19 August 2016 Stocks, Orthodox Church, Food, Books, Needs and Burials: A Calais Visit by Phil.
I went to Calais on 17 August, a fine and sunny day with no delays on the roads, taking my neighbour, Barbara, on her first visit to the warehouses and “Jungle”.
We first went to the 'Auberge des Migrants' / 'Help Refugees' warehouse and later to the Care4Calais establishment. For the moment, both of them have good numbers of volunteers - but substitutes will be needed once the holiday season ends. They have decent stocks of some items, but others are in perilously short supply. Often 100 people can arrive in one day, generally with worn out shoes and clothes and no tents or bedding
Just now, shoes (either for indoor "shower" wear or as outdoor footwear), sturdy tents, torches and lanterns, towels, roll mats, warm blankets, other bedding and deodorant are in very short supply as, of course, is food. They have made more alterations to their systems since I last visited, aiming to operate more smoothly with a one-way flow of goods. Rather than distribute goods which may turn out to be unwanted, much effort goes into getting orders from residents for delivery or collection on the following day. New garments or shoes are greatly appreciated, as is the ability of people to exercise some small element of choice in deciding what to wear. Nothing is wasted, with inappropriate donations being diverted to central Europe when there is space in passing lorries, or sent as return loads to the UK for a charity to sort for sale in shops or recycle. (Also, some goods are retained for sale to visitors at the Auberge warehouse.)
With a permit, we drove into the camp to deliver to Jungle Books. For some reason the police would neither let us enter via the main entrance nor park there, and insisted we went via Chemin des Dunes, where our passports and permit were carefully scrutinised. Later the police approach had changed and UK cars were moving freely in that area! Our first stop was at the Orthodox church to drop off a piece of red carpet. It was very busy with the feast of the Assumption coming up in their calendar, preceded by a week of fasting and prayer. The chanting went on for many hours with different people coming and going.
At one point we went to get a canned drink from one of the informal shops near the camp entrance. The once-thriving walkway presented a dismal face with outlets saved from demolition but still prohibited from cooking meals. With the town centre about 7km away, they had not only made an essential contribution to nutrition, but had also been an important place for socialising calmly in the midst of an overcrowded and fraught atmosphere.
The state supplies about 3500 meals a day, usually not very attractive and served to long lines of people who may wait for up to four hours. This equates to one daily meal for just under 40% the current population of over 9000. When there are sufficient resources, four community kitchens provide almost 5000 more much appreciated free meals each day, supported by donations of “catering quantities” of ingredients and money. In addition to this, some people have cooking utensils and are provided with small packs to prepare hot or cold meals for themselves.
With the opportunity to buy meals in the camp eliminated, hundreds now go hungry and the population is increasing by 70 or more every day. The community kitchens face great challenges and you can read more about each of them and how to support them here: www.calaidipedia.co.uk/calais-kitchens
At Jungle Books, adjoining the church, we dropped off a set of Children's Encyclopedia Britannica, two boxes of dictionaries and vocabulary exercises, a few primary level English workbooks and a box of school library books, plus a folding table. Later we were delighted to find a small educational stock in one warehouse, who accepted our offerings at GCSE level. As a volunteer at a local Oxfam shop, Barbara was particularly interested to find out about the many unsaleable items – like odd saucepans and pans – that could be sent to Calais to be used rather than going off to be recycled. The message to charity shops is the same as to others: “Send unsaleable things that are on the 'wanted' lists and also get in touch to enquire if there may be uses for similar but unlisted items.” (And better still, send unused items!) In all cases, please do make sure that items are clean and sorted, and label the packages: this saves considerable time an effort when the donations reach Calais.
As we left the “Jungle” we took a drive down Chemin des Dunes to see the uninviting dormitories inside their fenced compound. Also, the entrance to the Jules Ferry Centre for women and children at the extreme end of the camp, where the state-supplied meals are distributed. Failing to make contact with a couple of busy people we had just time left for a brief visit to the cemetery at Vieux Coquelles, pausing at the paupers graves in sight of the Eurotunnel tracks, holding the bodies of young people killed when trying to board those trains.
16 August 2016 Sowing One Million Poppies In A Refugee Camp
Caroline Gregory, a long time volunteer in Calais, ponders the parallels between the wastelands created a century ago and the land created near Calais today, churned up by rubber bullets, tear gas and earth movers, and still occupied by 9,000 people fleeing terrible regimes and living in abject squalor. Poppies have arrived in both places – a flower of remembrance and they should direct our current and future actions. One hundred years on from the Battle of the Somme, we are still condemning people to live in fear and despair. Do please read the complete essay at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/caroline-gregory/calais-jungle-remembrance-poppies-refugee_b_11537212.html
10 August 2016 MP Asks for Action
Stella Creasy (Labour) MP for Walthamstow visited Calais and, seeing the current situation - especially the lack of progress on processing claims for family reunification - was inspired to record a video during her journey back the UK. She points out that the situation results from political decisions and pressures and suggests that Mrs May should be asked to restore a Ministerial post with clear responsibility for trying to find solutions and become the person to contact about refugee issues.
It's now a year since Seeking Sanctuary became active in organising much-needed aid for Calais. In that time we have had the privilege of responding to numerous offers of help as well as helping to channel significant sums of money raised by well wishers such as yourselves to the places where it is most needed. When we look back over the last year, there is much to be thankful for in spite of the dismal conditions of the “jungle”. The plight of so many migrants inspired hundreds of volunteers and newly created voluntary organisations which proved essential, given the lack of will of both the British and the French governments to tackle the problems on a more strategic scale. And the reactions from so many organisations, including Faith Communities and schools and numerous other organisations, have been nothing short of inspiring. And a special word of thanks to the Religious Communities who continue to support us with their prayers, good wishes, and material support. We estimate that during the year we have raised over £30,000 to pass on to those who deliver to the needy in Calais and Dunkirk, as well as assisting in the start-up of other groups who have raised yet more cash, as well as collecting and delivering significant quantities of clothes, toiletries, food and other essentials.
The latest census shows that the issue of migration to Calais is not going away – if anything it is getting worse, with an estimated 7000 people now living in often squalid conditions in about half of the original “jungle” area. The attitude of the French authorities continues to be ambivalent and highly confrontational and there are rumours that the authorities intend to demolish the rest of the jungle during September. The informal restaurants and shops on which the camp economy has depended have been closed down or severely restricted with the authorities confiscating much of the stock. And yet life goes on – new services meet the needs of children and of women have sprung up and others specialise in all sorts of fields: medical and social care, entertainment, education, drainage, waste management, to name but a few. The number of unaccompanied children has reached record levels and now stands at 608.
We continue to advocate for these children to have their claims expedited to be reunited with relatives in the UK - as well as the inhumanity of leaving children as young as eight on their own there is a real risk of trafficking through abduction. And in spite of the efforts of a committed group of social workers who go to Calais weekly to help to prepare some of the required documentation, recent legal judgements are making the process ever more difficult and protracted.Today, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has issued a report on the Migration Crisis. It comments that 'It is clear that many people in these camps [in Europe] are entitled to humanitarian protection or refugee status, and that their claims should be processed in the UK. Much more could and should be done through family reunion and accepting unaccompanied children, including increased use of safe and legal migration routes. ... ... the 157 unaccompanied children now in Calais who have family members in the UK "should already have arrived" in the UK. The Government should as a one-off accept all of these children into the UK now.'
Our appeal this month is the same – in whatever situation you find yourself, please do everything possible to ensure that the plight of migrants on our doorstep and beyond is not forgotten. Lobbying your MP and local Councillors or organising a social gathering to raise funds are all ways in which we can ensure that in this currently xenophobic climate, the needs of so many destitute people on our doorstep are not forgotten.
On the domestic front, on appeal, the UK Court of Appeal yesterday considerably tightened up on the conditions under which vulnerable people in Calais and other places can make a direct application to the UK to join familiy members already resident. Instead, they must work through the often prolonged "Dublin III" process in the country in which they are temporarily resident. On the other hand, our government has finally come up with a methodology for approving groups to run community sponsorship schemes, so providing an additional a way to get involved in supporting the resettlement of vulnerable people who flee conflict.
14 July 2016 Excerpts from Reflections on Conversations in the Calais “Jungle” by Fr Dominic Howarth
The full illustrated account can be found here.
One of the two Care4Calais warehouses is completely empty. The other is barely two thirds full. In the ten months since starting to visit, we have never seen it like this. It is a far, far cry from the time last September when donations were coming in faster than warehouses could be found. The aid now is only the raw essentials and there is nowhere near enough to meet the needs.
Every bit of charity here is piecemeal: small and dedicated groups doing what they can. Where, in all these months, have the aid agencies been? Where are they now? Only Médecins sans Frontières is present here, focussed on medical aid. In such circumstances, as the donations to these little groups dry up, food is for the first time becoming a significant problem. We met a lady from the Calais Kitchen who provide 2000 meals a day. Efficient and brilliant use of money, and absolutely vital aid. Until last Thursday when the money literally ran out. The 2,000 people due to get meals that day did not get them.
