will do so: a needless death, when he should have had no problem and no delay in being granted the right to join his family.
People ask what happens to those who reach the UK, especially unaccompanied minors. The county of Kent has for many years been one of the most experienced at catering for the needs of these people. At least 450 under 18s arrived last year and 145 so far this year. There are also around 900 post-18 young people in Kent who previously arrived as asylum seeking children. They get the same treatment as local children who are put into state care.
A large number of over-16 males are placed in independent living housing, eg a shared house with 3 or 4 others. After bills have been deducted they get around £49 per week to live and budget on. They very rarely have TV or WiFi access in their accommodation, but in 'normal' times they can access free WiFi in town centres. However, in the virus lock-down they run up costly data charges and have nothing to do all day. Many of the recent arrivals have very limited English and need WiFi to easily learn English on-line. Children and young people are going stir crazy, desperate, struggling with lock-down rules and with nothing to occupy their days.
As we sent out our last Update, immigration statistics appeared for the year ending December 2019. They make for fascinating study. The total number of people granted protection increased to 20,703. This was up 30% on the previous year, reaching a level last seen in 2003 and consisted of:
- 12,565 grants of asylum (up 64%), with notable increases in grants to Iranian (up 1,603), Sudanese (up 1,018) and Eritrean nationals (up 947)
- 1,285 grants of an alternative form of leave (up 11%)
- 1,241 grants of Humanitarian Protection (down 4%) over half (695) of which were granted to Libyan nationals
- 5,612 people who were provided with protection under resettlement schemes (down 3%), mainly Syrian nationals granted under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.
And these figures for initial grants will typically become on average some 25% larger after appeal. And in this context it is interesting to note that a leading immigration law practice, Duncan Lewis Public Law, has just reported that since 26 March, their team has secured the release of around 25 clients through bail applications, pre-action correspondence and high court unlawful detention claims. They comment, ”A total waste of resources and unjustified deprivation of liberty”.
28 March 2020
March Update: "Hard TImes"
Dear friends and supporters.
In the midst of this coronavirus crisis we thought that that you would still want to receive news about our exiled brothers and sisters in Northern France and elsewhere, although much of this is rather gloomy in these virus-stricken times.
We had hoped to be able to report that those who are the most vulnerable were being provided with a degree of shelter and and other assistance – however the latest news is particularly worrying. The volunteer resources have been stretched to the limit and various services including the Refugee Community Kitchen as well as as medical and other services provided by NGOs have been suspended – not to mention the Secours Catholique Day Centre.
It is important not to expose volunteers to unnecessary risks particularly as such facilities as do exist are rudimentary to say the least, but it is equally important to protect a vulnerable population. Although there have been been some announcements of intentions from the French government, few have yet resulted in concrete action and the fact is that that most of the migrants are still living in appalling conditions which so easily can give rise to the spread of coronavirus – that is why our sister organisation 'People not Walls' has joined with our French colleagues to call for for the immediate establishment of shelter and medical and social facilities – to do anything other is is short-sighted. We are also hearing disturbing stories of the authorities failing to provide assistance for the large number of people in the refugee community in Paris and indeed in any other French town. The needs of refugees, already marginalised in the public discourse, can be even more forgotten in the face of our current health crisis.
Those of you who are working in this country with refugees will be aware of the situation of asylum seekers who have had their applications refused and who are no longer able to access help from day centres and other voluntary organisations in the current regime of self isolation. We also continue to join with other organisations in putting pressure on the Home Office to release all those held in immigration detention as repatriation flights are no longer possible for the foreseeable future.
In short, we need to be alert and thinking out of the box to make sure that the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of humanity continue to be acknowledged.
The authorities have eventually started to take some action to reduce the exposure of the homeless to virus infection. And it's not just the support organisations who have called for action, but also at least six police Unions, who are concerned for the well-being of their members.
They say that officers are ordered to dismantle the makeshift camps every morning, so coming into contact with the exiles who live in deplorable hygienic conditions, and who are all subject to a high risk of infection. "They go to small camps in the woods where there are 50-60 migrants. There is overcrowding, understandable hygiene problems, and people are becoming more and more aggressive and are not willing to move." Unless provided with superior quality masks, gloves and other protective equipment, they threaten to refuse to carry out all but the most urgent orders.
The suspension of expulsions was requested, but the Pas de Calais prefect refused to act upon this in the absence of instructions from the Interior Ministry. The police have stated openly that they are faced with a population whose health is at risk, living in overcrowded groups in places infected with rats and unsanitary rubbish, and yet during this COVID-19 threat, the officers are given only a simple surgical mask, basic latex gloves and shoe covers.
Rough sleepers in several other regions have been offered accommodation in which they can self-isolate – but not yet in all of the Pas-de-Calais. A number of voluntary and official organisations have drawn attention to the lack of consideration of the most precarious people in emergency measures – those living on the street, in makeshift housing, or confined in dangerous conditions (gymnasiums, dormitories, ...), who are particularly vulnerable to pandemics. They have referred the matter to the Supreme Court, asking for urgent measures to be taken including the requisition of furnished tourist apartments and vacant hotel rooms, and any other immediately available accommodation as soon as the facilites already offered by the state become insufficient. A hearing is scheduled for 30 March.
There had been a forecast – or threat – that that refugees in Calais and Dunkirk would be moved to ‘containment centres’ somewhere in the Pas-de-Calais region by Friday 27 March. However, it seems that the date may be Tuesday 31 March because of insufficient spaces and facilites. Although there is a clear and very urgent need for improved living conditions, this intention raises questions, which have been put quite forcefully to the authorities.
- Will the move be forcible or will people genuinely be given a choice, with clear communication about that is happening?
- Without the independent oversight of charities and associations how will people’s rights be protected and their safety assured?
- When the Calais camp was cleared in October 2016 the operation was put together quickly and some of the places people were sent to were highly inappropriate – some with no food for days, no beds, no access at all to medical care, etc. How will a repeat be avoided?
- Previous clearances in Calais and Dunkirk, including the one in October 2016, left some people behind and others quickly returned – what will happen to such people in 2020?
- What measures are being put in place to protect children and vulnerable adults?
- What is the legal framework for this action?
Hopefully, the proposed transfers of people to isolation centres will go off smoothly and decent facilities will be provided. Success in this operation will cancel out much of the gloom induced by reading he following details of how the the coronavirus crisis has affected work along the Channel coast.
CHALLENGES TO DELIVERY OF SUPPORT
The prefect has authorised several groups of volunteers to continue to go out on the streets and operate. However, faced with reduced numbers of volunteers, ill health and other demands of pandemic restrictions, there have been several cutbacks.
Around 1000 are now surviving around Calais – it can't be called 'living' – in four main camps, totally crammed in with three or four people in each tent, surrounded by mud, the cold and the rain and with limited access to fresh water. In one of the camps, some 800 people are stuck in an area of less than 1 sq km with one tap and – currently – no soap. (Though soap has previously been supplied around the scarce taps.) In Grande-Synthe, there is also no longer any regular, dependable food supply, as services have had to be suspended.
Volunteers will continue to help the displaced 2000 people in the amazing inspiring ways they always have, against massive odds; but the real need is for the state to step in and provide safe, adequate accommodation for all and avoid a public health disaster. Tensions have risen and small quarrels can soon become extremely violent.
The Refugee Women and Children's Centre has moved from regular aid distributions and community activities to keeping in contact by phone with women and families who are without accommodation and responding with emergency tents and bedding for those without any shelter at all.
