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There have been over 10,000 migrants in the Calais camp: all dispersed to various parts of France at the start of November 2016. Some joined others camping out nearby. In addition there were around 1400 in a camp at Grande Synthe near Dunkirk, destroyed by fire in April 2017. Almost 1000 were dispersed from there to sites around France and some 400 remained hidden, including a number of unaccompanied minors. More have joined them and there are now well over 800 in the area, all in dire need. If you would would like to help, the "want list" from one organisation (updated weekly) can be found at this website another here and another at this website.
You will find essential guidance on sorting, packing and labelling donations on the "About Us" page (see tab at top of page).
Don't deliver direct to refugee 'jungles'on your own without advice - contact us if necessary.
We have very limited UK storage space. Please check with us before planning collections so that we can advise how best to get goods to France.
Please note that we are rarely able to collect individual donations of items ourselves, but these can almost always be brought to a collection point somewhere in the UK - details of how to locate your nearest project upon request.
BELOW: Icon at Former Eritrean Church in the Calais 'Jungle'.
Ben and Marie-Claude Bano taking goods to the 'Secours Catholique' warehouse in Calais. Generously provided by people at Ashford, Aylesham and Deal
Thanks to the parishioners at Tunbridge Wells for their generous donations.
Latest News Latest News Latest News Latest News
14 March 2019
Current needs for Calais and Dunkirk Warehouses
A consolidated list can be found here.
14 March 2019
Hope in the midst of despair ....
"I have been intrigued by the recent call from Pope Francis to go to what he describes as the existential peripheries of our world. In some ways the message is clear – we need to be present to those who find themselves leading a precarious existence – whether it be those in a flimsy tent about to be torn down by the French police in Calais or those whose appeals have been refused here in the UK and who have literally no one and nowhere to turn to. It reminds us that the journey of seeking sanctuary is increasingly perilous and fraught with danger. It reminds us as well of the contribution of those selfless and brave volunteers of all faiths and none, so often in their 20s and 30s, who continue to offer hope and support to those on the peripheries in both France and Britain, as well on the shores of the Mediterranean. When volunteers go as a group in the middle of the night to take vital supplies those who most need them, this is truly work on the peripheries.
"There is a further challenge – the term 'existential periphery' reminds us that it is so easy to lose a sense of meaning or purpose when one is fighting for basic survival. The fundamental human need for meaning and purpose can easily go away when the only thing that counts is survival.
"That's why giving hope in the midst of desperation is such an important part of the work to support those seeking sanctuary. The moving stories of young people who are finally reunited with relatives in spite of Home Office bureaucracy gives us all something to hang on to. The flimsy church put up by the young Eritreans while the Calais 'Jungle' was in existence proved to be a beacon of hope in the midst of despair, as did the several mosques that were always well attended for the hours of prayer.
"Courage and resilience in the face of adversity are themselves a form of meaning and purpose. How else to survive the intolerable conditions of refugee camps across the world? It is estimated that up to 40,000 people are living in appalling conditions in camps in Libya – a situation supported by the EU. We are also reminded of another reality – that for every refugee and person seeking sanctuary, there are perhaps more who have no choice but to eke out precarious and often dangerous lives in situations where basic existence becomes even more challenging, perhaps due to the effects of climate change and natural disasters, as well as through conflict and war
"And so the search for genuine Peace and Justice needs to include not only those who decide to seek sanctuary, but equally those who for all sorts of reasons are left behind to struggle with everyday life. They genuinely need a sense of meaning and purpose as well as our solidarity as they cope with the realities of their existential periphery."
A 'welcome' on landing in the UK – the hostile environment extends ….
Ben has the good fortune (or otherwise) to live on the Kent coast in Deal, within a few miles of migrants currently coming ashore in their flimsy boats.
A little noticed but petty restriction is that the Coastguard force, even though they are well equipped and trained to deal with maritime survivors, have been told not to get involved when migrants come ashore, and instead to leave their care to the officials of the UK Border Force. Coastguards have much experience in dealing with people who need immediate first aid and warmth, but this doesn't seem to count with the authorities. There are also worrying accounts of the growth of vigilante groups whose self-proclaimed task is to watch out for migrants coming ashore – another example of the collective paranoia towards which the nation is drifting.
Mawda's Family ….
A few days after we issued our February update, the family of Mawda Shawri, the two year old Kurdish girl killed by a police bullet on a Belgian motorway, obtained a 'renewable permit' to remain in Belgium for a year. Her parents, Perhast and Shamden, had waited nine months, with their five year old son, for politicians to fulfil their promise, unable to take up paid work or to gain social security support. They can breathe a sigh of relief now, knowing that they can follow the course of enquiries into Mawda's death
The news came from the office of Maggie De Block, very recently appointed as Asylum and Migration Minister in the Federal Government after her predecessor left the post due to the departure from the coalition of the 'New Flemish Alliance' Party, who had made no response to requests for compassion. The news came just in time, because the family had exhausted 13,000 of the 16,000 Euros raised from the public in an appeal immediately after their tragedy.
Success in Legal Battles ….
1. Three years ago the authorities decided to demolish the south side of the Calais 'Jungle', the half that was beyond the church, furthest from the Jules Ferry Centre and the coast. Many unaccompanied children were left without protection and a number of support groups sought legal redress. Finally, on 28 February, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the appellant 'JK' (at the time only 12 years old). The Court found that France had failed in its duty and subjected him to degrading and inhumane circumstances, putting him and hundreds of others at risk. Thanks to his French legal teams, 'JK' took on the French State and won!
2. Perhaps you remember that Landlords and their agents were given a duty under the UK Immigration Act to check the immigration status of potential tenants or lodgers before entering into any residential tenancy agreements? On 1 March the High Court has ruled that this is unlawful because it leads to discrimination.
3. A Press Release on 12 March from 'Doctors of the World' and five other groups announced that a Lille Tribunal had condemned the Prefect of the Nord region over the illegality of the removal of 600 exiles from shelter in Grande-Synthe in September 2017. They were forced to leave in coaches for 'Welcome and Orientation Centres' elsewhere in France. The tribunal found that this procedure could not be considered as an offer of shelter. Accordingly, the Prefect had no legal basis for the eviction and his use of forces of order, and it annulled the legal notice that had been issued, using the pretext of the national State of Emergency.
The announcement points out that, given the fifty or so removals that have taken place around Grande-Synthe since May 2018 alone, the court verdict amounts to a denunciation of the State policy that has been applied along the northern coast of France. This policy, which has sought to fight against what those in power call 'the poles of attraction', is costly, ineffective, inhuman and – we now can say – was carried out illegally. The territory is not a lawless zone of non-rights!
The removal operations protect no-one; they reinforce their vulnerability and insecurity and in reality, contribute to the creation of new places to live.
The signatories once again demand that suitable and durable solutions are proposed for shelter at Grande-Synthe and that people have access to their fundamental rights.
Meanwhile, in Calais ….
a) On 6 March police removed all migrants from their 'camp' on waste ground in the 'Dunes' Industrial Zone near the enormous pylon where food and aid have been distributed by volunteers, i.e., at the end of rue des Verrotières. This was done to prepare for the erection of metal "grill" fences to keep people off the terrain. Other barriers have been erected beneath motorway flyovers to restict access to places of shelter from storms.
b) Hundreds of people, the majority claiming to be Iranian, have tried to make the dangerous Channel crossing in small boats in recent months. The average price paid is now £5,000, with variations based on the level of risk involved, according to evidence presented to MPs on 7 March. Law enforcement officers told the Home Affairs Committee that the first thing migrants do on arriving in the UK is to claim asylum – in fact they often dial 999 while they are still in the boats. This is because all that they are asking is that their claims should be fairly heard. They don't prefer to take the horrific risks of a small boat crossing, but have no legal option available: they are not trying to 'sneak' into Britain. The majority have genuine and justifiable claims and want to get a fair hearing. In fact, creating a safe and legal route would put people smugglers out of business!.
c) On 8 March the lifeless body of Kiar (or 'Kiyaar'), a young Ethiopian Oromo exile who had been staying in Belgium for roughly two years, was found in the back of a goods vehicle when it was searched in Calais. This the first death recorded at the frontier in 2019: our frontier still kills.
ISIS Brides and their Children ….
The case of Shamima Begum and her short-lived son has, due to her incautious comments to reporters, attracted much comment. With a rapid reaction to populism, our Home Secretary seems to disregard the values that have made Britain repected and great. Values concerning matters such as gender equality, child protection, empathy, respect for international law, respect for other sovereign nations, taking responsibility, equality under the law, the safety and security of our inhabitants.
The case for bringing Shamima back to the UK is powerful. As a 15-year-old, she was groomed by strangers online and enticed to Syria, where she entered into an under-age marriage. In effect, she suffered sexual exploitation: a form of abuse where a child is manipulated into believing that their abuser loves them, and that sex is a legitimate expression of that love, even though the child is not legally able to consent. British values include an understanding that children require protection and cannot be held accountable for crimes committed against them, but the Home Secretary unilaterally decided that the grooming and abuse of a child over several years should play no part in assessing her actions. Over the next few years, Shamima was traumatised, witnessing beheadings, seeing two of her children die and experiencing armed conflict. She was a victim of criminal acts, rather than a perpetrator.
There seems to be no evidence that she was personally involved in any violence, but the Home Secretary has acted as both prosecutor and judge – in secret, with no legal representative to speak on behalf of the defendant – ignoring the fact that around 400 MALE fighters have returned to the UK and are living freely with no suggestion of having their citizenship revoked. Women, it seems, are judged more harshly by the British media and by British politicians than men who are known to have committed serious and violent offences.
What kind of country are we, and what makes us different from ISIS? Do we reflect our enemy’s brutality when pandering to populist challenges? Surely the inhumanity of our enemies should strengthen our resolve to be more humane?
Britain claims to cherish the rule of law, and yet making Shamima Begum stateless has placed her beyond the reach of our laws. Further, the accepted practice is that countries should take responsibility for their own citizens, and now Shamima has been cut off, to become someone else's problem.
If this young woman is really an irredeemable terrorist, programmed to destroy western civilisation. and incapable of redemption, why is she now in a place where she cannot be watched or monitored, where she is free to arrange terror plots and radicalise others? Surely it would be a more effective way to deal with a potential threat to security by getting Shamima to a place where she can be monitored by our own intelligence agencies?
Rather than being a beacon of international law we have probably broken international law by rendering one of our own citizens stateless due to a failure to exercise due diligence in checking whether or not she would be granted citizenship elsewhere.
But what of her infant son Jarrah, a British national who had no say over who his mother was, where he was born, or what played well in the British media – he has had all of his potential wasted. His life is now over: he could have become a valuable citizen, a teacher, a paramedic, a sportsman, perhaps even Britain’s first compassionate Muslim Home Secretary.
So what of the many other Britons who have been involved with ISIS? Will the men again be allowed to return, while the women become stateless? It's time to establish and apply a just and rational series of penalties – and above all to safeguard the innocent children, whether in their freezing camps or with family in the UK, whichever is accepted to be in their best interests.
Actions requested ….
a) The charity Refugees@Home is asking for hosts who have a room to spare for young asylum seekers in need of accommodation. You can find out more on their website – www.refugeesathome.org
b) Several groups and individuals have called for letters to MPs calling upon them to support a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. Detaining people indefinitely does not reflect the justice due to every person that we as a nation pride ourselves upon upholding. It leaves parents separated from their children with no indication of when they might be reunited. Victims of torture and trafficking and people with severe mental health conditions are among those who have fled persecution only to end up being detained indefinitely. Many are detained for months or even years. One person was detained for four and a half years.
The pending House of Commons Report Stage for the Immigration and Social Security Coordination Bill and its subsequent return for a further Reading give MPs opportunities to push for changes and introduce a time limit, as recommended by a report from the Joint Human Rights Committee.
c) The Calais warehouses not only need donations of clothes and bedding, but more volunteers to help to sort the donations and deliver food and aid to the exiles receiving rough treatment in Calais. You can find out more at
If you want to go to Calais and see what's involved – and perhaps deliver some goods – then, at the moment, taking a car with or without passengers on a day trip with P&O Ferries will gain you six free bottles of wine on your outward journey just by using the Promotional Code WINE19 when making your reservation.
1. Thursday 20 June is World Refugee Day, in the middle of Refugee Week – watch out for events in your locality and for details of a pending simultaneous joint Anglo-French event on the beaches of Dover and Calais during the evening.
2. The Samphire Project, based in Dover, works particularly to improve the lives of people released from immigration detention and experiencing destitution, and also to support the development of well-informed, cohesive and diverse communities in the Dover area and beyond. Saturday 29th June sees the annual Multicultural Festival 'Dover Together', always a popular, joyful and entertaining event. Find out more at www.samphireproject.org.uk/dover-together/
Thank you for all your appreciative comments and support. Please keep up all the good work!
Phil + Ben.
14 February 2019
WHY ARE WE HERE?
It is sometimes good to remind ourselves about the raison d'être of a small organisation such as ourselves. A recent focus on human trafficking shows that this is one of the scourges of our modern age. It can so easily be hidden under the rhetoric about the rights and wrongs of migration. The facts are becoming more clear as the dangers of trafficking are understood better. Children are trafficked not only as potential child soldiers, but equally as child beggars and prostitutes. Women are trafficked equally for both prostitution, forced labour and forced marriage – it is these shocking facts that impel us and so many other NGOs to ensure that the vulnerable people currently stuck in Northern France and elsewhere never have to meet this fate. It is the least we owe to them in protection of human dignity.
Ordinary people often fail to realise how they are sometimes “part of the chain of supply and demand” for cheap goods and illicit pleasures that has led to an estimated 40 million people being trapped in slavery around the world – a third of whom are believed to be children. Slavery is estimated to be among the world's most profitable criminal activities, so that we risk a return to slave-driven economies. A particularly abhorrent aspect is the emergence of trade in children's corneas, which is the most barbaric kind of trafficking possible as it leaves them blind for life
Thanks to the efforts of Barbara Kentish and her colleagues there are there are regular liaison meetings between the NGOs in France and England in which we have an opportunity to plan joint actions as well as sharing our experiences. Following a successful meeting in Calais on 24th January, the next meeting will be held in Dover on the 21st February, during which there will be an opportunity to plan for a joint symbolic action in these two towns on World Refugee Day, 20th June. Do put this date in your diary.
2. IN CALAIS AND DUNKIRK
There is yet further confirmation of the hostile environment which the French government seems as committed to as previously. In Calais a well used service station has now been fenced off at huge expense to the government to ensure that migrants cannot enter the premises. Nearby shelter underneath an overpass bridge for the port access road has been cut off by grilles, creating even more inconvenience and exposure to the elements as they eke out their daily existence.
Roughly half of the 1,000+ displaced people in and around Calais have slept outside in the freezing cold. Last year, four of them died. The state has a responsibility to open shelters when temperatures are very low and keep vulnerable people safe and warm. The temporary accommodation, however, is on the fringe of Calais and hundreds have remained outside because they lack adequate transport.
On a typical January night in Dunkirk, the council housed 160 people inside a gym, but 132 tents remained outside, holding around 200 people sleeping in temperatures of minus two degrees.
Meantime, our governments are spending money on building walls and fences!
3. VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS
It is voluntary organisations that continue to shoulder the bulk of the work to meet the basic needs of the displaced people in France. All around the world, people are forced to flee in huge numbers by war, poverty, famine and persecution; making treacherous journeys to seek safety. Whether it’s due to a lack of political will, formal structures and processes, or public funds, it is charities and volunteers who provide the majority of aid and care. And, there are no signs that this situation will change soon.