I had an interpreter, a wonderful Afghani. His story? He had served as the head of aviation security at Kabul airport – he had been so well regarded that he had welcomed teams from Heathrow and Gatwick to see his work in Kabul. He earned $1400/month – an excellent salary. He had assisted the British when the army was there. All this he told me in a gentle tone – there was no boasting or hubris, simply a professional, with professional pride, telling me his story. Throughout the afternoon I looked into the eyes of people perhaps ten or twenty years younger than me who had already lived for more lifetimes than I will ever know; often, tears welled up , and they shared their stories while looking at me through glistening eyes.
Yet these are not men seeking pity, or handouts. I met only decency, and dignity – such extraordinary dignity. These are gifted, courageous men who just want a chance to live in peace.
9 March 2016
'Eight miles: the distance between abject squalor and fresh dignity' Reflections on Calais/Dunkirk by a group from Baslidon, March 9 2016
On Wednesday at 5.45am the minibus was as full as it could possibly be - crammed into every space, and stacked to the ceiling, were about 250 blankets and 120 sleeping bags.
It is very heartening to be able to say that by 7pm on Wednesday evening, as we were leaving the new Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) camp at Dunkirk, 370 people were being kept warm overnight - and no doubt for many weeks to come - by those same sleeping bags and blankets.
They have been paid for by donations from parishioners, churches across Basildon, and parishes and individuals across the Diocese of Brentwood and beyond. Additionally many sleeping bags and blankets had been donated; some parishioners had even purchased brand new ones, still in their packaging. To you all, thank you.
Every visit to France has been different, and this one was no exception. Within twelve hours we saw the best signs of hope that we have seen in the last six months - as well as some of the most shocking and vile conditions that we have experienced.
After a choppy ride on ferocious seas, we landed at Calais a little washed out, and made our way to the Care4Calais warehouse. We had twelve boxes of Italian army socks, donated by East-West trading, the army surplus store in Laindon that had given us the very thick and comfy army officers blankets for a fraction of their true price, putting our donated money to the best possible use. We dropped off the socks, and loaded in tarpaulins and flashlights, and then we were immediately directed up to Dunkirk.
After seven months where we have seen mud, bits of tarpaulin and bin bags, limited sanitation, and heroic volunteers trying to hold things together in often grim conditions in Calais, driving into the new MSF camp at Grande-Synthe, Dunkirk was - quite literally - almost unbelievable. This camp has been open for just three days. It is the first refugee camp in France to be built to international standards, and it really shows. There is dignity here, space, proper sanitation, decent kitchens. There is a sensible range of distribution points, to avoid random distributions out of the backs of trucks. It is on private property, so the police are at the entrance but not inside, and instead a well briefed range of volunteers ensure welcome, kindness and peace. There are even children riding bikes, and one boy on roller skates - children and adults actually smiling. There are sockets to charge mobile phones, to keep vital connection to families at home.
All of that said, is it still basic? Yes - the accommodation is wooden shelters, built to house 6-8 people. There is no electricity to the shelters - yet. There are 1200 people here, and although there are decent numbers of toilets and showers, they will undoubtedly be heavily used. This is not five star living. But it is dignified. For the first time in these long months people can sleep somewhere dry, and can be secure. There is medical help being run from a permanent building, not a tent or tiny caravan. And all of this offers hope, at least for the short term. It is an amazing achievement, and MSF and all who have got this together deserve recognition and praise. The psychology of being welcomed into such a place will, I hope, offer a restored sense of peace and dignity for all who are housed here.
Who are the 1200 living here? Kurds, from Iraq and Iran. Some of the most persecuted people in the world, who have fled from one of the most violent places in the world.
We put the blankets into a container, and began to help distribute them, to new arrivals. We watched as people carried the blankets we had brought to the little wooden shelters, and it was direct aid in action, faith in action. Tim Blake, from Living Word Community Church, spoke about how an older member of his congregation had phoned and offered two blankets. He had been round to pick them up in Basildon last night - and now put them into the arms of someone very evidently in need of them. Compassion from Basildon, linked to Iran and Iraq, via Dunkirk. This is what it means to be brothers and sisters.
And then, abruptly, the experience of our day was very sharply refocused. The minibus, empty now, could be used to move people from the old camp, where about fifty still remained. So we drove over - and the contrast of what we had come from and what we arrived into will stay with me for a very long time. Even Calais at its worst was not as bad as this. In a relatively small area, hundreds of the most basic shelters were jammed together. Literally made from what people could scavenge - bin bags, carrier bags, some bit of tarpaulin, sticks of wood taken from trees. And all of it in a sea of mud - deep, boot-soaking, thick and relentless mud. I cannot imagine living in such a place for more than ten minutes. Some had lived there for seven months.
The desperate need for our blankets at the MSF camp became clear as volunteers explained to us that people had had to leave a lot of things behind - bedding, especially, and clothing. Why? Because this camp - the "Dunkirk jungle" - was riddled with rats and scabies.
We made several journeys during the afternoon, on one occasion driving through thick smoke as a tent had been set on fire - it was unclear why, or by whom, and we were warned that gas canisters could have been put into the flames, so they would randomly explode (which they did!). It was crazy behaviour, in the febrile situation of near disbelief that this hideous place was finally no longer going to be "home" to 1200 people.
If our insurers are reading this, look away now. Because if driving the minibus through the billowing smoke might have invalidated the insurance, carrying refugees in the minibus was - apparently - a criminal offence. We were told that on Monday the Mayor of Grande-Synthe was briefly arrested for "people trafficking" because he had laid on transport to move the migrants from the squalid and filthy mess of the "Dunkirk Jungle" to the MSF camp, and driven one of the buses himself. I cannot verify that, but it does fit with the news reports that the MSF camp does not have the permission of the French Government and could be closed down. There are no words adequate for that - just look at the pictures of the two camps and try to comprehend such a decision. It is beyond me, and I pray it does not happen. The journey between the camps is about 8 miles, which is not too far, but it is dangerous as much of it involves walking along roads comparable to the A13 and M25. Just picture that: walking 8 miles along the hard shoulder of the M25, crossing at least one major junction, and making the walk in shoes and clothes full of mud, carrying what you could bring. Thank God for the humanity of a mayor who put on transport.
And for all that, the day ended well. A group of seven refugees could not bring themselves to leave the place that - notwithstanding rats, scabies, mud and rain - they had come to call "home." When you have faced one uncertainty after another, I suppose this is not a surprise. As the afternoon went on, we ferried people and supplies until just these seven remained. I am still not sure what finally convinced them - the fires that were burning, the fact everyone else had gone, the police at the gate, or the minibus offering them and their bits of kit a lift over to the new camp. But suddenly something changed, and they swiftly packed up and, smiling, climbed onto the minibus. It was clearly a very poignant moment for them and the volunteers, the end of something that they had not quite believed could ever end and, God willing, a new beginning.
What happens next? Clearly the MSF camp is a solution only for a few weeks or months. These are bright, articulate, skilled people - there was already a little solar panel on the side of one hut, rigged by an enterprising refugee, generating a bit of power inside. We will be in touch with MSF to see the needs - perhaps books, as a school might begin. Certainly medicines. Always blankets and food. We will see - and we will continue to use donations wisely.
And of course, there is Calais. We drove back along the motorway as darkness was beginning to fall; the great scar of earth where the bulldozers have done their work is evident. The roads to the camp were blocked. There were some fires burning.
The particular tragedy of what has been done to the camp at Calais is the near certainty that camps like the "Dunkirk Jungle" - pitiful, inadequate, wretched makeshift camps - will burgeon because such a swathe of the Calais camp has been eliminated. Like the "Dunkirk Jungle" these little camps will have almost no sanitation, and nothing but piecemeal support from heroic charities like Care4Calais. On each visit I notice how increasingly weary the volunteers are. They are keeping going by sheer willpower and determination that where Governments across Europe are failing so badly, decent hearted people will not give up on fellow human beings. We will do all we can to support them from Basildon - for us, as people of Christian faith, the refugees and the volunteers are our sisters and brothers, created in the image and likeness of God. We need no other motivation.
As we drove home, the extremes of the day had taken their toll on all of us. And yet the existence of the MSF camp, and the decency and dignity of the entire vision that had gone into it, gives such hope. Please pray for every volunteer and every refugee sleeping somewhere in Europe tonight.
Fr Dominic Howarth
(Photos can be viewed at http://basildoncatholics.org/gallery/calais-refugee-crisis/ )
The aid being delivered from Basildon is inspired by the work of Seeking Sanctuary, and in Calais we are working with Secours Catholique, Auberge des Migrants and Care4Calais.