The Calais Woodyard have adapted how they distribute firewood to reduce contact with surfaces and their van has been set up with a mobile hot water hand-washing station for the team to wash each time they come back to reload their wheelbarrows,
Collective Aid (who now manage one of the warehouses) has been focusing on supplying tents and sleeping bags to provide emergency shelter and warmth during the cold nights to those in need, but without doing individual drop-offs. Also, they’ve been working together with the Refugee Info-Bus to ensure that people have access to mobile generators for phone charging: a lifeline to access news and health information.
The Human Rights Observers team and the Auberge des Migrants have suspended monitoring daily police evictions of informal camps, and are putting their energy into analysing collected data on breaches of Human Rights and using that to push for political solutions. Socially-distanced meetings are held outdoors.
The Refugee Youth Service is ensuring that the 200 unaccompanied children they support have phone credit and are checking in regularly, whilst trying to help them access available accommodation.
The Refugee Community Kitchen ceased operations on 24 March due to the coronavirus crisis. The very small remaining team of volunteers had been working 9am-10pm every day without time off, and many had truly reached their limits. They not only have to protect the volunteers, but also the people they serve and those in the surrounding area. They will be reviewing the situation and will be ready to start up again as soon as viably possible. Only the government meal distribution service continues, provided by La Vie Active.
Guests at the Maria Skobstova House are trying to keep busy as this is vital for mental health. Some are learning French and others playing chess, whilst morning yoga classes have started alongside ongoing painting. Efforts have been needed to convey proper understanding of the regulations about self isolation and why they are necessary! A car full of rubbish was removed from the outdoor space and some plants have been provided to produce a pleasant corner to get pit fpr sp,e fresh air. A number of excellent accounts of progress and of success in adversity can be found on the website.
The Secours Catholique Day Centre has suspended operations (to avoid scores of people gathering indoors).
One mission of Utopia 56 is to take people to health care centres. With restrictions upon movement, this has had to stop. A youngster suffering from TB could not be taken to collect a repeat supply of medicines and he decided to walk for the necessary 90 minutes. But the police blocked all exits from the camp.
Médecins du Monde and the First Aid Support Team ('FAST') have suspended face-to-face consultations on site and offer only telephone advice, not knowing when those in need heed their advice to go to the hospital emergency department.
Care4Calais is very low on volunteers, both French and British, but all the key associations have permission to continue operations, with aid workers classed as key workers in both France and the UK, and so able to travel. Funds are running low, but distribution of foodstuffs and other goods continues. Several UK groups who collect clothes, tents and bedding to take to France have stopped accepting any donations that require sorting because the health of previous handlers is not known. This affects all the Calais operations and monetary donations are the most useful for the time being.
As ever, with our appreciation of your concern in these difficult days. Do look after yourselves in spite of enforced isolation and remain in good health.
Ben + Phil.
29 February 2020
February Update: “Rehumanising our exiled brothers and sisters”
Ben writes -
Some years ago when I was able to visit the Calais 'jungle' on a frequent basis I always tried to drop in on a group of young Sudanese men who had built themselves a primitive shelter. They had few material possessions but they always provided a warm welcome, sharing tea and whatever food they had. They often apologized for the lack of milk for my tea and I soon learnt to bring milk with me if at all possible. They maintained something of their dignity in providing hospitality – in short they they found a little of their experience in being 're-humanised'
I came across this expression in a recent piece in the Guardian. It refers to those often little acts of kindness and solidarity which help someone who has lost everything to find again even a trace of their dignity and humanity.
These little acts, whether they are provision of a meal, replacement of of clothes and possessions destroyed by the police, or simply being a presence at the the day centre, are so essential in a world that has marginalized the migrant and refugee. Those of you who have contributed to our appeal for the little bags of love and hope can be assured that that these have made a real difference to the morale of those involved. All of us have qualities and talent to bring to our fellow humans and it is is the act of re humanizing which will restore not just dignity but light a beacon of hope for the future when everything looks bleak.
Our friends in Calais and Northern France have faced a double challenge over this last month. It's not just the often daily harassment by the police but having to survive in the conditions which storm Dennis and its earlier counterpart brought to Northern France along with the UK.
Even in the most adverse weather conditions most of us were able to have shelter but decent shelter is essential for survival at a time when high winds and rain make life in a tent impossible. And with the refusal of the authorities to open even a temporary shelter until very late in the season, survival of exposure to the elements is something which no-one should have to undergo.
Following up past news:
A month ago we learned that, eventually, the policeman who shot two-year-old Mawda during a motorway near Namur chase in May 2018 has finally been charged with manslaughter. The toddler was in a van with thirty migrants making their way towards the Channel coast
Annual migration statistics for 2019 have been published as we write this Update. A first headline is that 55 per cent of asylum applications were successful once appeals are taken into account. This figure contradicts ministerial statements such as, "If you come illegally, you are an illegal migrant and the law will treat you as such”. Alongside this, while at least 1,890 foreigners are known to have reached British shores in small boats last year, the Home Office says only about 125 were returned to European countries during the same period. Hopefully, the rest of the asylum claims are being correctly processed and more that half of them will again be granted.
Spending on Border Security – a new report
More recently a report sponsored by Care4Calais indicates shows that the UK has paid France hundreds of millions of pounds to increase border security at Calais, resulting in more violence against, and risks for, refugees.
French authorities are again clearing refugee settlements in Calais and nearby, while the British border force has started to use drones to spot and stop migrant boats crossing the Channel. These actions are part of the increasingly repressive border security co-operation between the UK and France, as described in the report 'Hunted, detained and deported: UK-French co-operation and the effects of border securitisation on refugees in Calais', published by Care4Calais and Stop Wapenhandel.
A unique system of border control, with British officials operating in Calais, goes back to the early 1990s, but things have escalated in recent years with a string of new agreements, accompanied by the transfer of hundreds of millions of pounds to strengthen border security and control. The result is a draconian security infrastructure, with private border guards, dogs, drones, CCTV, fences, infrared barriers and thermal cameras.
Clare Moseley, founder and director of Care4Calais said: "The same policy of increased security and deterrence has been followed for ten years, and it has not stopped migrants coming to Calais. All that is achieved is further brutalisation of already traumatised people. It’s time for a change”.
The securitised system merely leads to a shift in migration routes, with people trying to cross by sea as well as via the tunnel and on lorries loaded to ferries, or to disperse to other ports in France, Belgium and The Netherlands. In short: to more danger and risk of drowning alongside a continuing crackdown on migrants in and around Calais, with regular reports of police violence.
The only beneficiaries of these policies and the millions spent on them are military and security companies providing the equipment for the delusional idea of sealing off the borders.
The report 'Hunted, detained and deported: UK-French co-operation and the effects of border securitisation on refugees in Calais' can be downloaded here.
A coming event
Related to this news of statistics and dehumanisation, and an important event has been arranged for Dover on Thursday 26 March. It's a new “roadshow” from the Anglo-French initiative 'People not Walls', of which 'Seeking Sanctuary' is a founder member.
The aim is to find a time to update news and share information about the situation of exiles alongside the English Channel and how it should be improved, asking :“What is the point of the UK-French Border, and who pays for it? How can a more human-centred system be created at our borders?”
The venue is St Paul’s Church Hall, 103, Maison Dieu Road, CT16 1RU, gathering from 10h00 for a start at 10h30 and ending at 15h00. A sandwich lunch and English/French translation will be provided. A flyer is attached and all are welcome to join us.
Phil writes –
I made three day trips to Calais at the start of the month, each time with no space for passengers in my my car, which was always crammed with much-needed donated goods, received with delight at their various destinations. Alongside five sewing machines, one of them a heavyweight industrial model, these goods included many 'Little Bags' produced from our recent appeal. Our thanks go to everyone who responded to this – and we currently add a negative appeal for no more sewing machines just yet! (Although the current stock will, indeed, wear out one day due to the stress and strain of work by a variety of operators on damaged sleeping bags, tents and denim clothing.)