Raha Lehall, a volunteer with Social Workers Without Borders, comments that while hostility and discrimination are favoured over fair immigration policies, those of us with relative power need to use it. We can all continue to do what we can to raise awareness of the unacceptable situations that people are forced to live in, and the amazing work of volunteers and incredible organisations who fill the void by donating, collecting and distributing vital aid. What we need is more. More people, more money, more will, more kindness. And less. Less hate, less nationalism, less hostility and less greed to counter the voices of those who believe that our country is “full”.
One Calais lady who lives next to the “new jungle”, says that she gives bottles of water to those in need, lets them charge their phones and dresses their wounds if they get injured. “I have been involved with migrants for 20 years, but since we have been given the right to bring them home, I do it,” she told a reporter. “Whatever is there, they know they can take it.” Her neighbours, however, have built a 60-metre wall so that they can avoid “seeing the refugees" who visit.
We attach an appeal for more people to come to Calais and volunteer at the Maria Skobtsova House or at the Caritas Secours Catholique Day Centre and serve among the many refugees and migrants living on the streets. They would like to see this Appeal spread through your networks and noticeboards.
Not so far away, a church service that was performed continuously for 96 days in the Bethel church in The Hague drew to a close at the end of January, having commenced in October. The Dutch government eventually agreed to pardon a family of five who the pastors were shielding from deportation as part of a wider amnesty. The marathon relied on a medieval law that says immigration authorities cannot enter while a religious service is being performed.
One of us (Ben) enjoyed very much his time in Lourdes last summer with his disabled wife, since it was only way to go abroad. He writes 'I was concerned to learn that the airline which was chartered to take sick and disabled pilgrims to Lourdes was the same one that is chartered by the Home Office to carry out forced and inhuman deportation flights – Titan Airways, operators of the plane involved in the case of the “Stansted 15”, who hindered its take-off. The thought of sitting in a seat on which a deportee has been shackled and perhaps gagged was particularly disturbing ...
Sue Clayton, Professor of Film and Television at Goldsmith's College, London, previously produced "Calais Children – A Case to Answer", following the scandal of what happened to the almost 2000 lone children who were in the Calais "Jungle" as it burned down. She has now produced an equally striking short 20 minute film, again causing audiences to ask difficult questions of themselves and of our government. Entitled "The Stansted 15 On Trial", it includes footage from the airport and direct statements to camera from some of those involved. It can be found at https://vimeo.com/310957841 .
5. SMALL BOATS IN THE CHANNEL
Both Phil and Ben have continued to respond to media requests for comment on the increased number of small boats that arrive off the coast of Kent. In common with others, we have pointed out that the Home Secretary seems to be ignorant of his duty under international law to receive asylum seekers and consider their claims – not immediately returning them to other countries (apart, perhaps, if under the clauses of the EU “Dublin” protocol that aim to ensure that only one country is working on an asylum claim).
French groups have denounced the “strong plan of action” for the French coast: more surveillance patrols, actions aiming to disband trafficking gangs, campaigns to raise awareness amongst migrants to the dangers of the Channel, and the surveillance of beaches and ports by police and drones.
Great Britain has recorded 630,000 immigrants admitted each year, of which the authorities reckon that 70,000 enter illegally, including 15,000 who arrive by lorry, cars or containers. And because a few hundred have arrived by boat since the beginning of November, the authorities talk about a 'crisis'. In another comparison, Great Britain registered only 26,350 asylum applications in a period when there were 121,200 in France, with the British number declining and the French rising. Under the Le Touquet agreement, walls and fences have been built around the Dunkirk and Calais ports, the Calais-Fréthum station and the Channel Tunnel entrance have been fitted with cameras, plus more and more elaborate control systems for vehicles. Hundreds of police guard petrol stations, car parks and roundabouts, and do everything to discourage migrants from staying near the border. It is despair which pushes them to risk their lives at sea.
1. FAMILY REUNION
In January "Safe Passage" reported the amazing news that 'JMB', a child in France who had been trying to reunite with his aunt in the UK for more than two years, would finally be allowed to join her. The teenager, an orphan who recently turned 18, applied under the “expedited process” to join his British aunt in the UK in October 2016 following the 'Jungle' demolition, but his application was rejected by the Home Office – a decision which along with many others has since been ruled unlawful. He then left the French shelter where he had been taken to and returned to Calais, where he became street homeless and subsequently contracted tuberculosis and pneumonia. He has since been diagnosed with PTSD. In June the Home Office told lawyers that would be “swiftly” transferred to the UK, but that he must first claim asylum in France. But a month after the French authorities registered his asylum claim and made a request for the UK to accept him he was still waiting, prolonging the two years of uncertainty and causing him serious distress.
He had left Eritrea aged 15 to avoid persecution, and experienced being kidnapped, beaten and starved during his journey to Europe. He witnessed people drown when the boat he crossed the Mediterranean in almost sank. He had complied with the Home Office’s expedited process after the demolition of the 'Jungle' yet, as the courts found, he had been subject to an unfair process and was unfairly refused transfer to reunite with his aunt. He was then told that all he had to do was claim asylum in France, where the UK had already secured agreement that a request for transfer to
the UK would be swiftly processed. However, the processing was far from swift!
In February the government has come under pressure from MPs and charities to relax family reunion rules for refugees settled in the UK. Currently only adult refugees can apply for their married or civil partners and dependent children under 18 to join them. Grandparents, parents, siblings and children who are 18 or older are not eligible. In addition, children with refugee status who are in the UK alone do not have a right to be reunited with even their closest family members.
The rules could be changed, either through amendments to the government’s post-Brexit immigration bill or through a private member’s bill. Debates have also brought criticism of the policy of allowing indefinite periods of detention.
We reported in May upon the shooting of Mawda, a two-year-old Kurdish girl by the single police bullet fired during a motorway chase in Belgium. A leaked report that had been presented to the Belgian Parliament in camera revealed a shocking attitude from its authors. The text dealt with purely technical matters relating to police communications and the little girl's death was merely a detail: her name was not mentioned, neither were the terms “little girl”, “arms”, or “death” used. Just a “shooting incident”. There was no consideration of questions such as: “How can a policeman think that it is legitimate to draw arms against a van carrying migrants”; “Why have no charges been brought?”; “How can one deny the existence of a bullet wound when everyone can see it?”
Furthermore, eight months after Mawda's killing, the right of her parents to reside in Belgium has still not been settled, as had been promised. Without residence permits they remain in an uncertain limbo, unable to plan for their future or to seek employment.
1. “CITIZENS OF THE WORLD CHOIR”
This was established in March 2017 by a group of humanitarian and musical professionals. In a short time, the choir brought together people from over 24 different nationalities in a musical project that has had several very successful seasons. It is a choir for people who are refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and friends, providing a safe space for people to express themselves through music, as well as creating a diverse, friendly social community. It has no political affiliation, but uses its platform to advocate for refugee rights and human rights, and to show the powerful contribution that refugees and immigrants make to our society.
More displaced people are needed as members. This is a great enterprise, much worthy of support and people can find out more about the choir from its website.
2. THE CAMEROON
After World War One, Britain and France shared responsibility for this former German colony, which developed relatively separate French- and English-speaking zones. When later gaining independence, some Anglophone provinces voted to join Nigeria, and others to remain in a federal system with French Cameroon, which guaranteed preservation of their culture and language. However, in due course the French majority brought in a new constitution which ignored many of these pledges and matters came to a head a couple of years ago when the government appointed French-speaking teachers and lawyers to replace the existing staff.
People requested the restoration of the federal system of government and respect for their traditions, but their pleas went unheard by the 86-year-old President Paul Biya, in power since 1982. Violent protests and repression ensued, aggravated by demands for complete independence. Despite a lack of cover by mainstream media, shocking eyewitness accounts of atrocities have arrived in this country from someone who studied here, and several have been posted by Independent Catholic News, the most vivid example bring found here.
Readers are encouraged to draw this report to the attention of MPs or the Foreign Secretary and ask what is being done to bring diplomatic pressure to bear in order to restore peace and justice. Many refugees are fleeing, and some have already arrived in Europe.
With our continued thanks for all your concerns,
Ben + Phil.
9 January 2019
CURRENT LISTS OF GOODS NEEDED IN CALAIS AREA
DUNKIRK WOMEN'S CENTRE
- CURRENT NEEDS
- AMAZON WISH LIST
REFUGEE COMMUNITY KITCHEN (CALAIS)
HELP REFUGEES / AUBERGE DES MIGRANTS WAREHOUSE
- CURRENT NEEDS
- LEISURE FAYRE (DISCOUNTED) WISH LIST – WITH FREE DELIVERY TO CALAIS
- AMAZON WISH LIST
- UK DROP-OFF POINTS
- CURRENT NEEDS
- UK DROP_OFF POINTS
Please note the items that are NOT needed -- and the strongly preferred sorting and labelling methods.
8 January 2019
Our update arrives rather later (and longer) than usual, partly because we have both been somewhat overwhelmed by requests from domestic and foreign media, both TV, radio and press, about the recent upsurge in perilous small boat crossings of the English Channel.
Our role of correcting misinformation and presenting the complete picture of the current situation is more important than ever. We have all been scandalised by the comments of the Home Secretary that those who arrive by boat across the channel would have their asylum cases considered less favourably, and also queried why anyone would want to leave France even though the conditions there are worse than ever – with those who try to find shelter finding their tents torn down by the police within hours and their few possessions taken away. Like his predecessors, he seems not to have taken the trouble to consult neutral observers on the ground, preferring to take third-hand reports from officials at face value.
You will find details of how to contact him at the end of this update. We have tried to downplay the notion of a 'crisis' – the few people making it across the Channel are nothing compared to the 400,000 who have arrived in Lampedusa over the past 20 years.
SHELTER IN DUNKIRK
From Dunkirk comes the welcome news that the Mayor – Damien Carême – has once again organised some shelter for the most vulnerable exiles during the cold conditions. This contrasts with the situation in Calais where no shelter is provided until temperatures drop sufficiently low for enough hours to trigger the town council's legal obligation to provide shelter for the all who are in need.
Our update continues not in Northern France but in Switzerland, as we remind ourselves of the many challenges as well as traumas faced by those seeking sanctuary before they even get into France.
A 72 year old lady, Anni Lanz, was found guilty of assisting a young Afghan man to cross from Italy into Switzerland so that she could offer him a temporary home. He has already been 'Dublined' back to Italy in spite of a medical recommendation that he be allowed to stay in Switzerland because of the trauma he had experienced on learning that his wife and young family had been killed in Afghanistan. And in Italy he discovered the harsh reality of the hostile environment of the new Italian government when he found that he was not eligible for a place in a shelter for vulnerable people and so had to sleep outside in freezing temperatures. Anni Lutz was arrested as she met him at the frontier station of Domodossola and was later given a heavy fine at a court hearing.
We must not underestimate the effects of the brutal nature of the new Italian policies and given that thousands of asylum seekers are 'Dublined' to Italy each month, the prospects for those seeking sanctuary seem bleaker than ever – hostile environments are spreading across Europe.
Closer to home, some 40 people, including several local mayors, braved the rain and the wind in the afternoon of 15th December on Dover seafront to attend the inauguration of a new memorial to the over 200 people who have died in the last 20 years in attempts to reach and cross the Channel to seek sanctuary in the UK. The service was led by the Bishop of Dover, the Right Rev. Trevor Willmott, assisted by the Parish Priest of the Good Shepherd Parish in Dover, Fr Jeff Cridland. A slightly extended account was posted to our website on 17 December [a little below this Update], along with some photographs. We are grateful for the donations that have covered all of the expenses involved in setting up this memorial.
Another addition to the website is a full report on the Day of Solidarity that took place on October 20 in Dover, which can be found here, in English – or here, in French.
At the start of December a consortium of groups issued a report on the findings of a year-long record of monitoring and documenting human rights violations of displaced people and aid workers in Calais. This shows that between November 2017 and November 2018 French police carried out 393 separate camp evictions against refugees in the port area. Typically, a raid is carried out by more than 50 police, some armed with assault rifles and tear gas grenade launchers, who force dozens of people to drop their belongings and leave the wasteland that some have called their home for months. This repeated destruction of camps has forced many of the exiles – largely Afghan, Eritrean or Sudanese men aged between 18 and 25 alongside a smaller population of Iranians – to sleep without shelter in woods or beneath motorway bridges on the outskirts of the town.
It is the first time that levels of violence and harassment by the French authorities against refugees have been documented in detail over a sustained period. The five camps then established in the Calais area had been levelled four times each per week, a policy that also inflicts profound psychological damage on the occupants. People are forced to to be constantly on the move. Tents used to last for six months, but they now last barely six days. The writers say that there is an incredibly hostile environment, with conditions the worst that they have ever been.
A police spokesperson has stated that: "Since the dismantling of the Lande de Calais camp, the objective of the public authorities has been to avoid the formation of new shanty towns in Calais, which would put migrants in inhumane conditions. The objective is also to preserve order and public security both for the people of Calais and the migrants themselves, particularly with regard to smugglers. Operations to remove illegal camps are regularly carried out to remove the makeshift shelters discovered in Calais, in respect of the rights of migrants and police ethics."
Meanwhile the majority of families from the Dunkirk area had moved to accommodation centres set up by the national government all over Northern France, a system that started in 2007. On most days buses take people from informal camps to accommodation centres where shelter is provided for one month – or longer, if they apply for asylum.
Centre management has been outsourced and living conditions, duration of stay, location, and access to information differ widely from one to another. Some are former hotels, others are flats completely spread across a few buildings, one is an annex to a church, another is a building in a medical compound awaiting demolition. There are many sizes and styles, some more comfortable than others. Mostly, they are in rural places, but some live in the middle of a city and others by the motorway where there's no phone signal.
Refugee Rights Europe members returned to Calais to speak to displaced individuals and to record the ongoing human rights failures unfolding in the area. After decades of encampments and evictions, and two years on from the demolition of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp, it is evident that approach tried so far by the state is simply not working. The report lists conditions that are characterised by precariouness, rough-sleeping and dangerous border-crossings, with aid organisations working relentlessly to fill gaps left by the authorities during the freezing winter months.
A volunteer with a first-aid charity reported that people without families had been scattered, with the lucky ones sleeping in abandoned buildings, the unlucky ones on the street or under bridges. Injuries include festering wounds in hands and feet, broken bones, infected blisters, eye infections, scabies, and more.
Responding to questions from Church Times about the recent upturn in numbers of small boats bringing people on perilous journeys across the Channel, Canon Kirrilee Reid, the recently-appointed Anglican chaplain in Calais joined others in saying that: “The terms ‘Migrant crisis’ and ‘major incident’ are unhelpful. This situation is not new. There have been dangerous crossings for years. Many have died trying to cross the Channel by train, boat and lorry. There has been an increase in those attempting to cross the English Channel by boat in recent weeks, and this is dangerous, but, sadly, indicative of the plight of desperate people.”
“Pushing the problem back to France is not the solution,” she said. “The more difficult it is for those seeking asylum to make the crossing, the more smugglers will thrive. In Calais, migrants are pushed into the hands of smugglers or traffickers because they are so desperate. Entering the UK legally from Calais is almost impossible. Many asylum-seekers do not believe that they have a future in France. They are not confident asking for asylum. They do not feel welcome in Calais. There is a large police presence here. Some report experiences of police aggression. As many as three times a week, their makeshift camps are currently being dismantled and possessions confiscated. There is a perception that the British system is more just. Many have family, friends and community members in the UK already and understandably want to join them.”
