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The 10,000+ migrants in the Calais camp were dispersed to various parts of France in November 2016. Some remained nearby and there were about 1400 in a camp at Grande Synthe near Dunkirk, destroyed by fire in April 2017. Almost 1000 were then dispersed from there and some 400 remained hidden, including some unaccompanied minors. More have joined them at both towns, including some families, and there are now around 1200 in the area, all in dire need.
The work 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.
We have limited UK storage space. Please check with us about how best to get goods to France.
We are rarely able to collect individual donations of items ourselves, but there are many collection points in the UK and we can help locate your nearest point upon request.
BELOW: Icon at Former Eritrean Church in the Calais 'Jungle'.
Ben and Marie-Claude Bano taking goods to the 'Secours Catholique' warehouse in Calais. Generously provided by people at Ashford, Aylesham and Deal
Thanks to the parishioners at Tunbridge Wells for their generous donations.
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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.'
16 August 2019
'It's not just about migrants'
This is the message of the Pope in his letter to mark the forthcoming World Day for Migrants and Refugees on Sunday the 29th of September. The pressures caused by climate change, by persecution and by wars continue to increase but we shut our minds to these tragedies in the hope that we can be insulated from having to witness, let alone experience these tragedies which engulf us each day.
We are also reminded in this message that it's not just about migrants. It might be tempting to see migrants as the cause of all social and economic problems threatening our comfortable lives in the West, but they are so often only proxy scapegoats for many other marginalised groups. Our campaigns and struggles to obtain a just asylum system for those in need are just are part of a wider struggle for basic human rights and equality for so many who are oppressed in our society.
Various resources are available to use to plan events to mark the Day, or to study this topic. In Dover we hope to be able to organise a vigil in the evening of the 29th of September to raise awareness of the important messages of the Day.
Finding sanctuary - for £2,033 or more
Yes - this is the price the Home Office extracts from applicants for leave to remain in the UK it applies to children as well as adults and has to be renewed every 30 months, with the payment of fresh fees. The burden of these huge payments is enormous particularly for families who have to choose how to find the money and make sacrifices elsewhere when they are already on low incomes. At a time when young people deserve all the chances to go to university or start a job this burden is intolerable and the cost has risen six-fold from a previous amount of 5 years ago to the current figure. Do join campaigns as they arise in what is already a hostile environment - and one which may become more intolerant as Brexit nears. To have to grow up in these adverse circumstances is simply unacceptable.
People caught up in the system liken it to “Snakes and Ladders without the ladders” because a single error in an application renders them undocumented with no entitlement to support and at risk if detention and deportation. As part of the hostile environment that generated the Windrush scandal they are deprived of some of the fundamentals of life: work, hospital treatment, maternity care, rented accommodation, bank account and driving licenses.
Seeking Sanctuary agrees that pathways to settlement should become affordable, fast and fair.
Climate change and Climate Action
Many of us involved in the fight for justice for migrants and asylum seekers may also be involved in the fight for climate action - these issues are very much linked. For example the desperate shortages of water in countries such as El Salvador and in the Sahel region of Africa are driving more and more people from their homes and villages. Shortages of natural resources are often a cause of conflicts and war while people compete to gain greater access and preserve what little they have, displacing more exiles and refugees.
In 2018, 17.2 million people in 144 countries and territories were newly displaced in the context of disasters within their own country. Worldwide, over a period of eleven years (2008-2018), about 265.3 million people were displaced internally as a result of disasters. South and East Asia, and the Pacific were the most affected regions, in particular, the Philippines, China and India. Small island developing states are disproportionately affected by natural hazards, with displacement caused primarily by extreme weather events In 2018, especially storms (9.3 million) and cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons (7.9 million).
As well as natural disasters, slow-onset processes such as droughts or sea level rise also increasingly affect people’s mobility worldwide, though specific numbers are not available. The relocation of communities in the context of environmental and climate change is also yet further implemented by governments.
Report from Calais.
17 July saw the umpteenth eviction of the largest current camp in the morning involving some 200 people. Several vans of CRS riot police and gendarmes arrived at 8.30 am . Most people were already up with their bags packed, including little children and. their mothers: this is their daily life. The police arrested a few people, some came back later in the day, some were gone for longer. A few tents were taken away, whilst people were mostly just told to leave the wood and go on to the road with all their tents and gear, which many had already done, pre-emptively. This happens every other morning, and everything is so well rehearsed that the entire operation took just over one hour. Afterwards, everybody returned with their tents to where they had been and went for breakfast. Pointless? The main results are that people are hassled and treated like cattle, while the Prefect can state that there are no fixed camps in Calais.
On the previous day, around 7.30 am, a migrant was recovered off Calais, trying to swim to England wearing flippers and towing a buoy! Ben reports that earlier this week he met a BBC reporter on Dover beach to be told that two people had successfully crossed the channel in a kayak. You may wonder how so many people managed to
- 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)