With renewed thanks for your support.
29 January 2020
Is there a deeper struggle on our hands? …
We regret that gloom has descended upon us.
As Brexit looms, are we in danger of a further extension of the 'hostile environment'? At a time when 'foreigners' could become a term of abuse, what chance is there for our brothers and sisters who seek sanctuary here in the UK? As the year develops our concern is that the toxic politics which seek to reinforce 'Britishness' will have a devastating effect on efforts to promote tolerance and humanity for those fleeing persecution.
In the short period since the New Year we have already lost the campaign to ensure safe passage of child migrants to family reunion in the UK.
What hope now now for the many thousands of exiles who feel that Britain is a place of humanity and welcome?
We hope to be proved wrong and it is through your efforts, dear friends and supporters, that we will spread a message of tolerance and humanity – the stakes are just too high to fail ...
The campaign for continued reunion of child migrants with relatives gathers pace in the face of government efforts to backtrack from earlier commitments. We need to remind ourselves of the tragic way in which innocent children are caught up in the horrors of modern warfare, as described in a recent report on the dire situation that they face in Syria.
Children in Syria
Here are some details from a recent report by a UN-backed group ...
GENEVA (AP) — In Syria’s civil war, girls as young as nine have been raped and forced into sexual slavery. Boys have been tortured, forced into military training and ordered to carry out killings in public. Children have been targeted by sniper fire and used as bargaining chips to extract ransoms.
Those gruesome facts have been the focus of a new report by UN-backed investigators into the Syrian war, which for the first time looks solely on the plight of the children caught up in the conflict. The report analysed the period from September 2011 to October 2019 through more than 5,000 interviews with Syrian children, as well as witnesses, survivors, relatives, medical professionals, defectors and fighters.
The group, known as the Commission of Inquiry for Syria, has been scrutinizing and chronicling human rights violations since shortly after the conflict broke out in 2011.
The investigators said that the abuse and violence against Syrian children goes well beyond just getting caught in the crossfire of warring sides.
“After eight years of conflict, children in Syria have experienced unabated violations of their rights: they continue to be killed, maimed, injured and orphaned, bearing the brunt of violence perpetrated by warring parties,” the report said.
It did not offer a casualty count of children — the commission stopped counting the victims years ago, citing its inability to verify the figures in a country where they have been blocked from entry.
The report did, however, say that 5 million children have been displaced internally and outside Syria, “robbed of their childhood” by violations from all sides.
Extremists from the Islamic State group subjected girls as young as nine to “sexual slavery” while boys were recruited to fight in areas run by al-Qaida-linked militants. Air-strikes have devastated entire cities and towns.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, which bears responsibility for respect of human rights on its territory under international law, ignored such commitments, the report said. It cited pro-government fighters as “regularly targeting children using sniper fire” and deploying cluster munitions, thermobaric bombs and chemical weapons, often against civilian targets such as schools and hospitals.
As with its previous reports, the three-member Commission of Inquiry listed recommendations for the warring sides, for Syria’s government and the international community. But there are concerns that the report will, like many others in Syria’s civil war, now well into its ninth year, go unheeded and bring about few concrete results.
Do watch this very powerful short video: www.instagram.com/tv/B7gE-JXnJF7/ to see the conditions in which Syrian and other refugees are having to live in a 'hidden' Greek refugee camp.
And some good news:
Thanks to all of you who have worked so hard on our “Little Bags of Love and Hope” initiative. The bags recently received were delivered to Secours Catholique in Calais a couple of days ago (see photo), where they were received with enthusiasm – please remember that the cold weather lasts well into to April and further little bags will still be appreciated.
People not Walls
In October 2018 almost 100 people attended an event in Dover, about a third of them from France. We shared information about the situations faced by exiles near the coasts of the English Channel and decided to seek issues upon which we could work further together. A voluntary contact group met for the first time exactly one year ago, adopting the name "People not Walls". A report on the year's activities has been produced in both French and English, and both versions have been uploaded to our website and are linked from within this paragraph.
I went to the new Auberge warehouse this week, with a friend who sources non-saleable goods from the local Oxfam shop for me. Tents and sleeping bags were greeted with joy, as there had just been a major clearance and stocks of these items had run low. The new premises are managed by “Collective Aid” and are much more pleasant to work in than the previous often freezing building. (Goods are also stored for the Dunkirk Women and Children's Centre and Project Play.) The former site is still managed by the Auberge, and the Refugee Community Kitchen and the Infobus still operate from there, among others.
Next, we called at the Secours Catholique Day Centre to deliver the "Little Bags" mentioned above. We saw the usual complement of around 100 exiles taking the opportunity to relax in a warm room, play dominoes and board games, join other activities, charge their phones, and get a haircut or a cup of tea or coffee. In short, to act like human beings and be treated as such.
We also called at the Maria Skobstova House of Welcome, now administered by the Church of England chaplain in Calais, Kirrilee Reid. Unusually, were a good number of volunteer helpers on hand but it remains true that more volunteers are needed if a sustainable rota is to be set up and enable a stable environment to be maintained for the traumatised young women who shelter there.
Life for Calaisiens
Kirrilee had been to a meeting with the deputy mayor. There seemed to have been no mention of the the sad need for recourse to legal action to get the authorities to supply and maintain even a minimum of essential services such as sanitation, refuse clearance and drinking water. Rather, she was treated to a long account of problems allegedly caused by the presence of unhealthy, ill-behaved and dirty migrants.
There are many inhabitants who sympathise with the migrants who have fled away from grinding poverty and continuous discrimination and violence. But, it seems, not all. Why the resentment?
The markets and streets of this town with a population of 77,000 are frequently devoid of people. Empty shops and business premises bear witness to the abandonment of the town centre in favour of estates on the outskirts. The regional economy has struggled since the 1960s with the closure of traditional heavy industries and increased automation in those that remain. The traditional lace industry has collapsed with one company, Desseilles, very recently liquidated.
In Q2 2019, the unemployment rate was almost 13% and in some districts it hovers between 30 and 40%. Figures are even worse when it comes to the poverty rate, which stands at 30.2%, compared to 14% nationally. The National Front consistently increases its share of the vote as there is no longer any confidence in the ability of the longer-established political parties.
The appearance of the town is further marred by the removal of trees, the flooding of ditches and the construction of walls and fences aiming to stop the exiles from settling down.
Life for the displaced
There were far fewer migrants than usual in the windy and cold-but-sunny streets of the industrial quarter. Many had just been moved away in bus-loads, some were probably nearby towns in official shelters from the cold, and the remainder were keeping a low profile. There were also less riot police in evidence.
Insalubrity and misery reign over the camps. Diseases are easily spread with cases of scabies occurring regularly. Skin infections and foot rot are prevalent from being almost permanently wet and from lack of sanitation. Alongside the main footpath portaloos have been overturned and folk have to slalom between the puddles to get to the few that remain. On top of this, humanitarian agencies see serious declines in mental health due to the conditions, the lack of hope and also the effectively psychological warfare that is employed. People – already weary and traumatised – feel worthless, powerless, hopeless and rudderless, so that they break down, self-harm and consider suicide
General opinion remains that, prior to the most recent clearance, there had been some 1600 in Calais and Dunkirk and an unknown additional number in the surrounding countryside, about a fifth of them being under the age of 18. To meet needs, all the organisations require more regular volunteers and donations of money and goods. Alongside these exiles, it is thought that 400 to 500 extra riot police and regular police have been deployed.