A Sky News report on interviews with young exiles in Calais and in Britain concluded that: “The young people we met were evidence that with help they can become productive members of society. Some now work in social care, others are looking to set up businesses. Everyone we met had enormous gratitude to the UK. They are all survivors, and that seems to translate into strong ambitions to make their lives here a success”.
We are disturbed both by the style of comments made by our Home Secretary and their content. He appears to be ignorant of the UK's obligations as a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees to ensure that requests for asylum are treated fairly and systematically and that no penalties are imposed upon those who enter illegally in search of asylum, provided that they present themselves without delay.
As ever, there are appeals for warm clothes and bedding as well as comfort items to mark the arrival of the New Year. Links to all these can be found immediately above this Update. Please share these and also consider visiting Northern France, to bear witness and to bring your support! Long term volunteers are needed who can commit to more than one month, as well as people who can make shorter visits, hopefully on a regular basis.
A few days before Christmas the Home Office finally agreed to remove the January 2018 cut-off date for the arrival of young people in Europe for them to be eligible to take up some of the 250+ “Dubs” places still unfilled. The Calais Refugee Youth Service knows of at least 45 children aged 15 and under who are now eligible for consideration – not to mention 30 who have already been approved but who are waiting to be offered a place because those offered two years ago have since been used for other cases by many Councils. Safe Passage asks people to contact their MPs to request that they persuade Councils to renew their offers. They provide a template form for you to easily take action.
UN GLOBAL COMPACTS
December 18 was International Migrants' Day, key to a season when Global Compacts on Refugees and on Migration were adopted by the UN General Assembly. These are frameworks that cover all dimensions of international migration and so can serve as a basis for future joint action among nations. The documents both reaffirm the sovereign right of states to determine their national migration policies, and emphasise the fact that all migrants are entitled to universal human rights, while also aspiring to eliminate all forms of discrimination, including racism, xenophobia and intolerance against migrants and their families.
Some of the objectives and policy recommendations aim to:
- gather better data on international migration
- minimise factors that compel people to leave their own country
- provide migrants with a proof of legal identity
- reduce vulnerabilities in migration, including "the conditions they face in countries of origin, transit and destination"
- combat smuggling and people trafficking.
Do you want to challenge the cultures of fear, prejudice, self-interest and scapegoating of immigrants prevalent within today's society? And call upon the government to have a change of heart and extend a true welcome to strangers in need, offering them human dignity? One possibility in London is to join a weekly lunchtime vigil outside the Home Office organised by the London Catholic Worker. This starts at 12.30 pm every Tuesday outside the Home Office at 2 Marsham Street, Westminster SW1P 4DF. (Nearest Tubes: Westminster, St James’ Park, Victoria.)
How to contact the Home Secretary and make your views known
Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF -
or use the email address email@example.com
Comment on Social Media:
Website: www.sajidjavid.com (includes a contact form to send messages)
With best wishes for 2019!
17 December 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DEDICATION OF MEMORIAL .
Some 40 people braved the rain and the wind in the afternoon of 15th December on Dover seafront to attend the inauguration of a new memorial to the over 200 migrants who have died in the last 20 years in attempts to reach and cross the Channel to seek sanctuary in the UK. The service was led by the Bishop of Dover, the Right Rev. Trevor Willmott, assisted by the Parish Priest of the Good Shepherd Parish in Dover, Fr Jeff Cridland.
Five Mayors from Dover and neighbouring towns were present to pay their respects.The tragic deaths of a number of those involved were recounted as the Mayor of Dover the Right Worshipful Sue Jones placed flowers in memory of the victims and the Mayor of Deal, the Worshipful NIck Tomaszewski read a poignant poem dedicated to all the victims.
Speaking after the service, Ben Bano from 'Seeking Sanctuary' commented: ' Our event today was not about the rights and wrongs of migration - it was an opportunity to remember all those who have died trying to seek sanctuary in these tragic circumstances. Many of those involved have no one for grieve for them - hence it is only right that we act as a proxy. I hope that the memorial will continue to remind us that, in the words of Pope Francis, 'Every migrant has a name, a face and a story'.
Only hours earlier, eleven more had successfully completed the perilous journey, including four children. A number of the attendees were associated with local and national efforts to provide humanitarian aid, including the Refugee Council. The ceremony ended with remarks by a representative from one such group, Marisa Rickard of Canterbury-based 'Care4Humanity', who included a relevant quotation from the Muslim tradition, 'Use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, your hands for charity, your mind for truth and your heart for love'.
Photos attached - here and here.
3 December 2018
Solidarity Across the Channel - Report
A full report on the October 20 Day of Solidarity in Dover can be found here, in English - or here, in French.
21 November 2018
Memorial to Migrant Deaths - Dover
Please find an invitation here for you and/or your community to be represented at the inauguration of the new memorial on Dover seafriont to those who have died seeking sanctuary by crossing the Channel. This will be led by the Bishop of Dover, Right Rev. Trevor Willmott, and will start at 3.00pm on Saturday 15 December.
We realise that not everyone will be able to attend in person, but trust that you will be pleased to know about this initiative, and will be able to extend this invitation to anyone who you believe may be interested.
19 November 2018
Phil takes part in a phone-in for BBC Radio Kent following the discovery of 9 migrants on rocks near Folkestone and another dead under a coach at the Eurotunnel terminal. These add to around 90 others spotted arriving in small boats during the previous week or ten days. (Later in the day, Ben appeared in the BBC regional evening news, and Phil on the ITV channel's news programme!)
6 November 2018
UPDATE FOR NOVEMBER 2018
'One can face life without yielding to despondency or madness, since the anguish of the world is embraced by an infinite benevolence investing it with purpose.' Erik Varden, 2018.
JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS
Ben writes: As I was glancing at the BBC news a few days ago, an item caught my attention – a report that in an Ipswich school a 30 year old man was attending classes. The report was full of warnings from parents, threatening to withdraw their children from classes while the man was present in the classroom. It transpired that the person concerned is an asylum seeker whose age is the subject of some contention. What saddened me was the rapid assumption he could be a risk to his classmates – I felt that we are gradually, if not unconsciously, absorbing the narrative which associates asylum seekers – and foreigners – with risk and danger. Are we absorbing the Trumpian anti migrant narrative more than the might believe? Hence the need for our advocacy work and that of so many other organisations as we seek to combat their dangerous narrative.
It has been a source of comfort to know that we are not alone. A few weeks ago we were pleased to be with 90 people who joined us in Dover for the ‘Solidarity across the Channel’ event, which we helped to organise. It was great for activists and supporters to link up with each other, share their experiences, and learn about the various ways on both sides of the Channel in which the ‘hostile environment' common to both Britain and France operates.
Afterwards we held a short prayer vigil at the newly installed memorial for the over 200 people who have lost their lives attempting to reach the UK from the other side of the Channel during the past 20 years. The memorial is situated on the promenade of Dover seafront, fittingly within line of sight of the French coast. (And thanks to all of our generous supporters who have enabled us to pay for the memorial in full). The official inauguration takes placeat 3.00 pm on 15th December, to be led by the Bishop of Dover – see attached flyer. Please join us if you are nearby! Let us remember at this point the 64 people who have just lost their lives off the coast of Libya, when their rubber dinghy was punctured.
Our advocacy for the forgotten child exiles continues. We have just learnt the news that only 20 unaccompanied child refugees have been allowed into the UK under a scheme that was meant to settle 3000 vulnerable children from the conflict zones of the Middle East and North Africa. And in spite of the publicity given to the Dubbs amendment, we now know that only 220 children have been transferred to the UK under this scheme in spite of the grudging ‘official’ target of 480 children. This month marks the 80th anniversary of the first kindertransport, when Neville Chamberlain agreed to accept up to 10,000 children. What a contrast between then and now, particularly in view of Britain’s stated aims to put an end to modern slavery and trafficking, to which unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable.
Recent figures from the Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC), which identifies and tries to locate children who have crossed the Channel alone, show that since August 2016, 293 youngsters are known to have arrived via unauthorised routes, of whom, just 103 have been located – suggesting many are living underground. Our friends in Social Workers Without Borders, who jointly carried out a series of child assessments in the Calais 'Jungle' prior to its demolition, said that of the 42 children they then assessed as being “in need” – none of whom were granted safe passage – just 9 are now known to have made it to the UK alone, while 14 are 'untraceable'.
The Dubs scheme was supposed to result in the UK transfer of vulnerable refugees who were languishing in the 'Jungle ', desperately needed assistance. This clearly was not done. People who get over alone may be told that they owe maybe £1,000-£2,000 to traffickers. Sometimes they’re given a year to sort their paperwork, and then they’re told they’ve got to start paying it back: that is when the exploitation begins. But no one is willing to speak, because they can't guarantee the safety of their families back home in Sudan or Afghanistan, if they do name the exploiters.
THE DOVER EVENT
As Ben has remarked, around 90 people (a third of them from the Pas-de-Calais) attended the 'Solidarity Across the Channel' gathering in St Paul's Church, Dover on 20 October. We shared news and views about the situation of thousands of migrants surviving near the French coast, largely forgotten by the media and subject to an extremely hostile environment. The Justice and Peace Commissions of the Westminster and Southwark Archdioceses had organised the gathering in collaboration with us and with and the Catholic Worker house of hospitality in Calais. Everyone greatly appreciated the welcome – and hot lunch – provided by parish priest, Fr Jeff Cridland, and his community.
Conversations – translated into French or English, as appropriate – were enlivened and provoked by a short interactive play “Stage 3”, presented on behalf of the “Safe Passage” campaign to seek pledges to accept another 10,000 children over 10 years, marking this year's 80th anniversary of 'Kindertransport'.
SHOCKING FACTS FROM FRANCE
UK participants were shocked to learn about the state-sponsored hostility that is part of everyday life for exiles stuck in our neighbouring countries. There was good news from those who work to alleviate some of the hardship and to provide a little dignity to those in dire need:
- The Community Kitchen and Salam provide around 2000 meals daily;
- warehouses set up by the Auberge des Migrants and Care4Calais provide clothes, bedding and toiletries;
- other groups provide more specific services such as First Aid, legal advice and language classes;
- Secours Catholique and the Catholic Worker House strive to establish an atmosphere which values people as individuals, made in God's image and likeness, each called to fulfil their potential.
All these and other support groups constantly need fresh volunteers and donations of supplies.
AND FROM THE UK
Our French visitors were appalled hear the complexity and delays in the UK asylum process, where almost half the appeals against an initial refusal of any right to remain get overturned upon appeal. Also, the continued use of indefinite detention for people who have committed no crime and and have not appeared in court. This deprives people of liberty for administrative convenience, and is costly, ineffective and harmful to mental health and well-being.
Listlessness soon develops under the Limbo of indefinite detention. One week stretches into a month or three, and a sense of hopelessness is etched on every face and strains every conversation. It is particularly galling that over half the detainees are eventually released into the community, confirming their incarceration was pointless.
LATEST NEWS FROM DUNKIRK
UK residents were further shocked to find out about the 1800 people (mainly Kurds) sleeping rough in woods near Dunkirk, including many women and children, whilst another 800 remain in and around Calais. Police regularly confiscate and destroy tents, bedding and other belongings, having been ordered to stop the coast becoming a “pole of attraction” - the equivalent of the “Culture of Hostility” practised by the UK Home Office.
All organisers are hard at work for the moment, producing a bilingual report on our time together, but will keep in touch across the sea and discern what actions we can take together, both in advocacy for these voiceless people and in raising awareness of injustices, eventually meeting together once more.
- And if you are buying Christmas presents, you might consider the 2019 Wall Calendar produced by the Refugee Community Kitchen, which is full of nourishing recipes, downsized for use at home. suggested donation of £15 per Calendar, made here, will cover production costs and still make a meaningful £9 contribution to the Kitchen - enough to pay for 18 decent hot meals.
As ever, our thanks for your support and your concern,
Ben + Phil.
3 November 2018
Phil and Ben are each interviewed by BBC Radio Kent's "Saturday Breakfast" programme, to mark the second anniversary of the elimination of the Calais "Jungle". (Click on either name to follow a link to hear one of the interviews.)
5 October 2018
SOLIDARITY – EVENT IN DOVER
We have received a good number of remarks complimenting us and our fellow-organisers on arranging the cross-Channel and bi-lingual event planned for 20 October in Dover. But we really need to know how many of you hope to attend, so that we can hope to have enough chairs and food arranged! If possible try to let us know before 13 October. (One of the other organisers is temporarily experiencing problems with receiving emails!). Flyers for the event are here and here, in which you are urged to read both pages 1 and 2 – and send one flyer along to anyone else who may be interested.
We now know that a drama group associated with the “Safe Passage” campaigns team will join us to present an exciting new short piece looking at the bureaucracy and power of the naturalisation system and at young peoples’ sense of belonging and citizenship rights. It's a participatory performance leading to discussion, that addresses the process of being categorised on the basis of race, age and socio-economic background, and raises questions about perceptions of power and powerlessness.
As we write these lines we are hearing about the fate of the 'Aquarius' which has been refused permission to land at Marseilles with 48 migrants - it is sad to think that complex negotiations were needed to place such a small number of people across Europe. France is evidently following the 'hostile agenda' actively pursued by Italy and the UK. Remember that people from Africa seeking sanctuary often face a threefold trauma - the persecution and sometimes genocide at home, the atrocious conditions in refugee camps in Libya, and finally the hostile welcome off European shores. Is it any wonder that mental illness and post-traumatic stress are so common amongst exiles?
2 October saw the arrest of Domenico Lucano, the mayor of Riace in Calabria, one of the most impoverished regions of Italy. He became famous for bucking the trend of snowballing unemployment rates and net emigration and taking in at least 6,000 migrants in the past 20 years and offering opportunities for work. The almost-ghost town of 900 residents in 1998 now has a population of over 2,000 with migrants living alongside many former inhabitants who had left but who are now returning.
Italy's right-wing populist coalition government intensely dislikes the model which has restored the ailing economy and cultural fabric of the town whilst assisting refugees. After 14 years as mayor, Lucano has received increasing attacks from the political establishment, culminating in the Guardia di Finanzia putting him under house arrest accused of 'aiding and abetting illegal immigration.'
Closer to home, the situation has not improved. The pattern of repeated clearances of camps has continued. At Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, after four clearances in four months, many play a cat and mouse game with police who do not hesitate to destroy tents and possessions as they find them. At the start of September, police arrived before dawn with a row of coaches to move people to “Welcome and Orientation Centres” elsewhere in France. 100 to 200 evaded them and about 550 were removed – only for several coaches to return in the early evening, having found no-one willing to receive their passengers. Police would not allow them to receive food and water near their previous settlement, leaving them forlorn for the night, slumped against a wall on a small patch of wasteland near the Auchan hypermarket. Hundreds more returned over the next couple of days and by the end of the month, when another 'evacuation' took place, the population was approaching 1300 – including 250 children.