Wherever aid will best and most effectively be used, we deliver a package about once a month, and we adjust it based on what those in Calais all the time are telling us is most useful. In September, we took mainly shoes and clothes. In October, we took toothpaste, soap, toothbrushes, pants and socks, packaged into "1000 packets of hope and love", with messages from our schoolchildren. In November we took blankets, duvets, some cough medicine, and 1000 hats and gloves. In December we delivered £7500 worth of basic medicines - cough mixture, nit combs, and medicines for scabies, along with 1000 tubes of toothpaste and 1000 bars of soap. [But future donors please do note that Calais and Dunkirk are over-supplied with toothpaste and that liquid soap is far more useful in the camps.] In early 2016 we had intended to deliver insulation, but the rough weather and the bulldozing of part of the camp meant we were alerted to a very urgent need for sleeping bags and blankets, which we brought in early February 2016. We also brought £2,500 worth of medicines. A £1000 donation was specifically given to us for shelter, and we will pass this to "Jungle Canopy" for caravans, as this now seems the best way to ensure shelter for the most vulnerable. In March 2016 we delivered 120 sleeping bags and 250 blankets to the new MSF camp in Dunkirk. The appeal for sleeping bags and blankets continues, and we will travel again in April. Please only donate sleeping bags and blankets; generally, we have found that as donated items come in a wide variety of sizes and styles, they can be hard to sort and distribute. We aim for multiple units of items, and have found wholesalers that will support us in the quality, price and uniformity of what they offer.
7 March 2016
PRESS RELEASE: Seeking Sanctuary says 'Bring the children to sanctuary and safety'
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
We support the recent comments of the Bishop of Dover condemning the use of tear gas near children present in the Calais "Jungle" camp (1). We are very concerned for the welfare of unaccompanied minors in Calais, some of who are as young as ten, and we fear that they are potential or actual victims of abuse and exploitation. Most of them will have witnessed traumatic events which forced them to flee their homes.
We believe that it is wrong to prolong their physical and emotional suffering. Following a recent court judgement, the French and British governments should take urgent action to identify those children who are eligible to join loved ones already in the UK and fast track them through the bureaucratic maze that hinders their reunion. We call for immediate action to ensure that this happens. Just 80 years ago the UK rescued young children from the dangers of the Nazi regime - it's time to show the same concern again.
URGENT MESSAGE FROM CALAIS WAREHOUSES: PLEASE DO NOT STOP BRINGING AID!!
There is a crisis of aid supplies in Calais right now: because of the demolition of the "Jungle" people assume Calais is "over" and they've stopped bringing donations, BUT there are thousands of people still there and needing help! More information can be found here.
1 March 2016
Update. It is deeply saddening that we have to report on the tragic events in Calais as they have unfolded in recent in days and try to forecast what comes next.
A judge in Lille ruled late in the afternoon of Thursday 25 February that the authorities, having promised to move slowly and with consultation, could go ahead with their proposed removal of people and buildings in the southern part of the ”jungle” camp, with the exception of places that served the community, such as the library, the church and a school.
An appeal was lodged against this within 24 hours. Notwithstanding this, the authorities moved in early on Monday morning to begin evictions and demolition in the area, meeting with resistance that became increasingly violent as the day went on. Using the excuse that residents were being provoked by militant groups, and with at least a hundred riot police present, they went back on promises to undertake the process peacefully and used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.
Volunteers and voluntary groups were kept well away from the scene. People who have already been traumatised through fleeing their homes, often afflicted by violence from their domestic police and armed forces, have had to relive their experiences through the sudden, violent and indefensible way that these evictions were carried out.
What of the future ? Many of those in the “jungle” are understandably reticent to enter the converted containers, even though they offer warmth and shelter - after all would any of us want to live with 11 others in a space of 14 square metres with room only to either stand up or lie down, and without facilities to cook or other amenities ? The authorities are providing buses to take those displaced to places such as Montpellier in the South - we suspect that many of those involved, having reached Calais, will 'melt away' and form 'mini-jungles' in even worse conditions. There are disturbing accounts that the Belgian authorities are being quite ruthless wherever they see evidence of migrants arriving near their coast.
And what of reactions in the UK ? On the local news in the South East last night there were favourable reactions from the MP for Dover as well as from the Freight Transport Association. Ben as a local politician in Dover is trying hard to shift the narrative and prejudice but it is an uphill struggle.
We at 'Seeking Sanctuary', like the other humanitarian organisations involved, call on all those in power to respect the dignity and human rights of all those involved and not to get caught up in the spiral of intolerance and prejudice which is the current rhetoric. Many of our supporters are from Faith Communities and we ask that you put as much pressure as possible on politicians not to ignore the problem and to withdraw their support for the manner in which this action is being taken in France. The future of unaccompanied minors is a particular concern.
We will keep you in touch with developments. Remember that the demolition of the "jungle" does not mean that help is no longer needed - just that it may be needed in different places - our pledge is to work with and support those vulnerable people who are our brothers and sisters in humanity, wherever they may be.
27 February: Parishioners from Aylesham in Kent report on a recent visit to the Calais "jungle" with Fr Petros, a Vincentian priest from Ethiopia, who is based in Dover and ministering to Eritrean and Ethiopean exiles in Calais
On the boat, we bolstered ourselves for what might greet us: an Ethiopian priest, an English teacher, SEN tutor and retired university lecturer; with a car-boot filled with donations we were mindful of the greater gifts of human contact and care we hoped to proffer.
Off the ferry, take the first left on the main road. Straightforward enough until, within a few hundred metres, we were stopped at the first check- point.
Gruffly greeted by the CRS, accessorised with guns and grimaces : “Papiers s’il vous plait.” Leo Ferre’s song came to mind: “Poetes, vos papiers”; but, no poetry here.
One of us chats to the officers tapping into their local accents and tastes in French cheeses whilst our papers are scrutinised. All clear, we drive on to a second check-point. Our naivety and good intentions win the officers over and they direct us to a better route; they can tell we are novices.
A 3rd check-point then we are in the Jungle – maze within a maze. Following the cross on the skyline we find the Church of St Michael, a good starting point. Salomon and his crew, caretakers of the Church, greet and guide us to safe parking.
The camp appears vast. Raining, windy and very cold, but everywhere there is evidence of human endurance, determination and community. We reach Salam Village. Secure housing for women and children. Very secure. High fences, gated and locked. We are not allowed in.
Two young women emerge and are locked out. We invite them to pick from our donations. En route one woman explains she had to leave her young son in a camp in Sudan as the journey became too hard. Back at the car, our new-found friends, help distribute hats, socks, gloves, boots and female hygiene products to the small group gathered around.
Freezing cold and very damp, we take refuge in St Michael’s from the relentless rain. On exiting the church we are offered sweet ginger tea in glass yogurt pots, porcelain milk jugs - pure nectar.
A couple of young women leave the church. We offer them whatever is left in the car. Picking a few things they reciprocate by inviting us to visit their home.
Pulling aside a curtain separating two sheds, reveals another layer of makeshift homes. One of the women stops at the doorstep of her tent to washup tea things. The front door is made up of a duvet, zip facing, all trimmed to size for a practical fit.
“Come in! You are welcome; this is our home” they greet us.
The second young woman rushes to clean the floor before we step in. A young man wrapped in a blanket, sitting on a makeshift couch , is writing in a damp exercise book. This is a family we learn; one of the sisters a nurse, the other a pharmacist and the brother a trainee Orthodox priest.
Sipping our sweet ginger tea the warmth of their welcome is palpable. But in a pained voice one asks “Why don’t you want us in your country?” What to say – to people who left their homeland a year ago and have spent the past 6 months in the Jungle? We chat and share our own thoughts. Eventually it is time to leave. The floor is cleaned again for our departure and we are helped into our boots with the greatest care.
As the car meanders slowly out of the camp we reflect that a significant part of the camp is shortly to be bulldozed in an attempt to force refugees into the high-wired, secure compound. And our new-found friends what will become of them?
23 February: Premier Christian Radio (Alex Williams) Ben Bano: Judge's visit to Calais "a ray of hope" ahead of clearance decision
It is hoped a judge's visit to "the Jungle" camp in Calais offers "a ray of hope" that plans to clear part of the site will be blocked.
The judge from Lille went to the settlement this morning before deciding on Thursday whether French authorities can move demolish the southern section.
The judge was due to reach a decision today, however, it was announced today this decision is being postponed until Thursday [25 February].
Charities say that portion of "The Jungle" currently houses more than 3,000 people.
Seeking Sanctuary, a Christian group helping migrants in Calais, says it's shocked by the proposals and is warning children and families could be left with "nowhere to go".
It's understood 750 shipping container-homes will be made available to those affected by the planned clearance but Seeking Sanctuary is warning these are more crowded than some prisons and don't have cooking facilities.
The organisation has described the judge's visit as a last hope against migrants being evicted from the southern section of "The Jungle" but told Premier it "wasn't holding its breath".
Speaking on Premier's News Hour programme before news the judge's decision was being delayed until Thursday, Ben Bano said: "We know that you can gradually transform part of "The Jungle" through proper shelters and proper buildings into something that's a little bit more decent because that's actually happening in Dunkirk a few miles north. What we don't agree with is the summary clearance.