The perpetual clearance operations come at a cost that François Guennoc, the vice-president of Auberge des Migrants, estimates as at least 9,000 euros per day, or more than 3 million per year. This sum takes into account the costs of mobilizing thirty police officers for each clearance, fuel and in addition, payment to the private cleaning company that accompanies the official procession each morning. "In addition to being costly, this policy is ineffective,” regrets François! Officers also continue to patrol the coastline day and night attempting to prevent the exiles from crossing the Channel, apparently paid for by the British government, which commentators say has spent around £150 million policing the border for the past four years
We know that this is a dispiriting message for the start of 2020. But seeing the pleasure that is expressed upon the arrival of your donations is genuinely heartening, and encourages us to continue our efforts.
As ever, thank you for all that you contribute. Good luck in 2020!
Ben + Phil.
A date for your diaries: Saturday 20 June - gather at 11.30 am near the memorial plaques on Dover seafront with the Bishop of Dover, Rt Revd Dr Rose Hudson-Wilkin, to mark the 20th anniversary of the discovery of 58 young Chinese, dead in a sealed truck.
24 January 2020
"People not Walls" - the First Year
Almost 100 people attended an event in Dover during October 2018, about a third of them from France. We shared information about the situations faced by exiles near the coasts of the English Channel and decided to seek issues upon which we could work further together. The voluntary contact group met for the first time exactly one year ago, adopting the name "People not Walls". A report on the year's activities has been produced in both French and English, and both versions are linked from within this paragraph.
3 January 2020
BBC South East News reviews a year of small craft bringing exiles to the UK
Ben makes a comment in this video clip.
18 December 2019
Update for December
The Holy Family – Economic Migrants?
At this festive season there is an interesting question on which to reflect – were the Holy Family economic migrants? it was clear that that Joseph was unable to practice his trade under the despotic rule of Herod and so he had to move himself and his family to safer territory in Judea. And so we have have a direct link between the the sometimes romanticised story of the Nativity and the harsh reality of migration for millions of people in our world. 'No Crib for a bed' is the harsh reality for millions of women who are forced to give birth in degrading conditions.
At a time when when there is so much disparaging talk about so-called economic migration the Nativity story reminds us that persecution and and migration due to economic conditions are inextricably linked. The presence of terrorists or occupying forces in any local community inevitably has immediate consequences for local people – both in the public sector where officials may be working for the 'wrong' side and in the private sector where economic survival becomes a story about bribery and corruption.
A recent report on the the situation in Zimbabwe shows the compounding effects of climate change and other factors it is estimated that at half of the Zimbabwean population are living in poverty. A condition that is exacerbated by continuing huge rises in inflation and factors such as the worst drought in the century this season. Economic migration, climate change and seeking sanctuary from oppression are inextricably linked.
The Christmas story is one which can all too easily be distorted by the singing of carols such as Silent Night when the reality of the holy family's experience may well have been been very different.
People Not Walls
You will be interested to hear of the recent activities of our new cross border initiative People not Walls – this was established a year ago to provide a a coordinating focus for the various French and British NGOs working in and around Calais, so that we could keep in touch each other and with developments, and plan collective initiatives.
On 4th December we were pleased to be able to support the French protests calling for justice and humanity at all French borders. A letter was handed into the French Embassy supporting the demand to establish a parliamentary commission in France to investigate these and related issues. You will find here an account of the very successful event held outside the French Embassy in London. We now need to build on success of this event to continue the campaign.
The problem is not just at the French border but equally at other EU borders as shown for example by the recent case of Nigerian athletes being taken against their will to a Bosnian refugee camp when they were competing in Croatia.
A time for giving...
Christmas is traditionally a time for generosity and we are heartened by the number of initiatives which we hear about. We are often asked about charities to support in Calais and while it is not our job to recommend any one particular cause we have been made aware of the ongoing and increasing needs of charities such as Care4Calais and the Refugee Community Kitchen – you will find details on-line as well as ideas for creative and ethical Christmas gifts.
Meanwhile our thanks to the Faversham and Villages Refugee Solidarity Group for taking part in our Little Bags of Love and Hope initiative. We are asking for packages that contain both essential items as well as comforts. They are an ideal project for schools and community groups as well as for churches and religious communities. Among others, we are grateful to the many folk in North Norfolk who have been collecting hats and scarves.
There is still plenty of time to get involved particularly as the harsh weather conditions in Northern France continue well into March. We'll be delivering right through January!
And after the election results ….
We can speculate about what changes may await us. The 'Metro' comments that there are plans to create a new immigration system, separate from the Home Office, but experts warn that it could mean expansion of the government’s hostile environment policies. The proposals are said to involve a new department for borders and immigration aiming to improve security and the visa system.
Lawyers and campaigners fear the focus of the changes is likely to be on tightening border controls with a likely intensified focus on ‘limiting numbers’. Unless implemented with adequate time and resource, changes could cause considerable upheaval and have potentially negative consequences on the ability to deliver services effectively.
Removing immigration responsibility from the Home Office would in theory be a good thing, but a new department will not necessarily learn lessons from previous mistakes such as the Windrush scandal. The best case scenario would be to see recognition of the unfairness of the system and attempts to create a more fair decision-making process, rather than a sole focus on controlling and reducing migration.
Fashion in Calais, à la mode.
Secours Catholique has launched a petition calling for the creation of a shelter for migrants living in the Calais area. The initiative was launched on the evening of Saturday 14 December during a fashion show created and presented by volunteers and exiles. Around two hundred people gathered in the Secours Catholique Day Centre to attend a a fashion show with, as models, inhabitants of Calais and exiles and, for the collection, clothes recovered and brought up to date with motifs bearing messages on the situation being experienced by migrants.
A new book
Perhaps a Christmas present? Anne M Jones has just produced a book ‘How Long, How Long Must We Wait’. It is based upon her diaries from over five years, since going to the Calais 'Jungle' on Boxing Day 2015, intending ‘to be helpful’ …. …. then feeling compelled to return on a regular basis ever since.
The book includes her reasons, musings, photos, sketches of volunteer eccentricities and a few adventures of her own worthy of Mr Bean. Over ten thousand volunteers have worked in Calais, and this work is becoming increasingly important for both Human Rights, and in demonstrating a significant counter-culture to the ‘hostile environment’ that prevails on both sides of the Channel.
The cost is £8.50, including postage, but please pay what you can, as all profits go to ‘Help Refugees’. To obtain a copy, please email a request to Anne (firstname.lastname@example.org) and pay the correct sum in to the Co-Operative bank account: Sort code: 08-90-66; Acct Number: 07383377; Ref: CAL.
With our continued thanks for your support and efforts and our best wishes for peace and goodwill during the festive season,
Phil + Ben.
3 November 2019
Update for November 2019
Saying our farewells ...
It's always a wrench to have to say goodbye in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Many of you you receiving this update will have experienced the wrench of of having to move from a settled community or perhaps saying goodbye to children as they start university or work elsewhere.
And yet we fortunate ones have opportunities to make our goodbyes in a planned way and to mark the occasions, perhaps with a social gathering. But the farewells to sons and daughters in other parts of the world can be so different and often heartbreaking. The families affected by the recent shelling and bombing in Northern Syria have no time to make their goodbyes – all they have been able to do has been to send their children into to an uncertain and dangerous future. Vietnamese families who held such high hopes for the future of their children could not imagine that they would die, suffocated and frozen in a refrigerated lorry.
Last week at our twin memorials in Dover – both for recent victims and for the 58 young Chinese who died in June 2000 – we did our best to call to mind and remember the fragility of these young lives. We held a vigil on Dover seafront with our visiting French friends, not just to mark the tragic loss of life but also to draw attention to the the risks and dangers that face young people making their perilous journeys.