Those concerned are largely Kurds whose asylum applications have been refused in Germany and Italy and who neither wish to be returned to places where they were not welcome nor to apply for asylum in France where they are harshly treated. It is said that most of them are controlled by people smugglers who have already been paid for their transport to the UK
The Mayor of Grande-Synthe, Damien Carême, has been persistent in demanding the provision of even basic shelter as winter approaches. The small warehouse near the site has also been rendered unfit for use by fire and the local Women's Centre reports a desperate need for basic supplies, including clothing for women and children. You can donate money and order new goods from their wish list or donate goods listed on their other list.
Other support groups – listed in past updates that can be found on our website – are keen to receive new regular volunteers, now that many younger activists have resumed their courses of education.
Attempts to reach the UK are now being made from many ports and beaches along the Channel. TV images have been shown from Ouistreham, near Caen, which has ferry and catamaran links to Portsmouth. We are concerned to hear that the Portsmouth Red Cross has spotted people illegally being refused entry by UK officials and being sent directly back to France, rather than taken into custody for processing by the immigration service.
As it happens, in July, the British Red Cross issued a report calling for an overhaul of the immigration detention system, the first major charity to do so. Thousands of innocent asylum seekers – often fleeing war and torture – are detained each year and locked up indefinitely with no support, and very many suffer mental health problems which sometimes lead to suicide attempts.
A welcome – though tardy – development in September was the announcement that children from the former Calais 'Jungle' are to be granted the right to remain in the UK. More than 200 youngsters will gain a new status to allow continued access to study, work and the NHS until they can apply for citizenship in 10 years' time. Around 550 of the 750+ lone children brought to the UK in 2016 went to live with family already residing here and over the past two years the majority of them gained the right to remain in the UK under existing international protections. However, a small group fell through this gap as they did not qualify for the same protections.
The Home Office announcement skates over the fact unaccompanied children who arrived under the "Dubs scheme" but were subsequently reunited with family members have still been counted towards the final (grudging) target of admitting 480 lone children. This means that others remain stranded when they should have been given refuge in the UK as intended by Lord Dubs' amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act.
We repeat that there are unjust repercussions from other cruel elements of the Home Office's past culture of hostility that remain unaddressed. A Court of Appeal judgement issued on 3 October states that 'the reasons given for rejecting a child [in Calais] ... were patently inadequate.' The government should now recognise that every child considered for transfer under the Dubs scheme and refused must be given full reasons for that decision. And as a consequence they will be able to appeal against decisions.
Sadly, the number of places under the scheme will remain capped at 480, as the Court was not convinced that the government’s consultation with local authorities over how many could be accepted was defective. “Help Refugees”, who led the legal actions are asking us to write to MPs and tell them that all remaining Dubs places must be filled by the end of the year: after just under two-and-a-half-years, nearly half of the miserly 480 places listed as available for these children remain empty!
A separate, but allied, campaign marks the 80th anniversary of the WW2 Kindertransport initiative in November. The aim is to convince authorities that we can again provide safe havens for 10,000 young people – from conflict regions across the world – and do this over the coming 10 years. A useful campaign information pack is available, indicating channels through which you can encourage local authorities and MPs to pledge to undertake the necessary actions.
On this side of the channel we are pleased to confirm that the memorial to those who have lost their lives attempting to reach the UK will soon be in place - the official inauguration will take place on 15th December at 3.00 pm and will be led by the Bishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott. We are still £300 short of our target and donations to help to cover this amount will be most welcome. Cheques should be made out to 'Cleverley and Spencer' (stonemasons) and sent to Ben at 95 College Road, Deal, Kent CT114 6BU.
14 August 2018
Despite the holiday season important news (often overlooked by mainstream UK media) continues to arrive … not least that the recent extreme heatwave has proved a cause of much suffering, even for those used to hotter climates. The complete lack of shelter and accessible running water are just two of the problems, notwithstanding the efforts of the committed volunteers who are ever present with supplies, including fresh water and other essential goods.
NEWS ON THE DOVER MEMORIAL
Earlier in 2018 we told you about our desire to establish a memorial to those who have died seeking sanctuary in the UK. We know that the number is at least 150 since 2000 and still rising. The memorial will be a simple plaque to be placed next to the existing Chinese memorial in line of sight of the French coast. You can see the wording for the memorial here. We have now obtained all the relevant permissions and the cost is likely to be about £800. If you would like to make a donation towards this please let us know and we will let you know payment details in due course. The official inauguration is planned for later in the year, but we plan to visit the memorial at the end of following event.
SATURDAY 20 OCTOBER
As advised in July, we are collaborating with others to arrange conversations at St Paul's Church in Dover about the situation facing exiles in Calais and in the UK, with attendance expected from people who live, volunteer and/or work there. We hope that many of you will tell other interested people and be able to join us. A flyer is attached and we will announce more details soon.
RECENT FIGURES AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS
The latest report from the UN's International Organisation for Migration indicates that from 1 January to 25 July 2018, 55,001 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea. This compares to 111,753 at this time last year, and more than 250,000 in 2016. So despite perceptions, the numbers are well down. However, the number of deaths is well up, with 2018 being one of the deadliest years on record. 1,504 men, women and children have died attempting the Mediterranean crossing, more than half of them since 1 June when Italy's policy began to change. In Calais, the exiles stand out, huddled in small groups, seeking shade under trees at roadsides or beneath bridges, or walking through fields of long grass. In a patch of woodland next to a main road, around 60 young men from Eritrea sleep between the trees. Elsewhere, there are camps of Sudanese, Afghans, Kurds and Ethiopians (including Oromo Ethiopians). There are also people from Syria, Iraq and other African countries such as Chad and Cameroon. They are mostly men, although aid workers in nearby Dunkirk, report increasing arrivals of women and children. THE
In 2015, the combination of social media, cheap travel, access to information, and some media cover made people aware that they could get involved rather than just passively watching events and donating money. Social media hubs sprang up – the People to People and Calais Solidarity Facebook pages helped new volunteers and new groups find each other, give advice on what to bring, and where to bring it. It was fast, effective, often chaotic and prone of course to the usual dangers of fraud, unreliable management and chaotic communication, but it was also immediate, flexible, and targeted on specific needs.
In 2016 many ordinary citizens became angry that governments and major aid organisations were failing appallingly in helping and accommodating the vast human exodus. Major NGOs were prevented from effectively working on the ground in Calais and found elsewhere that efficiency was diluted by policy, funding restrictions and the systems of local governments. A grassroots group could build a shelter in an afternoon that could take six months for an NGO to sign-off.
The huge array of groups self-organised and diversified into so many different types of charity and association, often targeted specific needs. Some focused on front-line work – distributions, in-camp projects, building – while others supported existing groups or projects through funding, supply or supply of containers or storage facilities. A lot of understanding grew about the needs of refugees – the importance of phone credit and internet access for example – and consequent initiation of projects to fit those needs. Lives have been saved and much suffering alleviated by fast and flexible grassroots responses.
The Court of Appeal has judged that the UK government misled a High Court judge earlier in the year over its decision to refuse unaccompanied child refugees in Calais the right to join their families here. Apparently the judge had been given an "incomplete picture" and a "great deal of important evidence" was not brought to the court's attention.
The ruling revealed that Home Office lawyers gave advice that, so avoid legal challenges, children should not be given reasons for refusals. Over 500 children were rejected and many are now missing. The evidence came in the form of emails between the UK Border Force and French authorities that were disclosed in another case mounted by Citizens UK.
On top of this, Ministers have just admitted that children who arrive under the Dubs scheme but are then reunited with family members are still being counted towards the final (grudging) target of 480. This means that numbers of them are left stranded on the continent when they should be given refuge in the UK, so circumventing the intention of Lord Dubs' amendment.
Only around 250 Dubs places have been filled two years after the amendment was passed and thousands of lone minors remain stranded in Europe, scores of them sleeping rough in northern France. Lord Dubs points out that the UK’s responsibilities to child refugees under the Dubs scheme are “distinct and separate” from its obligations to reunite families under the EU's “Dublin regulation”. “By classifying a child who joins their family as a Dubs transfer, the government is depriving another incredibly vulnerable unaccompanied child the opportunity to gain protection in the UK.”
SINCE OUR LAST UPDATE
Police rendered many distributions of food and other essential services very difficult at the start of July, without giving notice or any clear reason. Things eventually calmed down, but concerns remain about abrupt changes in State policy. It's thought likely that UK volunteers were targeted because a large number of traffickers drive British cars.
In the same period. France’s Constitutional Court ruled that the “principle of fraternity” protected farmer Cédric Herrou from prosecution for aiding dozens of people from entering the country from Italy illegally. In a far-teaching decision, the court wrote, “The principle of fraternity confers the freedom to help others, for humanitarian purposes, regardless of the legality of their presence on national territory.”
And the Italian border was the starting point on 30 April the Solidarity March which arrived in London on 8 July. One of the few comments came from the Catholic Bishop, Paul McAleenan. “I welcome the participants of the Solidarity March … I applaud your courage and tenacity to undertake an initiative that has been physically and emotionally challenging but also rewarding. You have endured much in the last two months and willingly shared the hardship that is a way of life for many migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who have made this treacherous journey attempting to reach our countries in Europe. I am profoundly encouraged by your efforts to walk in solidarity to raise awareness of the plight of many vulnerable men, women and children in Europe especially at Calais.”
As the weeks passed and temperatures rose, people became aware of how little there was in the warehouses. The needs are still very much there, but there are have been empty shelves where once there was food; stocks of basic items such as deodorant dropped to a critical level, with sleeping bags becoming scarce. If you would like to volunteer in Calais, it doesn't need to be on an organised trip. It's as simple as getting yourself to Calais, booking a place to stay and finding out beforehand which local organisations need help. They really need our support and will explain what you need to do and advise on accommodation.
Why the scarcities? Because six evictions in two weeks left people sleeping rough with no protection! Things were no better at the start of August, with a report that, “Last weekend a storm devastated Refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk. Refugees are currently living under foil blankets in the rain as tent stocks are out.” And as August continues, there have been more evictions.
6 August in Grande-Synthe (near Dunkirk)
100 single men and 100 family members were taken away in the morning in 5 buses from a camp opposite the station, leaving hundreds without any protection from the dangerous afternoon sun or shelter for the night ahead. It's estimated that at least 150 tents were taken and destroyed, along with hundreds of sleeping bags and personal possessions, such as clothes and even bags of food and cooking equipment. Despite the clearance, this remains the largest single settlement in Northern France with around 500 adults and over 70 small children. 8 August in Calais Two small camps were destroyed, one in the small wood and the other behind the hospital; exiles were not allowed to recover their personal effects.
9 August in Calais
People cleared from three camps before 11am. In the rue des Verrotières there were five riot police vans and two rubbish lorries; the second action was at Marck, just outside the town, where the sub-Prefect was present, and the third at the hospital.
11 August in Calais
Again at Marck and the rue des Verrotières (on a Saturday morning) – a calmer operation than two days earlier, but following on 48 hours of ceaseless rain; medicines, blankets and phone chargers were confiscated and jerry-cans of water emptied.
12 August in Calais
Two more (unusually) on the Sunday, the first very early at the small wood and later behind the hospital.
13 August in Calais
Firstly in rue des Verrotières with the Sub-Prefect present, again with five riot police vans and two council lorries; and a second raid at Marck.
Apparently there are two regular types of clearance alongside the occasional expulsions to other parts of France. “Confiscations” involving 5 to 12 vans, accompanied by a local police car: a security perimeter is set up to exclude volunteers and the press and the town's refuse collection team collect almost all of food and bedding. Sometimes staff from the sub-prefectures are present, claiming that they need to provide information about the possibilities of asylum – though in fact they make achieve only very limited communication! The operations last from 30 minutes up to several hours and take place daily at various of the locations where exiles shelter. There were 142 such clearances between October 2017 and April 2018.
The second type of operation is purely and simply the destruction of exiles' property in a period of a few minutes, generally at dawn or nightfall. Personal effects are rendered unusable, being cut with knives, battered with batons or sprayed with tear gas.
Help Refugees, Utopia 56, Refugee Info Bus and the Auberge des Migrants produced a report denouncing police intimidation of volunteers, listing 666 incidents in the past eight months involving police surveillance, repeated identity checks, arrests and searches, as well as physical and verbal abuse, and being forcibly prevented from providing humanitarian aid. This has been sent to the French Human Rights Ombudsman.
The amazing Refugee Community Kitchen appealed for chefs in July. A number of long term volunteer chefs are scheduled to leave at the end of August. Previous experience is welcome but not essential: why not go along and be trained to cook 1000's of fresh meals a day?
The Calais Laundry has operated in the Auberge compound for about 10 weeks. Donated clothes are being cleaned for re-use (or for first use, if they arrive in less than perfect condition), providing people with an enhanced supply of clean clothes, blankets and dignity!
Being short of time to take goods to France, Phil and Ben passed on various donations to Canterbury's Care4Humaniy group at the end of July. (These included adult incontinence pads that women in camps across Europe use at night to avoid making lone trips to the toilet blocks in darkness, having good reasons to fear assault, and worse.) Next we learned that the garden of the Bruderhof Community in the former SE Kent coalfield had produced more vegetables than they could consume. Putting the two groups in touch allowed the Calais Kitchen to receive over 800kg of home grown fresh vegetables (Lettuce, Courgettes, Cucumbers, Broccoli, Beans). A great collaborative effort!
Early in August 20 successful illegal entrants were found in a lorry at a fruit importer's depot near Bridge on the A2; while on the other hand, six men who were part of a group attempting to use small boats and a jet ski to smuggle people into the UK were found guilty at the Old Bailey, following a nine week trial. Investigations had begun after a rigid hull inflatable was abandoned on Dymchurch beach in May 2016.
We mentioned the need for more water supplies in Calais in our previous update. By the end of July, groups were making over EIGHT daily deliveries of water (1860 litres) to hundreds of displaced people living rough in the sweltering summer heat. There was much jubilation that some small concessions were extracted from the Préfecture as a result of a Court hearing. These were a lump sum of €1500, and more importantly, two extra standby taps, more showers, and 900 plastic jerrycans for water. The hours for provision of water are to be lengthened, two drinking fountains installed and a third mobile bowser provided, along with a tub for washing clothes. As well as these undertakings, the judge ordered that more toilet facilities must be installed.
So concluding with the better news, we again give our thanks for all your efforts.
2 July 2018
JULY UPDATE: The dangers of Seeking Sanctuary
Seeking Sanctuary in Europe
The scene is the Turkish port and resort of Bodrum. By day it is a bustling town, filled with tourists and pleasure seekers. But at night it takes on a different aspect, as scores of small boats filled with migrants set out hoping to reach the safety of the Greek island of Kos. The traffickers have no need to make themselves obvious – they are readily found via posts on Facebook and Whats App. Would-be voyagers make arrangements with criminals who want to extort all they can out of innocent people who have already suffered enough trauma. Indeed the single most valued possession for an exile is often their smartphone as there is no space for any luggage when as many people as possible are to be crammed into a boat.
Of course the traffickers don't accompany their passengers. A nine metre boat coats about $1000 with an outboard motor costing roughly the same. The investment is recouped by the price paid by just two passengers out of the fifty to seventy who are crammed on a boat. And all too often second-hand motors are used – with tragic consequences. For some who make it to Kos, the passage lasts for two hours, for others it can stretch up to 12 hours if the motor breaks down or they lose their way.
And if this isn't dangerous enough, smaller boats are also available, with 9 people crammed into a craft intended for three – but with a corresponding price reduction of €300. And lifejackets come extra at between €30 and €50. It doesn't matter to the traffickers that the boats cannot be recovered – their profits are handsome enough. It's estimated that after deductions of €7000 of 'bakshish' for local police, etc, there remains a profit of over ,€50,000 for each crossing. (There are rumours that another trade involving back-handers ensures that many of the outboard motors find their way back to Turkey.)