"We understand that there are up to a couple of hundred children [there]. We really are pressing for the children who wish to go to the UK - who have got family connections - for their cases to be considered but we don't think that is going to happen overnight so we are very concerned for the country as well."
"Part of the prayer [Christians can be saying for "The Jungle"] is that people will be able to live slightly better lives [and] ...find a better existence from the awful conditions that they would have fled from."
16 February: PRESS RELEASE: Seeking Sanctuary says “No” to enforced expulsions in Calais.
In an inhumane and clumsy measure, taking place in the bleakest of winter weather, French authorities are about to clear a large area of the Calais “Jungle” camp. This adds to the January clearance that culminated in the destruction of a church and a mosque. On that occasion most dwellings were moved into vacant spaces, but that solution cannot be applied now because the area to be evicted is too big, and the remaining vacant area is too small to accept more residents.
On the morning of Friday 12 February the prefecture announced clearance of the ‘southern zone’ which accounts for some 70% of the habitable part of the camp. People affected have a week to leave. The clearance includes the Eritrean church, three mosques, the new youth centre, a school, the women’s centre, many shops and restaurants, community kitchens that serve 2000 hot meals daily, aid distribution points, the legal centre, the dome theatre, the library, a vaccination centre and many homes. Officials estimate that about 1000 people are affected, but aid workers estimate a figure of around 2000 is more realistic.
This is another blow to the fragile people who have abandoned their homes to flee war and persecution. We can expect panic as the time for clearance approaches and temperatures remain below freezing. The loss of vital community facilities is especially damaging. Exiles have fled from bad experiences with police and government staff and mistrust attempts by French officials to explain plans, rarely completely understanding what is going on, and preferring rumours. In addition, experiences in France do not incline them towards applying for asylum there.
This is another step towards the stated intention of getting the population down to 2000, expecting that 400 of these can be accommodated in the Centre for women and children and 1500 in the dormitory compound made up of converted cargo containers. The total vacancies here are about 800 and the institutional surroundings do not encourage the accustomed freedom and community spirit familiar in more informal surroundings. Many are likely to brave the cold and establish smaller camps at various locations along the coast, becoming more at risk from traffickers and the violence from right-wing extremists that has become increasingly evident in recent weeks.
It is probable that legal challenges will be made and somewhat slow down the evictions, but speedy action by riot police often short-circuits tortuous legal proceedings. In the absence of significant moves by Monday 22 February, those remaining in the affected zone will be offered police protection to encourage them to move away from approaching bulldozers. While the reactions of people who have come halfway across the world seeking a decent life are difficult to predict, the authorities remain firm in their resolve to follow up this clearance with more throughout March.
We agree that providing decent shelter for people is a worthy aim, but a slower and more collaborative approach to change is needed. We say that people must be allowed to prepare for their moves and express their own opinions about the options that are available, rather than being herded into the state's choices under threat of penalties.
Ben & Phil.
7 February: Comment Phil Kerton in BBC Radio Kent discussion on Destruction of Calais Church and Mosque.
It's time for our February update and here at 'Seeking Sanctuary' there is never a dull moment! First of all our thanks to all of you (and your friends) who contributed so generously to our emergency appeal. The £5000 requested was raised within ten days. The group from Tunbridge Wells was able to purchase much needed supplies, including 450 'dignity bags' for women. They took a large quantity of goods on their mission of 27 January, including items costing over £4000, such as 25 large ground sheets, 100 large tarps, 50 thick woollen blankets and cash for gas cylinder refills. This means that 25 more shelters can be made watertight and 100 people can move out of tents into these, each with two months supply of gas. Further new goods included 40 winter-weight sleeping bags, and previously-owned items included a generous gift of 150 pairs of trainers from the Salvation Army. Good footwear is essential in the mud and slime of the Calais camp, with Trench Foot becoming a genuine threat to health 100 years after its spread through the trenches of World War I. Alice, who coordinates the group, reports on their visit.
'This trip was by far the biggest one that we have done, and as with every best laid plan, in a situation that changes as rapidly as it does in Calais, we found ourselves having to adapt our plans a lot as the day went on! ...It took days and days to sort and organise all the donations for this trip, but we had a fantastic horse trailer to transport all the amazing donations, and a not-so-fantastic Land Rover to pull it. The Rover's engine kept overheating on the day causing lots of stops on the hard shoulder of motorways and several missed trains!...
We managed to successfully drop all the food (£700 worth) off at the Auberge warehouse and had some really informative chats with both Steve and Barry who oversee the Calais kitchens. We then drove on to the Care4Calais warehouse where we took all the sleeping bags, blankets and tarpaulin ready to be distributed that afternoon. When they saw that everything was brand new and that the sleeping bags and blankets were of such high quality, Clare Moseley (founder of the charity) took us aside and asked it we would mind them putting aside all the sleeping bags, blankets and tarpaulin to take to Dunkirk?...
We then went to the camp and spent a couple of hours distributing 450 dignity packs and 50 children’s activity packs. There were mixed reports from the refugees about the new modified container shelters and whether people were choosing to stay in them or not. I had assumed that we would see very few women and children in the camp as they would now be housed in the containers, but this was not the case.
The general feeling in the camp was more hopeless and resigned then it has been in previous months. Instead of the usual “We’ll see you in England in a couple of days”, and “We will be out again tonight, I think tonight may be the night we make it” - most people we spoke to said that it was now too difficult and dangerous to try to get over the border, that this camp was now going to have to be their home. Consequently there is now a more permanent feel to the camp (we had noticed this emerging a little last month, but it is now much more evident) - people are putting more effort in to organising their own shelters - dividing them into living, eating and sleeping quarters - a bit more pride in the appearance of homes, etc. This makes it all the more distressing to think of more shelters being bulldozed or more people being moved on when they have now resigned themselves to making the “Jungle" their home.'
[Pictures show scenes from Calais, as well as goods being sorted and packed in Tunbridge Wells.]
Other visitors have echoed this sentiment. We were particularly disturbed to learn that an Evangelical Church and a mosque had been destroyed by the authorities yesterday. This follows on top of the recent clearances to a provide a 'perimeter' zone to separate the dwellings from the motorway and neighbouring houses - but all of this simply adds to the insecurity of those in the "Jungle". The only positive development is that a few miles further north at Grand Synthe, near Dunkirk, heated tents to house 2500 people are being provided by Médecins sans Frontières - it is worth noting that the attitudes of local authorities towards migrants differ in Calais and Dunkirk.
The total received from our appeal has passed the £5000 target but we continue to receive offers of donations and there are still great needs for aid. You may well want to continue to support the Tunbridge Wells group for further trips, the next being due in a few weeks' time. Alternatively you could support the efforts of Fr Dominic and supporters in Basildon who are also planning a trip with essential supplies in February. We are happy to supply details of how to send cheques to Basildon.
We await the coming months with some uncertainty - the authorities seem determined to reduce the numbers in Calais – perhaps even closing most of the camp by Spring, adding to the uncertainty of all those who have no alternative but to live there. Official action is usually unexpected and often brutal in its execution. We issued a Media Release yesterday, protesting against the sudden destruction of places of worship (see below): this has been followed up by several outlets.
A renewed 'thank you' for all your messages of support and good will.
Phil and Ben.
1 February: MEDIA RELEASE Seeking Sanctuary denounces the destruction of places of worship in the Calais "Jungle".
We were appalled to learn of the destruction today of a mosque as well as an evangelical Church in the jungle at Calais. In spite of assurances given earlier not to disturb places of worship, the Prefect ordered in bulldozers which destroyed the flimsy buildings within minutes. We await with interest the outcome of legal proceedings to challenge the decision of the Prefect.
Spokesperson Ben Bano said: 'The destruction of these places of worship is at odds with the fundamental human right to worship freely according to the beliefs and principles of all those in the "Jungle". And at a time when many are feeling despair and hopelessness, to deprive them of the ability to gather to pray together is simply not acceptable. We support all the efforts of our partner agencies to challenge this wanton act of destruction.
23 January 2016
PRESS RELEASE: Seeking Sanctuary says 'Let the children in...'
Following the recent court case in Boulogne when a British citizen was acquitted after an attempt to smuggle a 4 year old girl through border controls, Seeking Sanctuary is urging a humanitarian response to the problem of young children being left to fend for themselves in the 'jungles' in and near Calais. We support the campaign and ask all the Faith Communities and other organisations with which we are in touch to lobby to allow into Britain up to three thousand vulnerable minors currently in Europe who have already experienced the trauma of war and genocide, in many cases leaving them without their parents.
We ask that particular attention be paid to the unaccompanied children and young people currently living in the hideous conditions of the French 'jungles' who have close relatives in Britain prepared to take responsibility for them. So far there has been no direct and obvious administrative process within the current asylum and immigration system to allow them into Britain.