People Not Walls
Our vigil was preceded by one of the regular meetings of 'People not Walls' – the new body formed during 2019 to bring together French and UK activists and NGOs concerned for the situation on the Channel coasts. We heard about the renewed bullying tactics of the French police and also about several other initiatives including a joint action on the 4th of December proposed for the frontiers with Italy, Spain and the UK, where the poorest treatment of migrants has been recorded. The main thrust will be to highlight the need for decent and humane treatment of all human beings when they cross frontiers. 'People not Walls' calls upon UK residents to show solidarity with the French action by conveying the same message to British and French officials, the public, and (when in office) Parliamentarians.
A flyer is attached indicating arrangements for a vigil outside the French Embassy in London coinciding with action in France. The Group also published a joint declaration which appears immediately below this Update, focussing on the need for safe and legal routes to claim asylum in the UK.
Little bags of love and hope
You may recall this initiative which has been run in several past years years in consultation with our French colleagues. We are appealing for packages – to be delivered by 31st January – that contain both essential items as well as comforts. The list of contents can be found here. If you are in a position to make up bags - minimum quantity 50 – please do let us know so that we can check the the potential delivery arrangements – they are an ideal project for schools and community groups as well as for churches and religious communities. Perhaps you could organise group knitting of dark-coloured hats and scarves for inclusion in parcels?
In addition to the little bags there is a constant need for funds as well as other essentials and you will see a recent Care4Calais report on conditions and their appeal for help here.
Events near the French Coast
Faced with accumulated donations of clothes and bedding, Phil visited Calais on the 8th and 31st of October. His observations and conversations confirmed what we had been told by our French partners. As well as increasingly cold weather and confiscation of tents , bedding and belongings on at least a weekly basis, the exiles now experience greater disruptions on a monthly basis.
Coaches and police arrive at encampments in and around Calais or Dunkirk during the early hours of the morning to wake up the hundreds who are sleeping rough and herd them on to the coaches for removal to accommodation centres elsewhere in France, usually leaving scores behind due to lack of space on the coaches. Twenty or more arrests will be made and all property taken – tents, tarpaulins, sleeping bags … the lot. Fences are erected during the following days to prevent re-occupation of the sites. Nevertheless, almost all of those who have been transported away will, as ever, return to the area within a couple of weeks
These sites are ugly. Stocks of clothing and bedding held by support groups are rapidly dwindling. There is no access to drinking water, no electric power and no toilet facilities – since the state officials have removed portable toilets in past site clearances. A public health disaster appears inevitable, and doubtless the families with children will be hardest hit.
In these conditions, just a dry pair of socks becomes a treasure and tensions can easily run high between different groups and communities. And the efforts to escape hidden on a lorry or floating on a small boat become more intense. Several have tried to gain access to the Euro-tunnel sidings by descending on ropes from high bridges, to which new barriers have now been added.
Early in October two bodies were found on a beach at Le Touquet, a Kurd aged 17 and an Iraqi aged 22. Within hours of the news, the British and French Governments unveiled an “enhanced” action plan which includes French police deploying 45 officers a day on the beach, double the previous number, to intercept boat launchings. Yet the number of Channel crossings shows little sign of dropping. Finally, on 1st November the body of a 22 year old Nigerian was found in his tent, a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning when he had lit a fire to cook food,
Recognition for Refugee Community Kitchen
The Kitchen received an 'Outstanding Achievement' award in the annual list produced by the 'Observer' Food Magazine. They have served 2.3 million meals to refugees in France and to the UK’s homeless in the past four years. It’s good, nutritious food. Part of the charity’s ethos is that the people they serve should receive a healthy diet and well as receiving food that is 'culturally appropriate'.
One of the four founders said that they are incredibly humbled to win the award. Their initiative is built solely on the huge efforts of so many ordinary people volunteering day in and day out in terrible conditions to show kindness to so many people in need.
The work is clearly not easy: all the founders have other jobs and take turns to visit France. It is also a never-ending struggle to recruit volunteers and attract donations, especially when the migrant crisis slips off the news agenda. Another said, 'We were tapping into a collective consciousness that loads of people were tapping into: we’re rich and we’re privileged as a society and individuals, we can see suffering and we feel powerless and not represented by our governments. And actually it’s close enough, we can do something.' The dire situation is no longer in a remote country, but on our doorstep.
Sesame House is a charity supporting refugees in Northern France. Its activities consist of:
- creating a welcoming and communal space, where they provide shelter and respect basic human rights,
- ensuring that the medical, social, and administrative needs of those who are welcomed are being addressed,
- accompanying them, in accordance with their administrative situation, to stale-provided accommodation.
Sesame House has been lent a place to fulfil its mission for six months. It is a house in a village called Herzeele, located in French Flanders, between Dunkirk and Lille. This is a modest attempt to answer the needs of some people during the Winter months, working within a network of other agencies to support refugees from many countries.
The Dragon of Calais
Calais wants to become a prime seaside destination. €28 million is being invested over the coming eight years. The first item was €3.2mn for a giant mechanical dragon which can wander the streets to amaze the crowds, plus another €3.4mn on its storage and maintenance building and €1.3mn for the opening show on this first weekend of November and for the lay out of its zone of travel.
The mayor has established a by-law forbidding migrants to gather for food distributions in the town centre, on the basis that these incite hatred and are a threat to good public order! The people distributing aid are also barred. Several groups have condemned this as 'a new episode of an unhealthy political process now well-established, which stigmatizes and divides instead of gathering and sharing '. Migrants are denied their share of humanity by being categorized as parasites that should be hidden or hidden behind walls.
Lessons not Learned
A new report produced by 'Freedom from Torture' documents 15 years of flawed Home Office decision-making. It notes that this has “a devastating impact on the individuals involved” and calls for the government and Home Office to urgently put protection at the core of the asylum system.
The report examines over 50 case studies and finds that an unduly high evidential burden and culture of disbelief result in refusals across different kinds of asylum claims and issues involved in those claims including evidence of torture, LGBTQI+ identity, and religious affiliation. For example, an example of medical evidence of torture being rejected because the doctor who corroborated it was not personally a witness to the torture, and children’s claims rejected on the grounds that they could not name the precise position their parents had held in a given organisation.
Routinely, a large number of Home Office refusals are overturned when asylum claimants appeal to the courts. Sponsors of the report include the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Jesuit Refugee Service UK, Refugee Action and the Refugee Council.
To conclude …
As we have told you before, Calais has not gone away! Some wonderful humanitarian work is being done and there are tireless efforts in advocacy to call for dignified treatment for human beings who are in need.
The work on the ground in Calais needs more donations of goods and money and more volunteers for all sorts of tasks – short-term and longer-term. This link will open a list of the web pages where you can find out more. (And don't forget to follow us on our new Twitter account using the hashtag @SEEKINGSANCTUA3 – and visit the page!)
With our renewed thanks for your support,
Phil + Ben.
25 October 2019
Statement from October Meeting of 'People not Walls' in Dover
Members of the 'People not Walls' continuity group met in Dover on Thursday 24 October and approved the attached statement relating to concern for the human tragedy that is being revealed in Essex. The meeting concluded with a visit to the plaques on the seafront that remember others who have died when attempting to cross the Channel, especially the previous group of 58 Chinese found dead at the port in June 2000. (See photo.)
MEDIA STATEMENT FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
We are French and British civil society, NGOs and Faith groups seeking justice and proper treatment for displaced people and supporting them while they survive in punishing conditions in northern France. The forcible removal of over a hundred people and their belongings from one camp in Calais as we meet is just one more example of the pressures that they face.
We are saddened and appalled by the recent discovery of 39 bodies in the back of a lorry in Essex.