For those who are too petrified to contemplate the dangers of this perilous crossing there exists anther alternative – for €4500 they will be carried as stowaways on a cargo boat from a point much nearer to the Syrian border. Such are the conditions that force desperate people to seek sanctuary.
And in Calais
Phil visited Calais again on 25th June, delivering much-needed clothes, footwear, bedding and cooking utensils. He learned that the arrival of summer weather has been a mixed blessing. The nights are warmer, but drinking water is in short supply. Official distributions of food and water are mostly made at some distance from the locations where the exiles hang out and riot police use these times of absence to confiscate bedding and the few other belongings that may be visible. Volunteers are therefore leaving crates of bottled water at places where it may be useful.
Calling at the Secours Catholique Day Centre to drop off a couple of sewing machines, he was invited to see the results of upscaling damaged garments by adding patches of material bearing colourful African and Arabic designs, along with the odd scrap of Calais lace. They were delighted to report good media cover of a fashion show that took place in Paris on World Refugee Day, This allowed the world to see the innovative “Jungle Style” range proudly modelled by young seekers of asylum (as in this video), who were could be seen as individual and creative human beings, rather than representatives of a marauding horde of aliens.
The show could come to Britain, if only the models has travel documents. But perhaps some of you can find volunteers to lay on shows over here, if the garments come to us on loan?
May they rest in peace
You may remember the tragedy of the 58 Chinese found dead in the back of a locked lorry as it passed through Dover in 2000. There is a memorial to them on Dover seafront (see photo) where people can gather to remember them. Since then, we have heard of at least 150 more deaths of people trying seek sanctuary in the UK and we are seeking permission to site a second memorial plaque next to that to the young Chinese – we hope to have this ready in the Autumn. We know there will be a lot of support for the idea – if you would like to contribute a 'share' of £25 or £50 toward the total cost of £1000, do let us know. (Though please don't send any money until planning consent has been obtained.)
Child Refugees – Family Reunification
Thank you to those who responded to the call to solicit support the for the amendment to the “Brexit Bill” sponsored by Lord Dubs. His amendment requiring the government to negotiate new mechanisms for legal transfer of young people to the UK was reworded by the government when the Commons returned the Bill to the House of Lords, who agreed to the amended version with additions to the list of “relatives” who can agree to take care of a young relative, so that it reads as below and, in addition, removed the stipulation that they must definitely be aged 18 or above:
(a) a spouse or civil partner of the child or any person with whom the child has a durable relationship that is similar to marriage or civil partnership, or
(b) a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister of the child.
Phil heard Alf Dubs speak at a meeting in the House of Lords last week, when he stressed the need for Local Authorities to come up with figures for the numbers of young and vulnerable people who can be accommodated. A legal challenge to the remarkably low government claim of only 480 places nationwide is still working its way through the courts
Grand Synthe – Air Liquide Eviction
On 12 June, several groups of activists witnessed the dismantling of the "jungle" alongside the “Air Liquide” manufacturing site in the industrial zone. Since the last eviction on May 24th, around 350 people had resettled at this new site. Observers attended to witness and document probable human rights violations, which regularly occur during evictions. However, with the absence of CRS (a national force of riot police deployed to help local units cope with crowd control), everything went smoothly. Government provision of accommodation is exactly what is needed, yet the accommodation spaces provided by the official agency are often unsuitable for people’s needs and are in no way a long-term solution.
Support groups thus fear the inevitable: that over the next few days and weeks, refugees will slowly return to the Dunkirk area. This mode of cyclical relocation is also a huge waste of resources. After the local, regional and national authorities leave, every tent is destroyed with no option for them to be reclaimed.
A warm welcome to the 'Marche Solidaire..."
Since 30th April a group of committed activists have been walking across France from the Italian frontier to draw attention to the injustices suffered by migrants and exiles as they seek sanctuary. All across France they have received a tremendous welcome from the communities they have passed through – in Paris they were joined by 2000 people. They reach London, their final goal, on the 8th of July when they will be gathering in Hyde Park from about noon – please do show your support and solidarity if you are able to join them there.
'Migrants enrich Britain'
Its often hard to get this message across – that's why in addition to our 'normal' activities we can make available T-shirts carrying the above message. As you can see from this picture, they are ideal for wear to many types of gatherings or for lobbying MPs ! They come in sizes M, L, and XL and the first batch cost 6 pounds each plus P&P. Contact us if interested ...
Anyone for cricket in Amiens?
And a good news story – Amiens is not generally known for its prowess in cricket – indeed many French people might view cricket with a degree of curiosity. But the game is now firmly on the map in several towns in the North of France. In Amiens, a team made up of exiles from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries have formed a club and are going from strength to strength. But they need funds to buy urgently needed kit and equipment. This link leads to a page that includes information about how to help them.
A Case to Answer
The award-winning film, 'Calais Children: A Case to Answer' will be shown in Deal on Friday 27th July at 7.00pm in St Andrews Church Hall, West Street, sponsored by the local branch of the UNA. Admission is free, but a collection will be taken to support the vital continuing work of 'Help Refugees'. The 62-minute feature clearly documents the chaos surrounding the destruction of the Calais “Jungle” in 2016 and the failure of UK and French officials to take effective action to safeguard the almost 2000 minors who were there. Despite many of them having a legal case to enter the UK, the children endured months of delays and denials from the UK Government and were almost all abandoned in France with no support. A flyer for this event is here.
Reporting Suspicions of Trafficking
We have several times highlighted the danger that people who are trafficked into the UK can easily end up as victims of modern slavery. Having been forced into exile to escape danger, disaster or poverty, they need to improve their lives, and support their families. They often owe money to their traffickers or to loan sharks for arranging travel and – allegedly – a job and accommodation. However, on arrival, they find that the work does not exist, or that the conditions are completely different. By then it’s too late, their documents are taken away and they are forced to work until their debt is paid off, or longer.
Trafficked slaves are recognised as victims of crime, not criminals, and provided with protection and support, though in practice the operation of some systems can be patchy, and the provision of long-term support is left to the voluntary sector, where the Medaille Trust has set a fine example for others to follow.
Modern-day slaves can be found an in nail bars, shops, restaurants, hotels, car washes and petrol stations or, in the country, working on farms. In the case of hand car washes – not all of which are illegal, of course – police raids across the country have unearthed victims living in horrendous conditions. A 'Safe Car Wash' App has now been produced so that motorists who suspect the status of workers can easily join the largest community intelligence gathering exercise ever attempted by using their phones to complete a short survey about what they see in car washes.
We are collaborating with others to arrange conversations at St Paul's Church in Dover about the situation in Calais, with attendance expected from people who live and/or work in Calais: the date will be Saturday 20th October. Watch out for more details.
With our thanks for your encouragement and support.
5 June 2018
The Lords' amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill will be accepted or rejected by the Commons on Tuesday 12 June.
Information about taking action is at the very end of this Update.
May they rest in peace …
We learnt recently of the death of Mawda Shawdi, a two year old Kurdish girl killed by a Belgian policeman. Mawda was with her mother on the front seat of a van into which thirty people were crammed, travelling from Namur in Belgium, past Mons, towards Calais. It's not clear precisely why they were travelling on that route. They have relatives in the UK, though Mawda had been born in Germany. Most likely the family had joined smugglers near Dunkirk and been taken into Belgium to be transferred on to a lorry. A number of Belgian police cars gave chase to the van for about 40 miles and one shot was fired, which passed through Mawda's head.
But this was not all – Mawda was taken to hospital where she died soon afterwards, but without the comfort of her parents who had been locked in a cell in a detention centre. (Reminiscent of Donald Trump's new policy at the Mexican border). Those who knew her when she had stayed in Dunkirk, sheltered in a former gym for the winter were shocked by the news – and even more shocked when they and those staying in the 'mini-jungles' around them were evicted and removed a week later. A number have returned to a different part of Dunkirk, much affected by industrial pollution: we do not yet know where most of them have ended up.
Further south, Blessing Matthews, a young Nigerian woman, who was struggling with the harsh conditions crossing the Alps, was found drowned in a fast flowing icy waters of the River Durance not far from the French town of Briançon. Her death was marked by a vigil held by local people committed to the cause of justice in peace. A few days later, the body of Alpha Mamadou was found at the foot of the Montgenèvre pass from Italy, and another unidentified body appeared as the snow melted on the Italian side of the Alps.
And in the beautiful scenery of the area which marks the French/Italian border near Ventimiglia a desperate game of cat and an mouse is taking place as French Police search for those who manage to manage to evade them to seek sanctuary in France. We learnt of the case of Martine, who took in two hungry and bedraggled boys in to her house in Breil sur Roya. Having declared their arrival the Police arrived to deport them back to Ventimiglia. The Italian authorities promptly returned them over the border where Martine was waiting for them. She was then promptly arrested for illegally taking refugees into her household and has been facing trial for 4 months. Her plight has been publicised by Amnesty International.
Blessing's death was publicised by a group of walkers who are making a lengthy trek across France in solidarity with the refugee community. The walk started last month at at the Italian frontier town of Ventimiglia (scene of much desolation as we reported in an earlier update) and it will end in London on 8th July. As soon as we have details of plans for their arrival we will let you know. The walk is being organised by the Auberge des Migrants.
We remember these few recent victims, conscious that there are many others, as our brothers and sisters in humanity. Over the past few years we have explored the possibility of a permanent memorial to those who have died in their failed efforts to reach the UK – maybe it is time to revive the idea – what do our readers think ?
Meanwhile, in Calais
Phil visited on Monday, making various deliveries, collecting a return load, and making enquiries. A generous collection of food from churchgoers in Pimlico was taken to the Refugee Community Kitchen. It was received with great glee, as was a donation of £100 from a couple of individuals. A little clothing and bedding was delivered to the “Help Refugees” warehouse and exchanged for a considerable load of discarded footwear – it took five people to lift the container into the car boot. And why is it wanted in the UK? You'll have to watch this space to find out later in the summer. Oh, and there was also a request to inspect a sewing machine to try to identify the small spare part that can perhaps be sourced in the UK.
The key needs at the moment are jeans or joggers and trainers or boots suitable for slim young men, though all the other usual items are still in demand.
Before leaving that site (and tasting the excellent lunch just prepared in the kitchen), there was a chance to find to out a little more about plans for the ongoing Solidarity March across France which is due to arrive in London early in July. Dropping in to the Catholic Worker House to drop off a few food items provided a clue to the mystery of why there are so many single items of footwear abandoned, rather than pairs. The riot police have taken up a new tactic to enhance their attitude of hostility: one shoe is confiscated and the other is sliced across so that it cannot be fastened.
And then a short visit to the busy Secours Catholique Day Centre, which was confirmed as another place with an interest in sewing machines. The portable shower blocks have been removed from one of the yards, exposing flower beds, which they hope to cultivate. Also, an artist has cheered up the outside scene with a new mural. They'd like to receive books and magazines in Pashto and related languages to add to the various pastimes that are on offer.
There was just time left to pick up some croissants for the next day's breakfast before a dash to the port and checking in for the return ferry to the UK!
What's in a name ?
A lot, it would seem. We have been been aware that the term 'migrant' is not always helpful, as some wrongly believe that it must indicate someone who is not fleeing conflict, and connect it with the term ‘economic migration’ which has come to symbolise anyone who can be sent back to their home countries because they are not recognised as being in danger. However, many of those that we discuss are the victims of conflict and civil war, but have not yet obtained official recognition as refugees in their receiving countries. The arrival of civil war and genocide make a functioning local economy almost impossible, but governments are slow to admit that this is the case. (Last week we learnt more about a West African terror, little reported in the UK: over 20,000 people have been displaced by violent conflict in the Cameroon, most of them to Nigeria.)
There are many factors beyond conflict which oblige people to leave their loved ones and make hazardous journeys. Many are fleeing the deadly effects of natural disaster, crop failure or extreme poverty, not yet formally recognised in international law as acceptable reasons for flight.
Hence where appropriate we prefer the term 'exiles' – not only does this have a biblical connotation but it describes the situation more accurately. t only does this have a biblical connotation but it describes many situations more accurately.
Meanwhile we append an account of a journey to Calais by Rev. Diana Fawcett, who is taking a sabbatical from her ministry in St Margaret's at Cliffe, near Dover, to familiarise herself with the situation facing those who are stranded in Calais.
Phil + Ben.
VOLUNTEERING 13- 18 MAY: MARIA SKOBSTOVA HOUSE, CALAIS
Taking a three month sabbatical to look more in depth at the supportive work with refugees and migrants I spent six days volunteering at Maria Skobstova House in Calais. Here in community I learnt a little of what is being done to help those refugees and migrants trying to reach the UK and make a better life for themselves. Previously my experience has been with Syrian refugees resettled in the UK via the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement programme.
I saw how help is being offered to vulnerable Eritreans and Ethiopians. Above all I learnt about practical deep human compassion for the displaced which does not have borders.
Physical and medical needs are catered for by a band of dedicated, knowledgeable, experienced and at times indefatigable staff and volunteers. Cleaning, cooking, with excellent help and knowledge by those who stay, and washing, lots of washing, dominated the daily routine.
What impressed me most was the dignity and hope of the young men that there would be a better place, a better time in their lives.
The shared evening meal followed by collective worship at the end of the day was a role model for us all. These young men had respect for those trying to help them, a huge appetite, but above all a belief, often recounted with humour that there is better life beyond their considerable hardship.
Their quiet strength in vulnerability was commendable. Observing their cultural rituals was an education for me. I felt enriched by the experience.
I saw tea and water being distributed to those in makeshift communities, on the streets, in green spaces, around industrial estates, by a faithful band of volunteers from Secours Catholique. They collected rubbish as well. I saw the Refugee Community Kitchen where the most amazing food was prepared and distributed. It reminded me a little of the 1970s TV series M*A*S*H set during the Korean War, with the loud music playing over the tannoy. Daily surplus bread and pastries would be brought to the house as a practical offering of help to the needy.
Thank you for the opportunity to be amongst you. When I return to my Benefice I shall continue to raise awareness of the displaced who need our help and the work being done to affect this.
We finally have a date for the the House of Commons debate on Lords' amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill: Tuesday 12 June. There's still time to ask MPs to turn up - especially if they've been supportive in the past - and support the amendment sponsored by Lord Dubs that requires the UK to continue to join with the rest of the EU in applying the “Dublin III” protocol for people who have arrived in different countries to be reunited with their families. You can do this easily via a template which can be found here.
Do you remember the "Sandhurst Summit" back in January, when Mrs May and President Macron formally agreed to fast-track asylum claims from Calais migrants, typically those involving family reunion? Well, a reply to a parliamentary question today indicates that there has still been very little action about this, if any, raising the importance of pushing for the above amendment.
3 June 2018
A Kurdish girl aged two was shot dead on the night of 16 May by a single police gunshot, while travelling on her mother's knee in the front of a van on a Belgian motorway. UK media have made very little comment.
In our June update, we reflect upon this death and upon several recent adult exile deaths that have occurred in France. Meantime, we mark her passing by reproducing the following poem.