We are heartened by the recent decision of the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal allowing young people who have started asylum applications in France to come directly to the UK and ask to be reunited with relatives. We ask that the UKBA now acts to identify children and young people in this situation and, in conjunction with the French authorities, establish their needs. Just as we provided refuge for Jewish children fleeing the Nazi regime 80 years ago, let us follow in that tradition and provide a future here for the children and young people whose lives have been traumatised at such an early age.
ENDS 19 January: Refugees in northern France - recent developments
A link to an article by Phil Kerton setting out some of the facts behind reports in recent weeks - find out for yourself how much is totally false and how much is partly true!
19 January 2016
Christian charity: clearing at Calais camp is preposterous By Alex Williams - reporting for Premier Christian Radio
Plans to clear swathes of a camp of migrants near Calais today are being branded "preposterous" by a Christian charity.
Seeking Sanctuary says trying to relocate migrants from areas of the camp nicknamed 'The Jungle' during the freezing winter weather is bad timing and there are not enough shipping containers to accommodate those being evicted.
The organisation says sending French riot police in to move on more than 1,000 people and remove things like tents could stoke already tense relations between migrants and the French authorities.
Speaking earlier on Premier's News Hour, Phil Kerton, highlighted how migrants in Calais are human beings "created in God's image".
He said: "Even the daytime temperatures have been sub-zero and the exiles have seen the first snow in their lifetimes.
"They're finding it very, very cold at night. It's so cold, they can't sleep.
"The parts of the territory where the workers are actually bulldozing things and lowering things, clearing shrubs and trees so people can't hide from the police etc. is not the part really where people are living but the people there are very traumatised, very fragile people.
"A lot of them are young men, 18-28 years old, who get very fired up and are quite likely to go and taunt the police and throw pebbles at them.
"The police will respond by throwing tear gas back."
11 January 2016
Emergency Appeal for funds.
Seeking Sanctuary is launching an emergency appeal for funds to relieve the immediate human suffering following the recent heavy rain and high winds in Northern France.
With the torrential rain and wind, and now freezing weather predicted for January and February, conditions in the camp have worsened and are deteriorating still more. Tents cannot survive these conditions, especially as the ground (an old landfill site and swamp among sand dunes) is not suitable for firmly securing guy ropes. There are a group of volunteer builders doing a fantastic job of making more sturdy wooden structures to replace the tents, but ground sheets and tarpaulin are desperately needed to weatherproof these, as well as to try to patch up ripped tents. (In Dunkirk the conditions are reported to be even worse, and supplies even more limited – but work to move people to a new location is now scheduled to start any day.)
Despite the opening of 1500 dormitory places in modified containers at Calais, the French authorities have further exacerbated the problem there by announcing immediate measures to clear all tents and structures in a zone at least 100 metres wide alongside the motorway and neighbouring houses. Aid workers have less than three days in which to help at least 1000 men, women and children to move and rebuild their dwellings.
Due to the rain, firewood is not an appropriate fuel source at the moment. Gas is in high demand and there is now a good system in the camp for re-filling gas cylinders. But it is expensive, with each cylinder costing £21 to re-fill and sustain a family or small community group tent for four weeks. Tarpaulins and groundsheets are needed to weatherproof new wood-framed shelters and to reinforce the most flimsy tents.
Finally, the Calais aid warehouses have totally run out of blankets, we would love to take them more thick warm blankets this month, to be available for new refugees arriving in the camp with nothing.
The Tunbridge Wells support group which has already made several trips will again be travelling to Calais on 27th January with 17 volunteers. They had already raised funds for essential supplies such as clothes and footwear. We want to help to raise an extra £5000, with which they want to buy large tarpaulin sheets, groundsheets, gas canister refills (each lasts a family or small group for 4 weeks) as well as thick blankets. This will help at least 200 of the people most in need, particularly following the pending clearance of shelters and tents away from the motorway.
If you can help us to raise this money please let us know and we will pass on their bank account details to you.
With thanks for all that you already do on behalf of these vulnerable people.
Ben and Phil.
19 January 2016
Greetings in Solidarity
Supportive Cards can be sent to the exiles in the Calais camp.
If you send cards to the Secours Catholique Day Centre in Calais they'll be passed on to people during the team's daily visits to the camp.
Please bear in mind the following:
The vast majority of the people are Muslims: please do not be too overtly Christian in your messages.
Write in short sentences using simple words.
90% of the residents are young men, aged 15 to 25: choose cards that may suit their taste. (We suggest that you address cards to "An exile"; "An exiled family", or "An exiled child", which may provide scope for a little variety.)
Feel free to add a return address or your email address: you may get some replies.
The address: An Exile, chez Secours Catholique, 434 route de Saint Omer, 62100 CALAIS, FRANCE.
6 January 2016.
News from 'Seeking Sanctuary'
PROVISION OF SHELTER IN NORTHERN FRANCE
As the current wet and windy weather continues to hit South East England and Northern France, we remain mindful of the thousands of migrants living in squalid conditions so near to our doorstep. Tents and other shacks rapidly become waterlogged and basic possessions are often blown away, ruined and cannot be replaced.
We are receiving as yet unconfirmed reports that the French authorities are intending to provide heated tents, fresh water and toilets at a camp in the Dunkirk area one day, in addition to the converted containers in the 'jungle' at Calais which are scheduled to start receiving residents next week.
If these reports are confirmed, we welcome this initiative to provide even a minimum of shelter and human dignity to the many vulnerable people in the camps. We are very disappointed by the politicians and others who have deplored the Dunkirk initiative as a 'second Sangatte'.
We firmly believe that humanity comes before politics and that the provision of basic humanitarian assistance must be our first consideration. We call on our supporters to make their views known to those in government and related agencies.
5 January 2016.
Seeking Sanctuary writes:
2015 has passed by with no sign of significant improvements to the situation in Calais. There has been an amazing increase in the number residing near the town. Official figures put the population at just under 1000 in July 2014, and this more than doubled by November, remaining below about 2500 until June 2015. A further1000 arrived by September and then mushroomed again to at least 6000.
Conditions were dire when a “Day of Solidarity” took place on 19 September and the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Migration visited on 20 September. The number of toilets was woefully inadequate and they were rarely emptied, with the same story told of the few rubbish skips – and that goes without mention of the scarcity of fresh water points. Pollution and endemic diseases were already noted A court order issued on 2 November obliged the authorities to improve conditions somewhat, but an appeal delayed the start on most action until well into December, whilst other measures have often added up to “too little, too late”. The addition of quasi-permanent shelters for just 1500 souls will not be completed until later this month and the winter weather has damaged fragile dwellings, fanned flames from accidental fires and transformed most paths into muddy quagmires.
The zone is not an officially declared refugee camp, but merely an area where undocumented residents are tolerated by the authorities. Hence, apart from limited medical aid, major international aid agencies have no role in its management. Small local groups and self-organised volunteers from within France and from other nations have learned “on the job” how to coordinate work – but without always convincing all visitors to cooperate fully.
It is heartening to know that, just from the UK, there are scores of volunteers spending weeks and months on the ground and arranging better supplies of food and dwellings, along with a first aid post and continuing distributions of donated clothes, shoes and bedding – much of it bought brand new from generous supporters. At weekends they are joined by hundreds more, most of them making constructive efforts to improve conditions. The camp has some more solid roads allowing emergency access, a quantity of places of worship, language schools, a library, solar-powered WiFi zones, various shops, restaurants, bars and other businesses. In particular there is a dome structure providing a space to gather for meetings and for drama and concerts. In more recent months a noticeable number of families have arrived and there is provision for children's' activities and shelter for toddlers, mothers and expectant mothers to get together.
Some 1800 are said to have agreed to apply for asylum in France and have been accommodated elsewhere in France, having abandoned plans to cross the Channel. Something like 1500 individuals have been forcibly removed to remote locations in daily batches of about 50, to be imprisoned for a few days before appearing in court on various charges. To date, almost every case has been thrown out by the courts and people are set free to return to Calais (in the vast majority of cases): inter-Ministerial discussions are proposed in January to try to reach a common approach to these cases from police and judges. Alongside this, armed riot police patrol the approaches to the camp, making occasional forays to the interior and harassing visitors. Of late there are reports of more or less random tear-gas attacks among the tents and shelters, accompanied by a blind eye turned in the direction of extremist and often violent demonstrators. All these actions are officially reported to have reduced the number in the “jungle” itself to around 4000 – though all repeat visitors still report far more overcrowding than was the case a few months back. Meantime, numbers surviving in even more squalid conditions at Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, have mushroomed from below 200 in summer 2015 to at least 2400 today.
We have been fortunate in recent months in linking donations with distributors. Fpr example, 2500 teddy bears have gone from Ellesmere Port to countries bordering Syria; half a dozen heavy-duty ex-Scout tents are en route from the West Midlands to Northern France; proceeds from a collection at the annual carol service of the University of Kent Chaplaincies in Canterbury Cathedral have been directed to causes that we have proposed, alongside some other donations from individuals and events. And this, of course, goes alongside the continuing fruits of exploratory visits that we have advised a number of groups about, and the vital contribution to these visits from our Calais volunteer contact, Dominique.