Ben Bano, acting coordinator of the the organisation said 'Once again we we see the result of a combination of smugglers and a system which denies people the right to claim asylum in the UK without attempting dangerous journeys. As well as the effects of the hostile environment we need to remember that the UK has only 1% of the world's refugees.'
Today, 'People Not Walls' partners from both sides of the English Channel unite to ask our governments to honour our common humanity, and to invest in people rather than in expensive and ineffective physical borders.
We also support 'Safe Passage', who have handed in a petition with almost 80,000 signatures to the Home Office to ask for legal and safe routes of access to the United Kingdom. We need solutions that would negate the need for these dangerous and life-threatening cross-Channel journeys.
Issued at Dover on 24 October 2019.
DÉCLARATION MÉDIA POUR DIFFUSION IMMÉDIATE
"People not Walls" est un collectif transfrontalière en quête de justice et du traitement approprié des personnes déplacées et de leur soutien pendant leur survie dans des conditions pénibles au nord de la France. Le déplacement forcé de plus d'un centaine de personnes et de leurs biens d'un camp à Calais pendant notre réunion n'est qu'un autre exemple des pressions auxquelles ils sont confrontés.
Nous sommes nous sommes attristés et épouvantés par la découverte récente de 39 corps à l'arrière d'un camion à côté de l'estuaire de la Tamise dans l'Essex.
Ben Bano, coordinateur par intérim de l'organisation, a déclaré: "Une fois encore, nous voyons le résultat d'une combinaison de trafiquants et d'un système qui refuse aux exilés le droit de demander l'asile au Royaume-Uni, à moins que ceux-ci ne tentent des voyages dangereux. Ainsi que les effets de l'environnement hostile, il convient de rappeler que seulement 1% des réfugiés dans le monde sont hébergés au Royaume-Uni,
Aujourd'hui, les partenaires de "People Not Walls" des deux côtés de la Manche se sont réunis pour demander à nos gouvernements d'honorer notre humanité commune et d'investir dans les personnes plutôt que dans des frontières physiques coûteuses et inefficaces.
Nous soutenons également "Safe Passage", qui a présenté une pétition signée par près de 80 000 signatures au Home Office en Londres demandant des voies d'accès légales et sûres au Royaume-Uni. Nous avons besoin de solutions qui élimineraient la nécessité de mettre en danger la vie pendant ces dangereux voyages trans-Manche.
Fait à Douvres le 24 octobre 2019.
24 September 2019
Update for September 2019
We start with the the sad news that yet again a forced eviction has taken place in Northern France. Less than a week after around 800 people were evicted from their refugees in woods and waste ground around Calais, it was the turn of Grande Synthe near Dunkirk. Nearly 1000 people were expelled there. Up to now these people had been left relatively unmolested due to be the humanitarian attitude of the previous Mayor who has now taken his seat as an MEP after been elected on behalf of the French Green Party. We heard the usual assurances that those displaced would be taken to other centres.
A recent report by a French group that provides information and support to immigrants concluded that, for the refugees evacuated from previous camps, a good portion of them end up in centres scattered all over the country lacking not only the means and personnel competent in asylum cases, but which — more importantly — are used to “shelter” these people while organizing their deportation, whether asylum seekers whose requests were refused — still very numerous — or people waiting for a Dublin transfer [to another EU country].
We expect to see almost all of those who have just been removed returning to Northern France within a fortnight or so, again living in precarious conditions. In the complete absence of any facilities they will make their increasingly desperate attempts to cross the Channel. Some can afford to pay excessive sums for a small boat crossing, squeezing others out of the market, rendering them tempted by the blandishments of traffickers and ending up as victims of modern slavery in the UK. And remember, there are 20 or 30 minors among these people, a couple of them aged just six or seven.
Similar scenes are being reported near ports all along the coast from Flushing to Bilbao.
Ben reports that the febrile atmosphere pre-Brexit hostility mounts, not just for EU citizens but for anyone considered as a foreigner.
The far-right group Britain First has instigated vigilante patrols on beaches near Dover. We have pointed out to various media outlets that the Border Force and Coast Guard are well able to to take care are of any arrivals and and this latest vigilante patrol is simply an act of provocation. The poster shown here was designed for the Home Office and displayed at points along the White Cliffs. There is no doubt that the numbers off people making desperate attempt to cross the channel are rising but are few in comparison to the hundreds who make the journey from Turkey to Greece every day. Here is a picture of a young man in a single kayak who was the subject of a comprehensive search and rescue operation. Two others are known to have drowned.
You can find a Media Release about this tragic situation on our website, issued on 24 August. We conclude that, 'There is nothing illegal about seeking sanctuary from violence and oppression. If these exiles were treated with a degree of humanity and respect, rather than being endlessly harassed in France, they are less likely to resort to traffickers and risk death by using unorthodox means to try to reach the UK '.
This resulted in several interviews, following which we received abusive communications, prompting Phil to compose a blog a few days later, reflecting upon these experiences – see the post on our website for 28 August.
Our friends from Northern France and the UK meet on a regular basis through our newly established liaison committee 'People not Walls' which met in Dover last week. As ever, the volunteers are under considerable pressure and organisations such as as Care for Calais exist from day to day and are often short of basic essentials. Links to the latest lists of needs are as follows. The updated Care4Calais list is here; the Community Kitchen list is here; the Dunkirk Women's Centre list is here; the 'Help Refugees' list here; and the Maria Skobtsova House of Mercy list here.
As mentioned in our August Update, the World day for Migrants and Refugees takes place this year on 29thSeptember. Pope Francis has laid emphasis on the message of this day, which is that “it's not just about migrants”. For those of you involved in organising services in Churches and Faith Communities throughout the year, you will find some suggestions and resources from the Vatican on the link included in our August Update (below).
Entering the digital age
Yes we are pleased to report that we have finally got our own Twitter account - but what we need now are some followers! You will find us on the hashtag @SEEKINGSANCTUA3, linked thus - please do sign up and we will do our best to keep you in regular contact.
28 August 2019
AN OCCASIONAL BLOG
The right to reply – Phil Kerton
From time to time Seeking Sanctuary receives adverse comments from trolls who have heard or read our comments in regional or national media, or who have received a copy of one of our monthly updates from a friend.
Most of these complaints repeat misinformation that has a continuing life of its own, no matter how many people have produced refutations. They do not see that the displaced people are not the problem, but rather the causes that drive people to cross borders and the short-sighted and unrealistic ways that politicians respond to their journeys.
We choose not to respond because these ideas appear to be deeply ingrained. However, irritation has compelled me to summarise all the pragmatic responses that we might make, leaving aside discussion of Europe's Judeo-Christian heritage of concern for the weakest members of society.
Of late, we have been told that we should use the word “illegal” to describe asylum-seekers. We do not believe that this adjective applies to any human being! People fleeing persecution or violence often have to use irregular means to leave and travel, probably undocumented or with false identity papers, but cannot claim asylum until they reach UK soil.
Our asylum system is complex, strictly controlled and often slow to produce decisions. The decision-making process is extremely tough and it is very difficult to get asylum – only about 35% of initial decisions are positive. However, about three-quarters of those who are refused leave to remain appeal the decision. The success rate rises towards 60% when the results of appeals are considered, which is around the average for EU countries. The figures indicate a very poor quality of initial decsion-making. (Consideration of appeals takes many months – perhaps years.)
Around half of all asylum seekers find themselves detained during the asylum process. Detention is used much more extensively in the UK’s asylum system than in other EU countries, and these also have time limits on how long a person may be detained, whereas the UK has none. In the last 12 months, some 24,000 people were put in detention in an immigration removal centre; among them, 13,000 people seeking asylum. 59% of those detained were released back into the community, indicating flaws in the Government’s detention regime and rendering their detention pointless. And despite a 2010 pledge to end child detention, in the year up to September 2018 60 minors were locked up.