Following the recent and tragic killing of two-year-old Mawda; member of a family the Women's Centre have had regular and close contact with in Grande-Synthe, Katie - a long term volunteer at the Refugee Women and Childrens' Centre - reflects on what she remembers of Mawda's last day, and acknowledges anger and contempt towards conditions that manifested such tragedy. (May 30, 2018)
The ghost of a gymnasium
built for one purpose, prioritised for another
The stagnant stalemate between a closed past and future dreams
restlessly resting on donated blankets
lying down aimlessly
breathing in air as border-less as she
Scrubbing clothes in the communal bathroom sink
She flicks eyes to her babies
fumbling around at her feet
fingernails etched with dirt
Guilt bangs it's fists on the metal bars of her heart
as it swells with love, nearly breaking them apart
but not quite
love will set us free
but how can we live freely with borders as tight as these?
That force us to suffering, sacrifice and hostility
She has to save face,
And when her daughter's a doctor
and her son's running some company
You'll tell them of the violence they were forced to flee
And they'll be thankful, because they've relished their education and opportunity
As the sunshine of her children's giggles draw her back to the room
A smirk pulls at the side of her lips
and in one swift motion
Maryam lifts her girl to her hips
Who bursts spirited laughter
That almost drowns the fight erupting in the next room
She's packing her bag now
It's been three years since they first heaved up their roots
for selection, which part of our tapestry makes the cut?
And with the bag of bare essentials in tow they leapt towards the sunset
only to be left in the dark
she folds their clothes with stories unsung
that this night blows chance into the lungs of their life
for a future not so futile
They leave to meet the smuggler
A family - two children, two adults.
slumped with thirty souls in the van.
peddle flat. Tyres hiss.
Fear bubbles vomit in chest, hyperventilating
Hearts plummet, paralysed
fingers twitch. shots fired.
have you heard how this story ends?
with a police officers bullet in a two year olds head
no passport, no rights
her blood stains our hands
her blood stains our society our hearts our land
When the systems that raise us, teach us we are unequal
when the lottery of birth conceives a world inequitable
We face everyday
pulling the hand of justice from a pocket of pain
Using the fire of our anger to melt the frozen glaze
of brutal borders, inhumane policy.
She was born a refugee, and died a refugee.
Stolen from her family, her youth, her life trajectory
And with tear stained cheeks and weary eyes
We march on
In solidarity and love, we march on.
We will never forget you, Mawda.
The Refugee Women's Centre is committed to supporting women, families and minors in and around Grande-Synthe, Dunkirk and Calais.
5 May, 2018
May Update – “Journeys Through Hostility”
First, an announcement that we will soon be asking you to take an action that is important – at least, to us. New regulations on data protection come into force later this month, with one consequence being that we must obtain and record your explicit and informed permission to continue to include you on our mailing list. Please do nothing yet, but watch out for an appropriately worded email that we will soon be sending, and act upon it!
Our theme this month is: 'Let’s Share the Journey'. This is a worldwide campaign started by Pope Francis and Caritas Internationalis – a confederation of over 160 diverse Catholic groups who work at grass-roots in almost every country to reach out to the poor, vulnerable and excluded, regardless of race or religion, and build a world based on justice and goodwill. The campaign aims to promote a 'culture of encounter' by reaching out to migrants, changing perceptions regarding the 60 million people in the world who are now estimated have been displaced from their homes through conflict, persecution and other causes.
Pope Francis is concerned that two new international agreements on refugees and migration will be just and effective. They are scheduled to be adopted during the UN General Assembly in September, with the intention that they will provide a framework for policy proposals and practical measures at a global level.
You may be interested in organising or taking part in an event to mark the 'global week of action' during Refugee Week from 18 to 24 June this year. Some suggestions include a shared meal with those who are desperately trying to build a new life for themselves and their families. In the words of the Pope 'I can … see in this person a human being with dignity identical to my own, a creature infinitely loved by the Father, an image of God, …'. CAFOD has suggestions for action on the 'Share the Journey' theme.
And all this is in stark contrast to another phrase that is still in vogue at the Home Office – the 'hostile environment' – it was confirmed last week that a whole generation of legitimate British citizens have fallen foul of this policy. In fact those seeking sanctuary today experience a hostile environment at every stage of their journey – from the initial trauma of being displaced to the hurdles they have to overcome even to get as far as Calais. Even if they manage to arrive in this country they are excluded from basic services such as health care if they cannot produce the required documentation.
And nowhere has the culture of hostility has been more keenly felt than among the 'lost' children who came to the UK from Calais. A report last week pointed to the increase in mental health problems child survivors of rape, torture and trafficking due to the lengthy delays in dealing with their cases. The children 'rescued' from Calais in 2016 as well as the 350 'Dubs' children face up to two years delay in having their cases resolved, as discussed in a recent newspaper article.
A boy who was brought over to join his sibling from Afghanistan who has refugee status faces being deported because he could not cope with the interview process imposed by the Home Office. Even an initial screening interview involves a three month wait. If the Home Office can resolve the cases of the Windrush generation in two weeks, cannot they do better with these traumatised child migrants?
And delays also grow in seeing a start to any action to follow up the key announcement of the May/Macron summit meeting at Sandhurst in January, that child migrants seeking to escape Calais and come to Britain would have their claims processed within 25 days! At least, Lord Dubs succeeded in adding an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords. If accepted by the Commons, this will ensure that, after leaving the Union, the UK will continue to apply the “Dublin III” regulation on family reunion, which has provided child refugees with a vital procedure for legal transfer to the UK. “Calais Action” asks that MPs are lobbied now, to make sure that the amendment survives – see file.
Perhaps we should follow the example of the Emmaus charity which temporarily installed a number of open doors on the snow-covered 1850m high Montgenèvre pass in the French Alps, a point thought to have been used by Hannibal, and now favoured by migrants for crossing the frontier from Italy. Emmaus highlights Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which celebrates its 50th birthday in December. Namely, that: (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state; (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to their country.
Our first visits to Calais in May took place at the very start of the month when Ben and Phil separately took over quantities of 'Vinnie bags' produced for rough sleepers by the Society of St Vincent de Paul in London, as well as clothes kindly donated from a variety of sources. It was good to see that the Care4Calais warehouse was a hive of activity, sending van-loads of aid to Brussels, Dunkirk and Paris, as was Auberge des Migrants warehouse operated by 'Help Refugees' alongside the Refugee Community Kitchen.
We are now experiencing occasional runs of a few days of summer weather, but these hide the fact that the temperatures in Calais still fall to single figures at night, and that rough sleepers are rendered yet more cold when storms blow in from the North Sea or across the flat former battlefields of the wars of the 20th century. Humanitarian aid is still vital and in conclusion, we are delighted to praise the example of the young people of Kent's Bruderhof Community who have posted a video of their return journey to Calais, where they helped to fill and distribute much-needed bottles of drinking water. (This follows up their February journey, which we helped to facilitate.)
Thank you for your continued support.
Phil + Ben.
1 April 2018
We start this month's update with some positive news - it was reported recently that a number of Sicilian villages and towns which experienced decades of depopulation have now had new life breathed into them by the arrival of migrants - shops are re-opening, and schools as well as health and social services have been given a new boost. An example of for other parts of Europe ? At a time when much of Europe's population is ageing, is this a time that we should be welcoming energetic young people rather than vilifying them as unwanted arrivals ?
Elsewhere we are heartened by the constant stream of goodwill to alleviating the terrible conditions faced by migrants in Northern France and beyond. From a donation raised through Lenten offerings in a Cotswold village to the help provided by other well wishers - all these are signs that our fellow sisters and brothers in humanity have not been forgotten.
There is also growing consciousness among some civic authorities that more needs to be done to deal with the injustices faced by migrants. It was heartening to read of a Conference held in Grand-Synthe near Dunkirk organised by the Mayor Damien Careme who has gained a reputation for taking a much more humanitarian stance than his counterpart in Calais - we have also learned that he opened a Centre for women and children to provide protection during the worst of the winter weather - if only there were more like him...
Last month we were heartened by the news that the French authorities would be taking responsibility for provision of meals. But this sentiment was short lived: we next heard that a large number of migrants, particularly Eritreans, were boycotting these distributions, particularly as the same police who kept order at the food distributions were destroying possessions and making sleeping bags and tents unusable. There seems to be little or no movement on the transfer of children with UK family connections from the Calais area . And meanwhile the tragic accidents continue - we heard of the latest one involving a young man who ran or fell in front of a lorry and died late on Good Friday.
The distribution sites have often been in places where the recipients have to walk a considerable distance, and so the Refugee Community Kitchen has had to step up its operations and is again serving meals ,whilst the state-run operation has modified its methods, no longer servicing only in a grim compound, but also going out to places where migrants gather.. The clothing and other needs remain the same but women's and children's clothing is now being accepted for Dunkirk (see above) - contact us for further details as to how to get it to the Centre.
In closing, we assure everyone everyone of our good wishes in this Easter season, and add this news from the Catholic Worker House. The Anglican diocese of Europe has chosen our work and house for this year’s Lent Appeal. The diocese has made 4 short video’s that are available online on the diocesan website about the work we do. https://europe.anglican.org/main/latest-news/post/1349-bishops-lent-appeal-video-taster?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=europe_link_march_18_v2&utm_term=2018-03-29 ... Please have a look at them. For us this is good news, that the work we do and the problems here in Calais are being talked about and are being prayed for in the different parishes within the Anglican diocese of Europe.
Ben + Phil.
28 February 2018
Update for the end of February: How to contact and help groups working in and for Calais
As a concluding update this month, we are summarising ways that you can contact the various organisations with whom we have worked in Calais and find out how to assist them in their vital work.
Exiles in and around Calais were in desperate need, even without the current severe weather. Their needs for warm clothing and bedding are now greater still, with police harassment remaining all too common.
To get a better impression of conditions in Calais, take a look at this video, produced by young people who followed us on a journey to Calais at the start of February. They will be pleased to see it shared widely.
HELP REFUGEES / AUBERGE DES MIGRANTS
The full current needs list for this warehouse can be found here. If you would like to find out where your nearest collection point in the UK currently is, please consult the map of UK drop-off points for donations here, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can easily drive donations directly to the Calais warehouse, where items are sorted and distributed to refugees residing in Calais and its surrounding areas: please register and get the warehouse address here before you drop-off your donations! In addition you can also get items delivered free of charge directly to the Calais warehouse from the "Refugees" list of discounted items at LeisureFayre.
The warehouse site also houses the local offices of partner groups Refugee Youth Service, Utopia 56, Refugee Info Bus and Refugee Community Kitchen. Generous monetary donations are needed more than ever. Living conditions are more precarious than ever, and these organisations are doing their best to to fill gaps left by governments and big NGOs in a flexible, reactive, human way. Donations can be made here to help this work to continue.
The current priority list of needs (and instructions for sorting and labelling items) is attached here, and a map of UK drop-off points is here. For the Calais warehouse address and to book in to deliver goods there, please email email@example.com. Alternatively you can buy really essential items for direct delivery to Calais.
Money is a constant need, and you can contribute to the general fund for essential items and operations via this link.
THE DUNKIRK REFUGEE WOMEN'S CENTRE
This centre supports women, families and minors in and around Grande Synthe, Dunkirk and Calais. They support the specific needs of women, children and vulnerable people, of all ages and nationalities, who have left their homes and loved ones due to war, conflict and persecution. Unlike the Calais warehouses, the main needs here are for warm clothes and bedding for women and children. Information about current needs and how to deliver goods is available here. There is also an Amazon wish-list of goods that can be ordered for delivery to the centre.
Funds to support this work can be donated here.
SECOURS CATHOLIQUE DAY CENTRE
For the present, Secours Catholique is concentrating upon running a Day Centre for exiles. They need musical instruments (guitars, keyboard, pianos, saxophone, xylophone, percussion instrument, etc.), outdoor games (cricket, speedball, basketball, volleyball, etc.) and indoors games (connect four, cards, dominoes, etc.). If anyone wishes to give a pottery oven, it will be more than welcome.
Further, if any artists would like to come to the centre to provide some concert entertainment, that will also be lovely. They wish to start a hanging garden workshop and are in need of street artists. A brochure is linked here about a recent exhibition of refugee art in Calais. This can be brought to the UK for people here to view. More information can be obtained from the manager, firstname.lastname@example.org.
REFUGEE COMMUNITY KITCHEN
The kitchen provides many hundreds of meals daily. Their list for food donations can be found here - and for cash, here.
The French State intends to start delivering meals in Calais, but this service will not extend outside the town, and the Kitchen's work will remain essential.
CATHOLIC WORKER HOUSE
The Mother Maria Skobtsova house is a residential community that serves people who have been pushed to the margins of society. It supports homeless and poor people and builds a community across the divide. The workers do not just try to 'help' refugees, but prefer to be there with them, supporting when possible, but also making friends. The community shares in meals, friendship and daily prayer, sharing hospitality with some of the most vulnerable of refugees in the area. (More information from Brother Johannes Maertens (email@example.com).
To support the house and its work you can make a Bank Transfer to:
Ass. Maria Skobtsova
Thank you for all your efforts!
8 February 2018
UPDATE: The hazards of seeking sanctuary
As we started to prepare this update, news came through of a 16 year old boy who has been blinded in one eye through police use of rubber bullets. The boy was shot during the attack with gas and rubber bullets against refugees who were trying to recuperate their possessions before the police destroyed their tents set up near the food distribution place in rue Verrotieres. He suffered severe injuries to his face and there is a risk for his remaining eye. And on recent form, he'll sent straight back to the appalling squalor of wasteland where he has been staying. The two friends who accompanied him to make a complaint at the Police Station were themselves arrested for several hours. All this just after the French President's visit to Calais. It is in the context of reports that the Police have become particularly heavy handed during the daily distribution of food and clothes. It seems that they were determined to break up the tents which provide a minimum of basic shelter and were not hesitating to use pepper spray to render the tents and blankets unusable.
So why the surge in arrivals in Calais, currently estimated to take the number there over 800? In part this is due to a cruel deception on the part of UK and French politicians. The news that the UK had agreed to be more flexible in accepting child migrants under the Dubs agreement and speed up the processing of applications travelled fast, with the result that many young people had their hopes raised, and made for Calais, only for them to be dashed. The new UK/French 'accord' has yet to bring any visible results. We are also very disturbed by the inter-racial violence being reported – it is a sad fact that violence increases when those involved lose all dignity and sense of hope. Apparently trafficking gangs run by Afghans are angry when Eritreans get into lorries that they plan to use for profit, or attract attention to areas where they wish to operate. Whatever the origin of this dispute, interest from traffickers seems to have lead to gunfire and several serious injuries.
The result is a growing number of very vulnerable young people who are at risk of being trafficked and sold into modern slavery. (We are often struck by the paradox of the firmness of the rhetoric against modern slavery here in the UK and our failure to denounce the abuse and trafficking of children just 20 miles from our shores). Hence the petition initiated by UNICEF calling on the authorities to reunite children – you will find details here.
Death is also a probability. Back in June 2009, 59 young Chinese were found dead in the back of a lorry in Dover. Since then the total deaths on either side of the Channel have risen to over 200, as people attempt to reach the UK in order to claim asylum – which can be done only on British soil.
And yet in all the squalor of the current situation, human dignity and optimism can still prevail. On his recent visit to Calais, Phil was pleased to see the new Day Centre near the centre of Calais run by Secours Catholique in full operation. People could relax, chat, learn new skills and play board games or get their hair cut in a warm hall, with a video cinema running in a small room alongside and a separate space for women to meet and upcycle damaged garments, which the young men had been proud to show off in a fashion show video. Phil was accompanied by young people from the 'Bruderhof' Community in South East Kent, to deliver blankets that they had made and spend time as volunteers with the Refugee Community Kitchen and the Warehouse.