In continuing work into 2016 we can confirm that goods are needed in Calais and elsewhere, as well as cash and offers of voluntary services. Alongside efforts by others, Secours Catholique continues visits to the camp to confirm the needs of residents and distribute aid (some using a van funded by UK donations). It also runs considerable other projects in and around Calais, including a drop-in Day Centre in the town where people can get to know one another; accompaniment for asylum applicants in France; language lessons; cycle loans to help with the 5km journey into town; joint initiatives with others to try to ensure that the state takes due care of the most vulnerable.
The organisation's “Migrants' Wardrobe” in the town cannot operate for the time being due to a planning dispute with the municipality. While this is the case, we can put people who organise collections in touch with other warehouses that are fully operational and with their lists of current requirements – and subsequently with organisations who can arrange to transport donations across the Channel.
With best wishes for 2016 and thanks for all your past support: Phil + Ben.
26th November 2015
Link to YouTube video of 8th visit to Calais by Emmaus, Care4Calais & YWAM Harpenden "Humanitarian Aid for the Calais Jungle". (By way of a change from written contributions supported by photos).
22nd November 2015
Fr Dominic Howarth again took a team to Calais on 19 November to spend a day of horrendous weather distributing items to the exiles and seeing the work of one of the volunteer warehouses. You can download his story here. Two days later, during the night, a 3rd accidental fire in the jungle was fanned by gale force winds and destroyed several dwellings near the Ethiopian church, fortunately with no loss of life.
Rumours that Calais now has no need of any donated goods are false! L'Auberge des Migrants urgently needs a number of items, especially following damage to dwellings by fire and gales. One "want list" (updated weekly) is at this website.
We also provide a link to download Fr Dominic's account of his earlier visit to Calais in October, taking 'packets of hope and love' provided by Christians and others in and around Basildon. He took care to make arrangements with L'Auberge de Migrants for his visit and followed their advice about how to safely distribute aid within the camp. It is very important that people follow this policy to ensure good safety and coordination and make advance arrangements via the email address email@example.com. (And if you know of people who can offer building skills for more winter-proof shelters, please ask them to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)
11th November 2015
Christian refugee worker on EU crisis meeting: "The solution has to be found at source" By Hannah Tooley for Premier Christian Radio.
A Christian refugee worker has told Premier's News Hour that the solution to Europe's refugee crisis has to be found in the home countries of asylum seekers fleeing conflict and persecution.
Ben Bano, founder of Seeking Sanctuary, a Christian group helping migrants in Calais the and in the UK, was speaking after European and African leaders began talks in Malta to seek long-term solutions to the humanitarian crisis.
These are some of the first discussions to involve African voices, and Ben Bano hopes that the meetings will "help the European leaders to at least have an understanding of some of the problems that are faced back in countires like Eritrea, Sudan and Ethopia."
He said: "The solution has to be found back at source, and the more that we can involve the African leaders and people like the African Union in trying to at least achieve some safe havens for refugees, the less pressure there will be on Europe and indeed the less suffering there will be."
But Mr Bano also spoke of the hope the refugees bring with them: "In spite of the squalor and in spite of all the desperate situations there are really signs of hope, and it is so encouraging that many faith communities and Christian groups have put their support in."
Thousands of refugees are continuing to cross the Mediterranean to reach western Europe and on Wednesday more refugee deaths were reported.
Fourteen people died after their wooden boat sank on its way to the Greek island of Lesbos and a further 27 were rescued by Turkish authorities.
8th November 2015
Here is a link to a vivid and well written diary entry by one of the many foreign volunteers who are spending time in Calais - link here.
6th November 2015 An account of one of several visits to Calais made by a group from Tunbridge Wells
FROM A TRIP TO THE CALAIS 'JUNGLE'
On Thursday 6th November a team of 12 of us travelled to the ‘Jungle’ in a minibus carrying £4,000 worth of unisex hats and gloves, and wind up torches. We had liaised closely beforehand with Ben and Phil at Seeking Sanctuary, Jaz O’Hara who set up CalAid, and Dominique, an inspiring French volunteer who has been visiting the camp since 2002. She again joined in our tasks. This was my third visit to the refugee camp and I was keen to make sure that all the donations we had raised reached the people who really needed them as sensitively and calmly as possible. We took backpacks stuffed with either hats or gloves and set out in to the camp in teams of 4. It was amazing to see how the camp had grown in a short time, becoming very crowded. We went tent to tent, handing out the hats, gloves and torches to anyone who needed them. We regularly went back to the minibus to restock.
On one of our early entrances, coming from the the rue des Gravelines , we heard a whistle sound and a number of men rushed out into the pathway and surrounded us, demanding to be given our goods. Thereafter we avoided the direct path into the camp, turning aside as soon as we have passed under the motorway. Within two hours all 1,000 pairs of gloves and 600 hats had gone. We had decided to prioritise giving the torches to women as there is no electricity in the camp and so women are very vulnerable at night.
What surprised us was how fast those torches went, and so more importantly how many women had recently arrived /in the camp. We did not see many walking through the main areas of the camp, but as we went through the mini camps within the camp we found women in almost every tent, only emerging when we called out to say what we had to offer them. What shocked us was how young these women were, the majority between 18-21 years. It was also very distressing to see families with babies, some as young as 6 months living in flimsy tents.The majority of the women we met asked us of we had underwear, socks, warm coats, moisturiser, lip salve, wipes or sanitary products. We had none of those with us.
Dominique informed us about the increase in both rape and prostitution of these vulnerable women. We came back from our visit fired up to do more, to try to collect another 1,000 pairs of gloves, 1,000 pairs of socks, and as many unisex hats as we can in the next 3 weeks through our amazon wish-list, but also to raise a money for more specific items for the women. Items that would not be appropriate to put on a public wish-list. It is our thinking that if we can help support the practical needs of women, we will also be helping them better support their children.
There are people standing around, some on their own, some in small groups. Mostly men. Weary looking. One is having his hair trimmed by the side of the road. There are occasional lorries that pass cautiously to avoid the pedestrians strolling into the road. These people walk to fill the time, like they are waiting for something. All are interested in our mini bus which is now parked on a verge outside of the the camp. They keep their distance. But we are not the only ones parked just off the slip road to the motorway. There is also a fly-over just ahead where police vans are positioned both above and below. Groups of police in riot gear are watching who comes in and who comes out. They know we are here and it is not clear whether they think we are part of the problem or part of the solution.
The smell is surprising and festering but the sight of the camp is overwhelming in its expanse and bleakness. I am wearing my stuffed rucksack on my front. We are in a team of four. These well considered precautions now seem ridiculous given the scale of what’s ahead. Young men with dark hair are suddenly keen to see what we are handing out. They don’t yet know what it is but it’s clear that they want it. We have new, thermal gloves and hats and they prove very popular. For a moment I am penned in and can’t quite see above the heads and pleading hands. People are visibly thankful and some can say so in English. Among the thank yous there are requests for socks. Socks it seems are invaluable if you are to keep dry and warm here.
Now we are picking our way among tent ropes and make shift washing lines. These are people trying against all odds to make a square of canvas home. I see blankets and mattresses neatly laid out; a camping stove with a pot of spaghetti bubbling beside the uncollected rubbish. Squalor is part of the scenery. We shout out hello because it’s like walking straight into your neighbour’s house unannounced. Respect and privacy are important even here. When we ask people about where they are from and how long they have been here, the stories are strangely similar. In this area at least, those we speak to are mostly Eritrean and have been in the Jungle for weeks or months already. The Syrians, Afghans and Sudanese all inhabit different sections of the camp. We hear from other volunteers that there are 100 new arrivals every day. Since April, the Jungle’s population has grown from hundreds to around six thousand. And hidden away behind the tarpaulins we find groups of women. We know that the women here are vulnerable. There is a growing sex trade and inevitably sexual violence is an issue. We offer them self-charging torches. These women are young, perhaps 18 or less, and they all tell us that they need underwear, trousers, jackets and sanitary items.
Then there are the children. Just occasionally there is a child within a tent. One family I speak to has a beautiful baby girl, perhaps a year old, still unstable on her feet. She trips as she totters towards me and lands in the mud. In the Afghan area, I am led to a family with six children - the youngest is ten months old. They travelled for two months to get to France but now it is not clear where their future lies. I give the eldest son a biro I have in my pocket. We are able to provide hats and gloves for the children and hope that it is enough to keep them warm in the weeks and months ahead. These children have known another life but the unborn baby of the woman we meet (five months pregnant) may not.