Complainants believe that thousands are trying to reach here, and that the UK is a “softer touch” than the rest of Europe. In fact About 85% of the world’s refugees are living in developing countries, often in camps The UK is home to less than 1% of the world’s approximately 70 million forcibly displaced people.
“But, even if there only a few, some of them have got plenty of money to pay smugglers and so can only be economic migrants.” It's not only the poor who are discriminated against or who fear violence! People with money can decide to keep a low profile for a while until they have worked out how to flee and take their life savings with them. If they are economic migrants they should not get refugee status, but they could be able to become productive members of the UK community and so be deemed eligible for work permits if their life skills are required.
The latest statistics show that 19.6 million non-EEA nationals arrived in Britain in the year up to March 2019 – but just 0.16% were seeking asylum. Asylum-seekers can qualify for very basic accommodation (not paid for from Local Authority housing funds!) and meagre financial support of just over £5/day while waiting for their claims to be finally decided: the UK level of support is lower than in most other EU nations. If there are unduly long delays in reaching decisions, people may be allowed to work, but the UK's period of waiting is longer than in most other countries and there are severe restrictions on what work they may be permitted to do. Support ends once a negative decision is issued, and is not repaid in the event of a successful appeal. And on top of this, access to medical care and eduction is limited.
Around 6000 people arrive each year (usually direct from conflict zones) under various government refugee resettlement schemes - not as asylum seekers. The UK leads Europe in accepting such people, but a larger number (about 14,000 in 2018) having applied for asylum after arrival in the UK are granted refugee status or some other form of leave to remain.
One question has been, “Can all the aid charities and Christian churches explain why illegals should be given preferential treatment i.e., protected, permitted to cross over borders without any paperwork, no passports, no visas, nothing whatsoever on the "alleged" pretext of escaping a war-torn country?” A glance at statistics shows that the large majority of people entering Europe come from countries where they are at risk of such things as bombardment and violence from all the warring sides, or of torture, repression and enslavement by their own government. The main countries of origin for arrivals in the UK in 2018 were Afghanistan (16%), Eritrea (10%), Pakistan or Syria (both 7%) and Guinea or Iraq (both 6%). Flight is not about economic betterment; but fundamentally about life and liberty, and the right to travel and seek asylum has been protected for almost 70 years by an international Convention.
Other complainants ask “Why is UK always the default destination of these dubious migrants?” In fact we are not particularly high up the league table of countries by number of asylum seekers, coming in last year at the 17th position among the EU 28 in terms of applications per head of existing population. Turkey hosts world's the highest number of refugees including 3.4 million from Syria. And the nearby Lebanon hosts 1 million refugees, amounting to about 1 in 6 of the population.
And that last complaint is usually followed by, “They must apply for asylum in the first safe country that that they reach”. There is no such obligation under international law. The obligation is rather upon the government of each country to impartially assess the merits of any claim for asylum that is made upon its territory. (There is a convention among EU member states that aims to prevent people simultaneously having active asylum claims in several countries, though a failure to agree upon how to share the burden means that this has had the effect of imposing impossible administrative burdens upon countries that border the Mediterranean.)
A 2016 survey among over 4000 migrants found that only 6% of migrants along the route from North Africa to Italy intended to reach the UK. Where people can choose, factors such as colonial and historical links, the presence of family members, a general reputation as a safe country, a belief that they will be treated fairly ad be able to find paid employment and language are the more relevant factors. In practice, though, choices are made within a very narrow field of possibilities and decisions are often strongly influenced by people smugglers or other agents.
Another concern is the arrival of unaccompanied minors. Concern is valid because, worldwide, in 2017 45,500 children (around 10% of the migrant population) arrived alone in a country of refuge alone and applied for asylum. Almost 20,000 sought refuge in the EU during 2018, three-quarters of them aged 16 or 17. Some had lost their families during their journeys, but others were indeed sent off on arduous journeys. But this does not indicate parental irresponsibility or naïvety, but rather, abject desperation, which has spread across many layers of society. People in some countries have lost all hope for the future and believe that their children can only have a future if they leave the country.
Although, at the moment, about half of those arriving in the EU are women or minors. a further concern is over the high proportion of unaccompanied men who have arrived. We are told that “someone who can make their way from the Middle East leaving behind their wives and families does not constitute an asylum seeker”. These men are usually sent ahead to establish a new life where they can send money back home until their families can join them. It makes no sense to send a mother or a grandfather to scout a route to a new home but rather the hardiest and least vulnerable, i.e., men in their late teens and up to early middle age.
There seems to be a widespread belief that most of the children who concern us are in fact aged 18 or above. This is not the view of those who have actually met them, given them shelter and lived alongside them. Of course, a proportion will lie about their age in the hope of getting more lenient treatment, but the immigration service has definite rules in place for checking suspicious claims.
When we suggested that “ISIS brides” should be brought back to the UK to face justice here and receive the relevant penalty under UK law, rather than being kept out on the decision of a politician rather than a judge. “As for ISIS brides and any others,” we are told, “leave all of them them to rot where they are: 15 years old is of an age to know right from extreme wrong.” But 15 is also an age where internet grooming of vulnerable youngsters has brainwashed them and dragged them away from their homes and into degrading and abusive situations, and it appears that many the departing brides have been similarly affected by exposure to internet chatrooms.
We have chosen to concern ourselves with an under-reported issue of inhumane treatment taking place just 21 miles from our shore. With people who are in need of food and water, shelter, medical care, clothes and good counsel. We prefer to follow the example of the Good Samaritan in providing these things first, seeing each of the deprived an individual with the same hopes and joys as the rest of us, leaving those in authority to pose questions and reach just decisions – and expecting them to do so with respect for the dignity of all.
We are told by our critics (who have not enquired about what other causes we may support) to concern ourselves instead with those left in war torn countries who are unable to leave through a hundred different reasons, and especially with the persecution of Christians in Pakistan and other countries. “Problems are solved by attacking the root cause not the leavers that can mainly help themselves: promoting tear jerker issues make you and anyone interested in real issues of justice and peace look just like a bunch of idiots.”
There are 28.5 million refugees and asylum seekers worldwide, plus a further 40million who are internally displaced away from conflict zones in their home countries. This amounts to about 1 person in very 110 of the population. Each of them is an individual human being who once led a decent life and held down a job (or was self-sufficient) and, like all of us, had hopes and ambitions for the future. We have the resources to provide material help to those who are nearest to our shores: the global situation is addressed by much larger organisations, whose efforts we support and commend – though we often wish that we could know for certain that the exiles are always thought of as individuals and not as statistics.
And none of this means that we want to “do away with borders and let everyone in”. We are just trying to ensure that people are treated reasonably and not dehumanised.
24 August 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Seeking Sanctuary says 'Treat migrants with dignity and respect'.
Seeking Sanctuary, alongside many other groups, is deeply concerned about the number of people risking their lives to cross the Channel in recent months, and especially during the past few days. The number has risen markedly and is likely to remain high in the current spell of good weather.
Ben Bano co-director of Seeking Sanctuary said:
'The answer to this problem is not just about increased surveillance techniques and stopping people from starting their journeys - it is also about addressing the appalling conditions and harassment which they experience in and around Calais that lead them to feel that their only option is to risk their lives making these desperate attempts.
There is nothing illegal about seeking sanctuary from violence and oppression. If these exiles were treated with a degree of humanity and respect, rather than being endlessly harassed in France they are less likely to resort to traffickers and risk death by using unorthodox means to try to reach the UK.'
9 July 2019
Update for July 2019
A RACE TO THE BOTTOM?