The Catholic Worker House had been filled far beyond comfortable capacity with young people desperate to get away from the recent inter-racial violence. And we were delighted to provide three key organisations with the proceeds (€1320) of a very generous Christmas collection by a Catholic Parish in Suffolk. And for the future, if you are able to organise a collection, however modest, we will recommend NGO's which can make best use of the money and arrange payment as required.
And so the future – will there be an amelioration of the situation in 2018? Only if those of us who feel passionate about the issues continue to put pressure on those in authority who can make a difference – on both sides of the Channel. The few children who have so far reached the UK were only admitted after huge pressure from those felt it their duty to make their voice heard.
Ben as a local Councillor recently took part in his local Holocaust Memorial Day observance – and was reminded of the remarkable efforts of Sir Nicholas Winton in the 1930's to bring children out of danger into the UK through the 'kindertransports'. It's this kind of initiative that we need again in the turbulent and often intolerant nature of our politics over 70 years later.
19 December, 2017
A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FROM SEEKING SANCTUARY
At this time which is so special for many of us, we wanted to convey our thanks for all your support for the efforts made by both ourselves and many other agencies in supporting the migrants who are still in the North of France, often in conditions which are worse than those experienced in the Calais 'Jungle' up to the time when it was dismantled.
Your efforts have taken many forms, both in collection and distribution of goods as well as fundraising and making donations. The need is still considerable but perhaps because of the changing public profile there is less attention in our media and hence fewer offers of help. Nonetheless we have managed to continue to raise the scandal of the many unaccompanied children and other vulnerable people abandoned by both the UK and French governments. We write on International Migrants' Day, which has the very relevant theme of “Safe Migration in a World on the Move”, which draws attention to the need for safe and legal methods of travel. Safe migration would divert desperate people away from leaky boats and traffickers.
We are always pleased to hear about collections of much needed goods and can usually recommend ways in which these goods can be taken to Calais from points within the UK. Financial donations are also desperately needed, particularly for organisations such as the Refugee Community Kitchen which continues to supply thousands of meals each day along the coast of northern France.
The efforts of our supporters have been recognised by listeners to the Kent-based internet station, Kent Christian Radio, voting for us in the broadcaster's first annual awards for charitable work for community welfare. A photo is attached!
So whether you are a member of a Faith Group or other community organisation, please encourage those with whom you are involved to keep the needs of our sisters and brothers who are migrants in mind. As Pope Francis reminds us, each of those we come into contact with has 'a name, a face and a story'.
With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year and with renewed thanks for your efforts and your encouragement.
Ben and Phil.
27 November, 2017
Phil delivered goods to Calais on 8 November and Ben on 23 November, reflecting a somewhat renewed flow of donated goods needing transport. Phil noted that it was troubling to see the people living in the wood alongside an industrial estate who emerged to receive food distributed from vans parked on waste ground alongside stockpiles of road-fill aggregate, dominated by a huge pylon. Following the issue of a government report confirming that the repeated accounts of their regular violence are plausible, the riot police are now less openly aggressive in the daylight. They concentrate efforts upon patrols during the hours of darkness, when they confiscate and destroy bedding and tarpaulins, leaving the typical length of uninterrupted sleep at around two hours and keeping the average life of a sleeping bag at below a week. When Ben went over - thanks to Dover and Deal Labour Party for a full load of goods - he found himself in the middle of a stand off between a group of migrants and the CRS police in the middle of the car park of a wine superstore. An unnerving experience! More troubling still for Phil, queuing to board the ferry at the end of his day in Calais, was to see the distress of a family removed from a lorry by port security staff after being detected by sniffer dogs.
During the time spent in Calais we took the opportunity find out a little more about the various support groups that operate from the town.
L'Auberge des Migrants has worked in Calais since 2008, delivering food and material aid in the streets. Its activities extend to nearby camps and to Government Welcome Centres, providing concrete support on the form of French lessons, integration support, and cash to support needs, help for transport etc., whilst acting as ‘watchdog’ to ensure that people’s rights are respected
“Help Refugees” aims to fill gaps left by Governments and large NGOs in the refugee crisis by working with local partners. Apart from emergency humanitarian aid they aim for sustainable solutions, often by holding governments to account for their (in)actions through litigation and advocacy.
Together, the above groups operate one of the two major aid warehouses, and a number of other organisations have moved their offices to that site, including:
- The Refugee Community Kitchen, which has served 1.5 million meals over the past 2 years, currently averaging 2500 a day – all involving delicious and healthy food. Facilities have just been updated to take account the demands of hygiene and planning regulations, with the new equipment having come into use this week.
- The Refugee Youth Service is starting a mobile youth centre in a vehicle providing a safe space, legal support, information on asylum in France and other European countries, access to WiFi, phone charging and classes. They employ a team with a full-time French social worker and a legal case-worker, providing a consistent and professional service for displaced young people in Northern France.
- Utopia 56 helps volunteers to make some social outreach to refugees in the streets, day and night, to provide assistance such as the distribution of meals, bedding and clothes. It also protects unaccompanied foreign minors by accompanying them through their administrative procedures, working on the recovery of identity documents from relatives remaining at home and protecting them while waiting for decisions. Young refugees are also provided with occasional nights of hotel accommodation, when funds permit.
- The Refugee Info Bus provides a mobile office and WiFi hotspot for refugees in northern France, allowing them to access information that is already freely available. This helps them to better understand their situation and aids individuals making informed decisions about their own future. They also help other groups to collect testimonies from refugees and volunteers concerning the daily action of police tearing down makeshift shelters and taking away sleeping bags and blankets, along with the use of tear gas and force to disperse people sleeping rough who have nowhere to go.
- The Dunkirk Women's Centre was based in the Dunkirk camp before it burned down in April, and now operates an outreach project in and around Dunkirk and Calais from a van. The Dunkirk population is predominantly Kurdish and includes a greater proportion of families and women than the typical Calais exiles. They encourage people to keep safe and in shelter and run children's activities. They also cater for the needs of the women, supplementing twice-weekly deliveries from the Emmaus charity which can often amount to only one sanitary towel per woman and one nappy per baby per day.
The number of people sleeping rough in and near Calais and towns and villages along the coast and near major roads has again increased a little. Exiles remain determined to come to the the area and to remain there.
Care4Calais runs the other important Calais aid warehouse and delivers aid directly to those living in the worst conditions across northern France: people who do not have access to winter clothing, adequate food or other daily essentials. They help those living on the streets in Calais, Dunkirk, Paris and Brussels, and those in other small camps wherever they spring up. The local team from the the Muslim group, Salam, which used to distribute food at the Jules Ferry Centre (alongside the former "Jungle"), apparently now concentrates upon collecting and distributing aid alongside the volunteers from the warehouses.
We have previously described the activity of the Catholic Worker house of hospitality, which shelters and accompanies those who are physically or mentally the most damaged and vulnerable: they need volunteers and funds. Secours Catholique, staffed largely by local volunteers, has just lost the premises made available by the town council for use as a Day Centre, and has been clearing space in its “migrants' locker room” near the port with a view to shifting the Day Centre activity to that site. Additionally, a number of local people welcome the rough sleepers into their homes for a little respite, getting warm, charging their phones and taking a shower: one Belgian lady regularly takes home all the very dirty socks from Dunkirk to launder and return them.
We are repeatedly asked what is needed. The answer is still: volunteers, money, warm bedding and warm clothes suitable for thin young men, and supplies of food in catering quantities.
NEWS FROM PARLIAMENT
It's over five weeks since our last update, at a time when a Parliamentary debate was expected, calling for full implementation of both both the “Dubs Amendment” which produced Section 67of the 2016 Immigration Act (allowing vulnerable minors to come to the UK) and the EU's Dublin III Regulation (allowing children to join family in UK). We both attended a parliamentary reception in October, where several helpful members of the House of Lords were in attendance, among others. In fact we suspect that without their persistent pressure on the Home Office, the arrival of the 10-20 children mentioned elsewhere in this newsletter would not have happened.
In practice the debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords took place on on 2 November. A High Court ruling handed down earlier that day confirmed that the Government’s approach to implementing Section 67 of the Immigration Act (and finding remarkably few local authority places able to accept them) was lawful: an appeal is planned.
To update those of you who have not been able to follow the details of these debates, some facts to emerge included that:
- On the previous day, the government had published a (five months' delayed) strategy for unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children in recognition of their increasing numbers, vulnerability and specific needs; this includes commitments to increasing the number of foster places by 1000; reviewing the funding available to local authorities; improving the information and advice available to children and families; preventing children going missing; updating Parliament and the Children’s Commissioner regularly on the number of children transferred, improving how the Dublin III protocol is actually administered on the ground, with an emphasis on improving family tracing and speeding up asylum application processing.
- Some children – we suspect about 10 to 20 – had arrived in recent weeks from France and transfers were ongoing.
- The Home Office had on that day published the “Dublin III Regulation guidance”, covering decisions relating to the state responsible for examining an asylum claim and transfers between the UK and other European states in respect of adults and children.
- Additional centres for shelter and welcome had been opened for people already in France, including four a little distance away from the Channel ports, where those wishing to claim asylum can be supported through the process - apparently with involvement of British officials. Regular transportation is provided to these centres for those who contact patrols organised by the government. Capacity is supposed to rise to around 300 places.
- The above developments come in response to the various campaigns about which we have sent on information, and the organisers are immensely grateful to those who have responded by writing to MPs and Ministers..
Parliamentarians, often citing the various reports that had been brought to their attention by ourselves and others, pointed out that
- The Government must listen to the evidence from wonderful organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Refugee Rights Data Project, Safe Passage UK, the Human Trafficking Foundation and Help Refugees, who have listed hundreds of asylum seekers sleeping rough in forests and parks around northern France in the most appalling conditions.
- Traffickers run rings around the police.
- 93.6% of unaccompanied children spoken to by the Refugee Rights Data Project, had experienced police violence.
- Some of those moved from Calais to welcome centres in central France and beyond found that they had no heating and the food was bad. When asylum claims were rejected by the Home Office they were not told why and they were not told how to appeal. When centres closed after a few months, they were told to leave and have since been wandering around France in Paris, Calais, Dunkirk—then to Belgium—Bordeaux and round again. They suffer at the hands of the police, who beat them up, tear-gas them and pepper spray their sleeping bags, as an official French government enquiry has finally agreed – stating that these practices result from a lack of appropriate training!
- Getting to Lille, where there is a registration office for asylum applications, is hazardous because migrants are forbidden to use public transport and are arrested. But even if they make it there, nothing happens for months, if ever.
- The UK Government has spent £81 million on security measures in Calais, yet just one member of staff has been seconded to France to try to progress family reunion claims even though we know that one in six of the people in the new Jungle are trying to reconnect with their family. We must reduce the number of people coming to Britain through illegal, irregular and very dangerous routes and instead make sure that there are legal and safe routes to sanctuary such as the Dubs and Dublin scheme – and ensure that these legal channels are not affected by departure from the European Union.
21 November was World Children's Day, marking the date in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. 30 years later the Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet Governments around the world, including our own, continue to fail to respect the principles of these resolutions. There are still over 30 million child refugees across the world that need our help, alongside those n NW France. We must keep working together to make sure that governments do not fail these children, and every child the chance to flourish and reach their full potential.
“Seeking Sanctuary” is to receive an award in December from an internet radio station in recognition of our contribution to charitable work! The organisers want to give a boost to organisations struggling to get the profile and funding that they need to move forward, offering a leg-up to Christian groups that are delivering practical solutions to present-day problems.
We are both intrigued and delighted by this recognition and will tell you more about it in out next update.
Reading reports such as this, it is very easy to give up hope before carrying on with our lives and focusing on less depressing subjects. That is an understandable reaction, but we can do better. Anyone can volunteer in Calais. Anyone can donate old clothes or money. The charities present there need all the support they can get. Even if you only spread the word, it is still a positive contribution!
Thank you for all that you do.
Ben + Phil.
Some recent photos can be viewed here.
18 October, 2017
“Safe Passage” and “Help Refugees” are helping Lord Alf Dubs to call for full implementation of both his amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act (meant to allow 3,000 minors to come to the UK) and the EU's Dublin III Regulation (allowing children to join family in UK). Like many others, “Seeking Sanctuary” is concerned that unaccompanied minors with a right to be in Britain will lose their immigration place once Brexit has occurred. It is estimated that, in France alone, there are more than 1,000 unaccompanied children legally entitled to be here but remaining prey to police violence, people smugglers and traffickers.
MPs will debate the immigration aspect of Brexit plans from 12noon to 1pm on Tuesday 24 October, which is also the first anniversary of the demolition of the 'Jungle' in Calais. Campaigners are planning to hold an action outside Parliament to demonstrate that there is solidarity and support for the unaccompanied minors to have legal routes of safe passage to the UK: they are not to be forgotten.
People are asked to gather from noon alongside the George V statue in Abingdon Street, SW1P 3JY (opposite Parliament). At the time of the Calais 'Jungle' clearance, 750 child refugees were successfully transferred to Britain. We need to keep the pressure up, and repeat this success. Hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees still hide in woods around Calais, with minimal provisions and sanitation, in constant fear of police violence and traffickers.
Our government was obliged to take in 480 children under the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act. So far only 200 have arrived – none in 2017. Alf Dubs now asks us to go beyond mass emails and get together in local groups to plan individual contacts to persuade local MPs to attend the debate and put pressure on the Government, demonstrating that Britain welcomes refugee children. We are proud of what we have achieved and we should continue to provide protection to these children. Some of them will be at Parliament to thank the Home Secretary for rescuing them last year.
You can ask your MP to meet you in Westminster on 24 October and write or email to them before that date. Britain needs to feel good about what was done last year! The aim is not to polarise politicians but to bring people to build a consensus around welcoming child refugees. You can check your MP's name and postal and internet addresses at www.theyworkforyou.com, and advice on what to include in your personal messages to MPs can be found here.
Phil delivered goods to Calais on 25 September and 5 October – unusually, his fourth and fifth visits in about 10 weeks, reflecting the fact that we are finding ever fewer people to deliver donated goods on our behalf. Former stalwarts are spending more time helping out in Greece or within the UK, while the situation in and near NW France receives less media cover. At the same time that winter develops, not only are more and more people returning to the area or arriving for the first time, but official measures to deter them have become more and more harsh.
The number of people affected by the conditions outlined in our most recent update has increased, with probably around 700 in and near Calais and another 400 or so scattered in reach of the coast and close to major port access roads. The temperature has dropped, monetary donations have dwindled, the number of volunteers is barely adequate and stocks of key items such as blankets and sleeping bags drop to zero more often than is desired. Meeting them face-to-face, it is increasingly evident that long-term workers are "running on empty", unable to be confident that they can sustain operations into the next month. Sometimes it is hard to know where money for the next month's rent can be found.
Exiles are determined to remain in the area. A week after clearance of the new camp near Grande-Synthe in late September, 250 people had already returned. The huge deployment of police and buses had little long-term effect, with some people who were taken down to the Spanish border returning to makeshift camps in the woods. The town of Calais has failed to comply with a Court Order requiring a minimum of facilities to be provided alongside the distributions of food and clothing by volunteers. As a consequence the Prefecture has supplemented the 7 taps in Secours Catholique's wash-room by providing 20 mobile toilets, a caravan with a further 8 toilets and urinals, and two tankers (1000 litres each) that supply drinking water to 10 taps on pipes located less than a metre above the ground, that rapidly becomes a mud-bath. These are only accessible during the two daily periods of food distribution.