1st November - BBC Radio Kent's "Sunday Breakfast" programme included two items about the Dunkirk camp which can be heard here and here the first of the involving Rev. Tim Clapton, an associate of Seeking Sanctuary. Between these items, Canon Caroline Pinchbeck, another friend of ours, talked [here] about an acclaimed 2008 French film, "Welcome", about the story of a migrant learning to swim in order to escape Calais. This was shown at 2 pm on 7 November in the Gulbenkian Theatre at the University of Kent, Canterbury, followed by an opportunity to discuss the issues involved.
27th October - The news from the 'jungle' in Calais continues to be troubling. Recent reports confirm that the numbers in Calais have swelled to between 5000 and 6000 people and continue to grow. Following a visit of the Interior Minister a few days ago the French authorities have announced that they will act upon the findings of reports on health and sanitation problems and expedite the building of new accommodation which seems to involve the use of containers to house 1500 and they have also provided new heated tents for 200 women and children within their existing Jules Ferry Centre. But there is disturbing evidence that much of the 'jungle' sits on on land which is subject to dangerous pollution from nearby industrial activity. Further, about 400 tents and shacks will have to be moved to make way for the new “container” suite. Until the construction work is complete, only authorised vehicles will be allowed down the side road leading to the Jules Ferry Centre: local NGOs can probably provide passes if contacted in advance.
Alongside this comes the news that an additional 450 police have been deployed and that migrants are being harassed and taken to detention centres in the south of France by plane to be informed that they are liable to be deported, and held for a brief period before being released. Evidently the hope is that they will not make their way to Calais again. And so they are suffering a double trauma of trying to make their way back to Calais while they are destitute. In parallel, over 500 – mainly Sudanese nationals – have confirmed that they do not want to reach the UK and are being taken by bus to respite centres elsewhere in France while they consider alternative plans
Deaths in or near the tunnel, port or motorways have averaged one a week since late June, a truly tragic statistic. Each was a human being and someone's child. It is our hope that some form of permanent memorial may eventually be set up.
There is also (as yet unconfirmed) evidence that volunteers are being stopped and checked by police. Certainly, the situation in the crowded camp is more tense. If you are planning a visit you will need to bear all these issues in mind. (When it comes to taking goods across to Calais, the 'new warehouse' has had to move to a different site, just as things were getting better organised; this has done nothing to reduce the delays in sorting material prior to its distribution to those in need and hence to our ability to accept significant fresh donations.)
Phil and Ben.
20th October - BBC Radio Kent "Breakfast" programme Interview - Listen here.
5th October - And so the scandal of the Calais jungle continues. The latest report from Birmingham University [www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2015/10/calais-migrant-camps-.aspx] reveals not just the squalor but the health and other risks resulting from the shameful conditions – indeed there is now a risk of cholera and other diseases. In parts of the jungle there are one or two toilets for 500 people and these are often full to overflowing. The refusal of the French authorities to provide any litter collections means that there is potential for yet more disease. And the UK government is not likely to press them into any further action,
And as the winter comes on there are still no plans to install any of the most basic of infrastructure – people will be dependent on candles and the like – some people are having to walk up to 6 kilometres in search of a little firewood.
Many of you have contacted us to ask what you can do to help. And there have been a number of messages about how you might go direct to the jungle. In recent weeks the camp has received many visitors, which has caused further distress for the refugees. In particular, the taking of photos has caused tension. The charities on the ground are also becoming overwhelmed by the number of visits, which can distract from their vital day-to-day work. With this in mind, we would discourage all non-essential visits to camp. If you do have to go to the camp to advance a project or to deliver aid, we can provide cautionary advice about how to try to avoid causing offence. Among other things, there is volunteer who visits the camp on Wednesdays (only) who would be happy – if essential to your visit – to take you around as she carries out her duties. Please bear in mind that you will need to assess any risks involved – for example there have been several incidents of inter racial tensions – but remember too that most inhabitants are asking only for a modicum of decency and dignity.
But even more the scandal of the squalor so near to our shores needs to be made clear to politicians and others in positions of authority. Make contact with your local MP and ask what they are doing to press the government to ameliorate conditions there (the answer is of course nothing, except more fencing). We are aware that there has been no formal request for a global agency such as UNHCR to be involved – from their experience in the Middle East they could provide conditions which are much more adequate within a few days or weeks. It is also important to counter some of the myths about migrants and to highlight the errors and prejudices of those who propagate them. In Dover, people have come into the town and paraded their hatred with violence and abuse, not representative of the feelings of local people! Some of you may be able to get to a counter-demonstration in the town's Market Square from 12.30pm on Saturday 17th October: “Refugees Welcome”, organised by the Kent Anti-Racist Network.
Finally we are pleased to let you know that the goods which were collected over August and September and taken to East Kent have now reached exiles courtesy of CalAid. Our thanks to all their volunteers! The latest position regarding collections and delivery is that, although Secours Catholique now has access to a larger store, it is already overflowing and they are unlikely to to be able to take regular deliveries from us until December. Likewise, L'Auberge des Migrants is not taking in more van-loads of goods until mid-November, while its volunteers add shelving and sort out material that has already arrived. Several organisations have stopped asking for clothes and toiletries for the time being and are currently appealing for wood and other materials to build shelters and for people to go out to Calais to assist with this work and to help in their stores so that goods get through to the exiles more efficiently.
Our thanks to all those who have been waiting patiently, hoping to send us collected goods in October. Given the above facts about continued lack of storage capacity in Calais, we are still not certain exactly when we can start to take goods into our Kent stores or let you know of an alternative destination. We will contact those affected as soon as we have established a definite date.
5th October - Listen hereto Phil Kerton talking about Seeking Sanctuary's work, courtesy of BBC Radio Kent's "Sunday Breakfast" programme, broadcast on 5 October.
21st September - Peter Sutherland, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Migration, visited Calais and was horrified by the squalor and chaos. Phil Kerton was among those who accompanied Peter and his detailed report is here to dowload. Subsequently Peter has spoken out in public about the squalor and has called for a centre to process asylum claims to be set up in France, funded jointly by the UK and French governments.
19th September - Day trip to Calais (Refugee Camp) September 19th 2015
Barbara Kentish provides an account of the Day of Solidarity wth Refugees in Calais
Under the flyover of the road leading from the exit of the Channel port were a huddle of lightweight tents, the portable kind you might put up on a beach or carry on a walking trip. These the latest arrivals at the Jungle, the shanty town housing 3000+ refugees hoping to cross to England. I had arrived for a Welcome to Refugees rally, where there would be an agreement of solidarity signed between English and French bishops to support and welcome these unwanted guests of Calais town.
On this vast scrubland site, about 4 or 5 km out of Calais town centre, the first impression was of enthusiasm for the rally, with a large ‘Emmaus’ van pumping out energetic music, and hundreds of people, mostly men, assembling to walk to the rally site at the gates of the port. The second impression was the dirt. There is no rubbish collection on this site. Visitors like us came with placards of support, cameras, and a quest to see what was going on. Jo Siedlecka of Independent Catholic News (whose story from the journey is at www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=28350) and I were guests of Ben Bano, who runs a small charity, Seeking Sanctuary, from his home in Kent, which sends clothing and bedding to Calais on a regular basis. He in turn was expecting Archbishop Peter Smith who would meet his French counterpart Mgr Jean-Paul Jaeger, bishop of Arras, and the Anglican bishop of Dover, Trevor Wilmott. We tagged along behind the clerical group, picking our way through puddles, mud and old clothing, to the precarious Eritrean church built by an inhabitant, and now the venue for a bible class with women and children. After the muddy ground outside, the clean or even new rugs inside spoke volumes. Here there was dignity and an oasis in the chaos. We took shoes off and sought permission to take pictures.
Everyone aims to live as best they can in a lawless situation. They carry huge containers of water in shopping trolleys to their tents, wash at the stand-pipes in full view of the motorway, set up little ‘village’ shops, and devise compounds of their own nationalities. There is some tension and one man was killed recently, but police presence could only be described as ‘light’: I saw one lone officer, looking down on proceedings from the motorway above. Later at the rally, police had blocked off a few hundred metres from through traffic, but made no attempt to come near the small crowd. Passing through town on the way to the rally my friend and I took a wrong turn and came into the town centre which was calm and empty. Calais keeps the whole issue at a distance and if possible out of sight. How can we British criticise that? We keep it, with razor fencing, on the other side of the Channel.
Still in the camp we looked for the centre supposed to house women and children, but were misinformed, and saw the outside of the government-funded building, Centre Jules Ferry, where services such as showers (queue early), meals (one a day) and medical advice are offered. But the other 99% of the camp was open to the four winds. Shelters were constructed from ‘bache’, the kind of sheeting builders use to cover skips, timber frames, and nails. But in between these ambitious structures there were dozens of ordinary little light camping tents, some in a sort of compound formation with wind -breaks around them and a ‘concierge’ on a chair keeping guard.
Men were in the vast majority, and some greeted us in French or English, and even struck up a conversation when we admitted to coming from that Eldorado, England. One, perhaps a third of my age even proposed marriage so as to get there. Safer than jumping on a train I suppose.