It's not often that we seek to be over political in our updates but the current political discourse in our country is particularly worrying for all who have the interests of asylum seekers and migrants at heart. The race by the current Conservative leadership contenders to do to outdo each other and in turn outdo Nigel Farage does not bode well for an enlightened approach to asylum and migration in the future - quite the opposite. Will asylum seekers and migrants become victims in the ping pong battle of the extremists ?
Meanwhile the political discourse further afield in Italy and other Mediterranean countries is even worse. We watched with horror as a boat-load of migrants in a desperate state were refused entry to Lampedusa for 3 weeks before the captain of the German rescue ship took matters into her own hands. We also learnt of the dire and inhuman conditions of the Libyan holding camps alongside disturbing reports that the guards within the camp camps open fire at migrants seeking to escape. And there are similar disturbing reports of inhuman conditions in holding centres in other countries such as France and Belgium.
We also acknowledge the grim reality of the migration crisis on Mexico's northern border, as emphasised by photographs showing the lifeless bodies of a Salvadoran father and his daughter, drowned when attempting to cross the Rio Grande into Texas, just half a mile from a bridge. They decided to swim when they discovered that it could be weeks before they were even able to start the process of applying asylum in the USA. They are just a dramatic illustration of the fate of Central American migrants who attempt to escape violence, corruption and poverty at home, but the Trump administration has tightened the USA asylum system, creating a growing backlog of cases. People are routinely forced to wait for months to start the asylum process; and those who despair of waiting turn to ever more remote and dangerous routes across the southern frontier.
One of the few world leaders to consistently speak up for displaced people is Pope Francis. He stated on 8 July – the sixth anniversary of his visit to Lampedusa – that, They are persons. These are not mere social or migrant issues! 'This is not just about migrants,' in the twofold sense that migrants are, first of all, human persons. They are the symbol of all those rejected by today’s globalized society.
In and around Calais today?
People are pretty much cleared out of the town centre, and there are no stable settlement like the old jungle. People are scattered and hidden in very precarious camps on the fringe of the town. A “jungle” has become just a few tents hidden in the bushes. These camps are clustered around three main sites along the highway: the two roundabouts by the hospital and by the stadium, and the turn-off close to the old “jungle” (which, coincidentally, was cleared by police as we were writing this Update). After a long legal struggles, the state has eventually set up official amenities at these spots – water points, toilet cubicles and a few showers. These official spots are also the distribution points where the associations come at set times to give out food, clothes and so on.
In Calais itself, the number of displaced people is probably around 500, but fluctuates a lot. There are many hundreds more along the Channel coast, especially near Dunkirk. The nationalities follow the same patterns – people from war zones and dictatorships with a historical connection to British colonialism. People may speak English, or have family connections, or may have grown up with some idea of the UK as a safe haven and a beacon of democracy. There are many Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Kurds, Eritreans, Sudanese, and also a few others now from as far afield as Nigeria, Chad and other African countries.
There are not so many children and women now, and they are often sheltered by charities. There are more families in Dunkirk, where the mayor is more sympathetic and provides a gym where vulnerable people are allowed to stay in the winter. There have been around 300 people living inside, including at least 30 families and some 100 unaccompanied minors. Around another 300 people live in tents nearby, more or less tolerated by the authorities. A lot of these are Kurdish people from both Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. There are also more informal Pakistani and Afghani settlements in the woods outside Dunkirk, which are more badly treated and attacked on a daily basis by the police, as in Calais.
It has always been the case that vast majority of people on the French coast are there because they expect to get fair treatment over here and be able to make a living. A report from Caen suggests that most of the exiles there have been "Dublined" in Italy, and have later applied for asylum in France. Once the authorities discover they have been fingerprinted in Italy they are told to return, or are forcibly taken there. In Italy, some may get "accommodation", while most live on the streets – in both cases with no financial assistance or food. They come to believe that their asylum claims are not being processed. Being brutalised by the police they drift back to France to end up in towns where there are concentrations of their fellows, usually ferry ports. Here, they are again intimidated and brutalised by the French police and the whole process starts again. Consequently, they have a new reason to try to get to the UK: to escape violence in continental Europe, and obtain some kind of "normality".
At the start of June, Amnesty published a new report into police harassment of volunteers helping the displaced people in northern France. This reveals that reveals acts of intimidation, threats of arrest and abuse have become part and parcel of the daily work for many of them. Tom Ciotkowski, a British volunteer used his phone to film French riot police preventing volunteers from distributing food in Calais. He was charged with contempt and assault after he challenged the violent actions of a policeman against another volunteer and faced up to five years in prison. Remarkably, he was found guilty and it took two appeals to get that verdict overturned.
The prosecution of people providing humanitarian aid has given birth to a new oxymoron, “crimes of solidarity”, which has been the subject of much legal wrangling. A 2018 ruling by France’s Constitutional Council acknowledged that the “crime of solidarity” was not in line with the French Constitution and declared that the principle of “fraternité” protects the freedom to help others for humanitarian purposes, regardless of their immigration status. Despite this, the authorities have continued to target activists.
Marking World Refugee Day in Dover ...
Those of us involved in this work must keep ever vigilant as the criminalisation of solidarity is likely to get much worse in our “hostile environment” and touch the lives of all those of our brothers and sisters eking out a precarious existence while their claims are heard or while they are in detention. It was with this in mind that the new Anglo-French initiative 'People not Walls' was launched on the 20th of June. On a lovely summer's day we gathered near the sea in both Dover and Calais to demonstrate our solidarity and launched our initiative.
Here in Dover we had a series of moving events starting at lunchtime with a service near the newly inaugurated migrants' memorial off Marine Parade, followed by a silent witness at the busy entrance to the ferry terminal, concluding in the evening by a beautiful service in the ancient church of St Margaret of Antioch at St-Margaret's-at-Cliffe, the part of the Dover District nearest to France, followed by a walk of witness to the cliff top above the bay, where we unfolded our new banner proclaiming Love Knows No Borders.
The UK event was a collaboration between the Justice and Peace commissions of the Westminster and Southwark dioceses, the London Catholic Worker, Seeking Sanctuary, the Samphire Project and the diocese of Canterbury. It was particularly encouraging to see the ecumenical work and preparation as well as the cooperation between all the various organisations involved to make the event such a success. You can find a video about the day here.
… and in Calais
Several hundred participants gathered to enjoy a picnic with music and dance on the Plage Blériot, with many exiles among them. Our joint declaration was read simultaneously on both coasts, and you can find a copy of it here – please distribute this further in your organisations, churches and networks.
In Calais, thirty people from Sudan, Iran and Ethiopia met with a media trainer from London to learn how to deal with reporters, and marked World Refugee Day by organising their own press conference. They pointed out that they have not left Calais, having fled their homes for the same reasons as in the past: wars, violence, injustices, poverty. The journeys have become more and more dangerous due to mafia action, sometimes slavery, the dramas of desert crossings, shipwrecks in the Mediterranean and life on the streets in Europe. And now there are the added enormous risks of Channel crossings in tiny boats. They arrive expecting to find equality, dignity, justice, liberty and peace; but in fact they find fear, disrespect, an absence of both justice and safety, and death.
The events on the 20th of June have given us a firm basis to go forward together and find ways of addressing the hostile environment which is getting worse in both the UK and France.
In addition to the banner we have also produced t-shirts marked 'Love Knows No Borders. If you are interested in buying any please let us know. They come in M, L and XL sizes and the cost including postage and packing is £8.50.
Meantime, our renewed thanks for your messages of support and for all the work that you do to provide assistance and to spread the word about what is happening. If you want to volunteer with one of the support groups working in Calais, or to collect and deliver donations, you can find a list of the current needs on our website.
- 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)