Secours Catholique, Secours Islamique and Auberge des Migrants were some of the agencies visible by their jacket markings, and vans bringing supplies from Birmingham and Lancashire had many Muslim volunteers: people of good will from both sides of the Channel were doing what they could in a totally disorganised situation. With no sanitation, drainage, electricity (one pylon goes to the government centre) , or social service infrastructure (education, medical services, policing), the camp worked amazingly well.
Jo and I walked most of the way into town along a hot and dusty industrial road, and joined the rally outside the port gates. One French radio journalist asked me, “What do you think of the fencing your government has put up? Twice the height of the French one!” I could only express embarrassment, as we watched some of the refugees pressing themselves against the fence to get a better look at the traffic moving in and out of the port – a sunny afternoon in Fortress Europe.
The bishops met and signed a solidarity agreement for the churches on both sides of the Channel. A Welcome to Migrants van sold drinks and young men painted slogans and flags on a wall reminiscent of the much bigger wall in Israel-Palestine. One, reading ‘We Need a Solution’ seemed to sum it all up. The UK has just spent £7 million on super-fencing: it could have spent some instead on toilets and water in the Jungle, emergency shelters and more lighting.
We visited at the end of summer, on a sunny afternoon, having asked Ben Bano, ‘What is needed?’ More than clothes, food or blankets, what is currently lacking is overall good organisation and distribution systems. The NGOs admit they are not coping. A bigger player, such as the Red Cross, UNHCR or Medecins Sans Frontieres needs to address matters before winter sets in. And our government needs to play its part.
Barbara Kentish, September 2015.
6th September - Seeking Sanctuary says: 'These are our sisters and brothers'...
It has been so heartening over the last few days to see the crowds of ordinary people in Germany applauding and welcoming the migrants from Syria as they step off the trains in Germany after their long and arduous journeys. We are convinced that the tide of opinion is turning and that people are saying to their governments that we need a change of attitude. Here at 'Seeking Sanctuary' we have seen a flood of support and last Thursday our website recorded 500 hits and we had numerous emails and messages of support. Many of our messages are from people who find it difficult to reconcile our comfortable lives with the squalor on our doorstep. Can we dream of a UK which instead of building higher and ever more dangerous security fences, follows the lead of countries like Germany ? To give a new future to the 3000 people living in the squalor of the jungle in Calais would need perhaps two trips made by a car ferry - and there would be plenty of support here in the UK - or are we dreaming the unthinkable ?Our support and initiatives must not be selective. So far the current narrative has been mainly about the human tragedy which has taken hold in Syria - and as important as this is, there are parallel tragedies taking place in many other countries, Eritrea, Sudan, Libya and parts of Afghanistan, to name just a few. There is a risk of the squalor of Calais being put to one side if we are not careful - and we have to respect the needs and rights of every migrant and refugee.
Phil Kerton and Ben Bano
9th August - Seeking Sanctuary says: '3000 migrants = 3000 people like you and me'
“We so often use the term 'migrant' to typecast a whole group of people, when in reality they are individual human beings like you and me. People who search for a minimum of dignity in their lives which have often been torn apart by events beyond their control. People like the young Syrian dentist who had to flee with his family when faced with the conflicting demands of Assad's army and ISIL. People like the young engineer from Eritrea who faced up to 30 years of compulsory military service if he stayed in his country. People like the young Sudanese migrants who attend French language classes given by a volunteer each week in a makeshift school room so that they can apply for asylum in France. People like the Ethiopian migrants who built a makeshift Church before considering their own needs.
People who are not in search of an 'Eldorado' but in search of a modicum of dignity and decent living conditions for themselves and their families. People who benefit from the concerted efforts of 'Secours Catholique' and other agencies who provide materials to build more durable shacks. For you and me, rainfall means a little inconvenience - but for migrants in Calais it means sodden blankets and sleeping bags which are often hard to replace. And when the cold weather comes later in the year, there are no sources of heat other than open fires.
That's why many of those involved detest the term 'jungle' as it denigrates and demeans them to the level of animals. And for every migrant who risks their life in attempting to get to England, there are others who await an uncertain future with hope and dignity and a determination not to let themselves go downhill. Some enterprising people have set up a shop, even if it means dragging the supplies 8 km to it in a supermarket trolley.
We are grateful that the narrative here in the UK appears to be changing. In spite of the 'official' line that migrants are ‘marauders’ and the efforts of some parts of the popular press, we are gratified by the messages of support and offers of help we have received and the messages from social media which focus on understanding rather than condemnation. Faith Groups of all denominations are looking to see how they can help, and we hope to be sending a van to Calais at the end of the month loaded of goods. There is still plenty of humanity out there! And many of the Faith Groups who have been the bedrock of our support are becoming increasingly outspoken - we look forward to heating more of the migrants' message in BBC 'Songs of Praise' on 16th August!”
31st July - 'Seeking Sanctuary' is becoming increasingly concerned, as are other organisations, about migrants in Calais being 'demonised' as a result of the traffic chaos and delays in Kent.
FACT: The numbers reported to be entering the Eurotunnel site are likely to be greatly exaggerated - and diminishing as new security measures come into place. FACT: Contrary to ideas put forward in the popular press, sending in the British army is neither feasible nor desirable - and the idea is being forward simply to inflame populist feelings. FACT: David Cameron refers to migrants seeking a better life. Millions of people are fleeing civil war and conflict - and are seeking a life as much as a better life. For the dentist from Syria living in Calais and caught between ISIL and Assad's army, survival is what matters, rather than any thought of an 'Eldorado' inBritain. Faced with the squalor of the 'jungle' in Calais, is it surprising that some migrants are prepared to risk their lives ? FACT: Migrants are not a 'swarm' like insects. They are like you and me, with families and loved ones, trying desparately to protect themselves and their loved ones in a chaotic and hostile world. FACT: Migrants cannot take the blame for all the traffic problems in Kent and Operation STACK. The Dover-Calais ferry route has lost about 50% of its capacity due to an entirely unrelated industrial relations dispute involving French ferry workers. FACT: Contrary to what is reported over here, the French aid agencies are making a concerted effort to improve conditions in the 'jungle', treating the area as a war zone. New sanitary and medical facilities have been installed. Fencing is all well and good but does not address the basic humanitarian problem.
For further information contact Ben Bano
6th July - Article for "The Pilgrim" (Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Southwark)
In June the number of migrants sleeping rough in Calais approached 3000. Many have fled war and persecution in the Middle East, north and east Africa, mostly young men but including women and children. About a quarter are under 18. They mostly live in squalid conditions in 'Jungles', sheltering in unsightly groups of tents or under tarpaulins, with no sanitation and very limited running water, relying on charities for food. Britain is seen as the land of opportunity when fleeing really terrible conditions at home with the belief that it will be quite easy to find work in the "black economy".
Local feeling against them as a group runs high, though individuals still find some sympathetic support. A small proportion, probably below 5%, risk any opportunity to stow away on lorries heading for the UK. Most just wait in hope of miraculously finding €1000 as a fee for people smugglers, or encountering an individual who will risk hiding them away for a free crossing.
Seeking Sanctuary is a small Kent based organisation promoting awareness of their plight. They provide humanitarian assistance for those stranded in Calais, working closely with the Catholic agency, Secours Catholique to provide basic necessities. Various parishes and other organisations across the diocese have collected goods, and several carloads and van-loads have gone to Calais for distribution.
Deal parishioner Ben Bano, who heads up this initiative says: ”Each human life is precious - and as many parts of the world fall into chaos we must redouble our efforts to ensure that the needs and rights of vulnerable human beings who need sanctuary are valued and respected. Our colleagues in Calais are deeply appreciative of the assistance provided from this side of the Channel.”
The need for more supplies is pressing. It is tempting to “go it alone” and dash to Calais to provide hand-outs, but we must tread very carefully: frightened and vulnerable people do not take at all kindly to the sudden appearance of strangers. It is best to use the established channels.
Winter clothes will soon be in demand again, but just now people need hats, jeans (32 and 34 inch waist), footwear and toiletries, along with waterproof ground-sheets, bedding and sleeping bags. Immense boredom is also a challenge. Some relief can come from simple books that help those learning and practising either English or French (perhaps books written for young people). Not to mention footballs, dominoes, card games and board games (chess, draughts, …).
As Pope Francis has said, our Church has no boundaries and “opens her arms to welcome all people, without distinction or limits”. Here are some ways in which you can help our brothers and sisters to lead more dignified and healthy lives as they fester in the limbo of the Calais jungles:
Organise a collection in your parish, if not now, then at some other time during the coming months. Stop off near Dover on a day trip to Calais and fill the space in your vehicle with donated goods. Secours Catholique stores items in a redundant church hall in the centre of Calais, where the contact is Pascal, a retired English teacher. Persuade a sports team to arrange a friendly match against a migrant team. For any of these options or to find out more, please ring Ben Bano on 07887 651117 or email email@example.com – or find out more at the website www.seekingsanctuary.weebly.com