The promised showers finally appeared in late September, operating from Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 1 pm, with a time-slot reserved for vulnerable people (women, children and the elderly). Users are provided with hygiene kits and towels. 14 showers are so far operational out of a planned 28, located at the fringe of the town. Migrants are taken to them in shuttles with a capacity of about 20 people each, which later take them back to their starting point after their permitted shower time of about 5 to 6 minutes. The authorities thus intend to avoid "the creation of a new camp".
A United Nations expert report published on 16 October condemned the above measures as inadequate. People sleeping in woods and fields further along the coast and in small camps at locations such as Grande-Synthe, Tatinghem, Angres and Dieppe have even less access to water and toilets, and must depend on transport provided by volunteers to reach facilities in sports centres and the like. Conditions in the streets of Paris and Brussels are probably even more poor, but we have not the time and space to provide a detailed commentary here.
Ben writes: Over the last years we have learnt that collection of goods and their distribution to Calais often poses logistical difficulties beyond our capability. But the situation is so critical with winter approaching that any help is better than none. That is why I am launching an appeal, initially in East Kent, for more of the urgently needed items described in our updates. Do feel free to contact me directly if you can help – perhaps through your Church, school or club or other community body with which you are connected – we will make sure that what you collect gets to where it is needed before the end of the year.
“Seeking Sanctuary” has been nominated for an award from an internet radio station to recognise its contribution to charitable work! Voting is open here until 15 November. The intention of the organisers is to give a boost to organisations struggling to get the profile and funding they need to move forward, offering a leg-up to Christian organisations that are delivering practical solutions to present-day problems.
As ever, we are grateful for messages of support and news of practical action from those who receive these updates. These renew our energy and sense of purpose, helping us to persevere.
Ben + Phil.
19 SEPTEMBER, 2017
Ben writes: 'As well as being a campaigner for refugee rights I must own up as well to being a local politician in my home town of Deal in Kent. Our town motto is 'Welcome the Stranger' and it was with great interest that as Mayor of our town a few years ago I was able to find out about some local history - just over a hundred years ago my predecessor in 1915 took an active part in welcoming 1500 Belgian refugees to our town – there was a local welcome committee and accommodation was found for everyone across the town.'
How the narrative has changed! Now, even a small number of refugees coming to our town is likely to cause some controversy – hence the importance of the growing 'City of Sanctuary' movement on which we are making a small amount of movement.
Since our last update there has been continued pressure on the limited resources of NGOs in Calais as more and more desperate people come into the area. Secours Catholique, like the two Calais warehouses, has launched an urgent appeal for more supplies as their new store-room. Do think about whether you can organise a collection in your local Faith Community – we are happy to put you in contact with organisations which are in a position to take goods to Calais on your behalf, if you are not able to make the trip yourself.
All three organisations have issued updates about their needs during the past fortnight. The requirements are all similar, although Help Refugees links up the the Calais Community Kitchen and needs a wider range of food donations.
1. This is a link to the Help Refugees/Auberge des Migrants list:
(They give more information on volunteering and donating money at
2. For Care4Calais, information about volunteering or donating goods or money, etc., is linked from
3. Secours Catholique has provided the following information via email:
"We try to manage two major distributions per month but it is going to be impossible because we are short of everything...
For this we need donations in quantities.
Please no women and children’s clothes - only clothes for men and focusing on small sizes (S and M)
Jeans, jogging trousers, T-shirts, sweaters, underclothes, backpacks, hiking boots and sneakers, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, scarves, gloves, hats ...
You can deliver every Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon from 14h00 to 17h00 without appointment at our offices at 47 rue de Moscou, in Calais.
We can also arrange appointments for sizeable deliveries on other days. In which case please make an appointment with Christine in advance by email: Christine Descamps, volunteer manager of Migrant Relief locker room in Calais. (M.firstname.lastname@example.org)
You can send money donations to Secours Catholique by bank transfer or by cheque. In either case, please specify “Migrants program in Calais”. The bank account details are available on demand, or you can send cheques to:
Secours Catholique, Délégation du Pas-de-Calais, 14 bis, rue Noël-Trannin, CS 20286, 62005 Arras Cedex, FRANCE.
In summary, both money, food and goods are much needed! When collecting either food and goods, it's probably best to concentrate on just a few items, such as bedding or men's toiletries. (And if you or others are able to offer a fews days of regular help, that weill be most welcome!)
When Phil delivered goods to Calais at the end of August he found that there were more exiles visible around the streets than at any time in the previous 10 months, including a few more women. The situation in North-West France appears to be far worse now than it's ever been. The Community Kitchen is providing 2000 meals a day in Calais and along the coast at a cost of about 2 Euros each – more food than ever before. They and their sister groups are really feeling the pressure as both donations and volunteer numbers have dropped and more exiles arrive daily. Funds are low and numbers are going up. Help is needed!
There are approximately 800 exiles in Calais and perhaps almost 1000 more nearby, the majority come from the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan. All are entirely dependent upon NGOs for all necessities. Food, bedding and clothes are distributed daily at 12h00 and 18h00 at two fixed locations and by mobile patrols in the evening. Telephone charging points and WiFi are also provided, as is simple First Aid and transport to hospitals, if needed. The duration of each period of aid distribution is curtailed by police and state provisions of mobile toilets and drinking water are rudimentary and confined to the same short time periods. Also, the arrival date for the promised showers keeps getting pushed back for yet another week and skin infections are common.
50 million Euros have so far been spent on some 50 miles of security fences and walls, not to mention the cost of security lights, cctv and drones. Surely more innovative and humane measures could have been tested?
On top of this, Autumn has arrived and winter is just around the corner. The weather in Calais has turned, with many days bringing downpours of rain and strong winds sweeping in from the sea or across the near-flat WW1 battlegrounds. People are sleeping in the woods with no protection from the elements as any significant possessions are confiscated by riot police on a regular basis. It is difficult to dry clothes and impossible to wash them!
On 8 September we posted an independent account of a visit to the Catholic Worker House on our website, and this paints very much the same picture that we describe above. Do read it; especially the powerful account that Brother Johannes provides about the daily dilemmas over who to help and who to turn away.
We cannot conclude without returning to the topic of lone youngsters stuck in Calais and still not being processed for entry to the UK under the “Dubs amendment” or the Dublin 3 regulation. Children should not be living in the 'jungles'. Children should not be dying in the 'jungles'. Children should not be so desperate that they die trying to leave the 'jungles'. Contact your local authorities, contact your local MP, contact the Home Office. Find out why it's taking so long to reunite refugee children with their families. Find out why, despite the passage of the "Dubs amendment" into law, so few refugee minors have been taken into the UK.
In conclusion, we present a poem here which we have translated from the French worker-priests' newsletter.
Thank you for your concern and your support and solidarity towards needy fellow human beings.
Ben + Phil.
8 SEPTEMBER 2017
Nobody should live like this
Report from Westminster J&P visit to Catholic Worker House.
On a wet, cold, end-of-August day, four members of Westminster Justice and Peace left London for the Catholic Worker house in Calais. It was our third or fourth ‘day-trip’ in two years. We arrived to find Brother Johannes tired and preoccupied with health and practical issues in the house. A volunteer sister had accompanied someone to hospital, while some young people were waiting for showers and clothes washing. Johannes took us quickly to a point near the former ‘Jungle’ camp, where several charities were serving hot meals to 40 or 50 young people who looked damp and chilled in the un-summery weather. We had arrived at the tail end of the proceedings.
Help Refugees, Calais Kitchen, Auberge des Migrants and others have banded together to provide nearly 2000 meals a day (lunch and supper) to those who have come back to Calais still hoping to cross the Channel by one means or another. From there we were taken to the far side of the city to another industrial estate where these big charities take deliveries and have a giant industrial size kitchen to cook the meals in large steel containers. Brother Johannes is able to get a good deal of food for the house from this distribution centre.
We were able to tell this very energetic Franciscan brother about the generous donations from parishes and individuals who responded fast to his appeal, which Westminster J&P publicised at the end of July. We raised an astonishing £3,500-plus sum, which Brother Johannes will put towards the drop-in work of Maria Skobstova Catholic Worker House. The bills for electricity and water, alone, are shooting up as some weeks more than 100 showers and clothes-wash-and-dries are offered.
It is clear from just one short visit, and seeing young people abandoned on the edges of the Calais industrial estates, that proper procedures are essential so as to respond to the needs and demands of these young people. A Home Office presence in Calais to deal with applications is a minimum requirement. Indeed, the report, Nobody should live like this maintains.
The administration of the Dubs scheme cannot be a solely London based exercise it requires multi-agency teams of specialists on the ground where most children are located, including Calais and Dunkirk to build confidence in safe routes and resistance to traffickers., we couldn’t agree more.
The summer in Calais has been difficult but volunteers are very worried about what will happen to the young migrants on the north French coast once the cold weather sets in.
- Yesterday, Br Johannes himself wrote:
It is difficult, it is very difficult. In principle when people come at our door we do not help them. This might sound strange or even hard but we cannot help people who come at the door. If we do that tomorrow there will be 10 people at the door, after tomorrow 15 people a day, next week 20 people a day and finally well there are more than 500 refugees with needs or illnesses in Calais, do I need to draw a picture?
We do however take people from the hospital or from the jungle with our minibus or other associations bring people they consider in serious need.
Sometimes you make an exception at the door - but how? Who is really sick enough you take them in or who is psychologically at the edge. And with this in mind how do we keep doing our daily accompaniment of the underage refugees we accompany?
Yesterday, I refused a hopeless young man at the door, today I took a young man in - exception. He has been sleeping from the minute we have him a bed. Really looks stressed and in pain. But who do you help? Who not?
This work has been a blessing for me from the first day I arrived. Through these people God has touched me every day. Through there smiles, laughs, touches, cries, pains,... God is there with them.
But it has also been hard and painful, as I have to make choices that are difficult and sometimes it even feels violent to make these choices. And even if I don't want to make these choices I have to ...
Powerlessness is one of the most difficult things to live with, but then that is also the struggle of my brothers and sisters out there. We subdue the violence of this world - and it is nasty! Europe has nothing to be proud about... we have left God outside at our front door in the cold,we let God drown in the Mediterranean Sea or we paid 'thugs and robbers' in Libya to get rid of God.
If you would like to make a donation during September please see: www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/rcdiocese-westminster/helpacalaisminor2
AUGUST 29, 2017
We produced our first Briefing Note aimed at Parliamentarians and other influencers of policy, which was sent out during the second half of the month
MIGRANTS AROUND CALAIS – BRIEFING NOTE, AUGUST 2017.
Lord Hylton suggests we should draw attention to a series of reports produced just before the Summer break. These condemn police violence against migrants in Calais and the State's extreme reluctance to provide any access to drinking water, toilets and food.
Awareness of these reports is patchy in the UK, especially the most recent one. As the new session of Parliament draws near, we aim to keep you aware of these by providing links in this message. Please feel free to contact us, or Faith Anderson (faith.anderson@CSAN,org,uk), Public Affairs Officer at CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network), if we may be of further help when you work upon this issue in the coming weeks and months.
There are now many hundreds of people sleeping in the open near Calais and hundreds of others close to Dunkirk plus yet more along the coast and near main roads. Like others in Paris, they have been living in a sadly deprived state, and remain uninformed about legal avenues for entering the UK.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Human Rights Watch issued a report on 26th July, “Living in Hell”, describing and condemning routine police violence and use of tear gas and pepper sprays on sleeping people and their property in Calais – including minors. This received immediate widespread mainstream media comment in France and the government has promised that complaints of police violence will be investigated.
HRW concludes that police in Calais, particularly the riot police (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité, CRS), routinely use pepper spray on children and adults while they are sleeping or in other circumstances where they pose no threat; regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing; and sometimes spray food and water. Police have also disrupted deliveries of humanitarian assistance. These abuses have a negative impact on access to child services and migrants’ desire and ability to apply for asylum.
Such conduct is an abuse of power, violating the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, as well as being an unjustifiable interference with the migrants’ rights to food and water. International standards provide that police should only use force when unavoidable, and then only with restraint, in proportion to circumstances, and for a legitimate law enforcement purpose. Authorities have turned a blind eye to many reports of police abuse against asylum seekers and other migrants. (There is some dispute as to whether tear gas of pepper spray has been the most commonly used spray, but this is a minor point of detail in the context of abusive and needless intrusions!)
The situation is in sharp contrast to President Macron's commitments to a more humanitarian future. HRW says that to live up to these commitments and to international obligations, local and national authorities should immediately and unequivocally direct police to stick to international standards on the use of force and refrain from conduct that interferes with delivery of humanitarian assistance, subject to appropriate disciplinary action for abuse of authority or other misconduct.
The Ministry of the Interior should remove obstacles to access to refugee protection, including either establishing a Calais asylum office or easing access to existing offices, at least 45km distant. It should also work with appropriate agencies and humanitarian groups to provide access to shelter for all asylum applicants, including emergency accommodation for undocumented migrants without shelter in Calais. Finally, authorities should ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have access to child protection services, including shelters with sufficient capacity and adequate staffing.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING FOUNDATION
Rt Hon Fiona Mactaggart and Baroness Butler-Sloss GBE, recent Chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, oversaw the production of a report
from an independent UK inquiry on 10th July, “Nobody deserves to live this way”. It examines the situation of separated and unaccompanied minors in parts of Europe, including France, and was sponsored by the Human Trafficking Foundation.
It concludes that protecting children on the move is an issue of child protection and prevention of serious crime as well as immigration. There is overwhelming evidence of violence inflicted by French authorities and police, whether the indiscriminate use of truncheons or the tear gassing of children and their sleeping bags. With the premature end of the “Dubs” scheme and a police-induced mistrust of officials, young people see their routes to the UK as paying people smugglers or becoming entangled with traffickers. The UK should devote resources to devising legal schemes for transferring young people, with more transparency in procedures, improved liaison with charities working with children, and better dissemination of relevant information in appropriate language and formats.
EVENTS IN FRANCE
In the wake of a scathing 14th June report (in French) from the independent Défenseur des droits (Human Rights Ombudsman), eleven refugee support organisations gained an Order from a Tribunal in Lille on 27th June, stating that police should stop hindering aid distributions and that a minimum of sources of drinking water, adequate toilets and access to showers should be provided to avoid “the risk of inhuman and degrading treatment”. The Calais Town Council did nothing apart from appealing the judgement along with the Minister of the Interior. The appeal failed at the end of July and, while the Mayor maintains that she would rather go to prison than give way to the Court, the Prefect promised to provide drinking water taps, toilets and mobile shower units. A few taps and mobile toilets appeared at a Secours Catholique establishment in mid-August, about seven weeks after the original Court Order, with another “mobile” set arriving later in the month. Showers (apparently now only for the vulnerable?) had still not arrived as August drew to a end. Restrictions are harshly imposed upon times and places for food and clothing distribution by volunteer NGOs, with varied styles of police intimidation.
A full-page Guardian article by Amelia Gentleman provides a good description of the situation around Calais on 10th August, as the overdue installation of water points and toilets was awaited.
Pope Francis in a message dated 15th August, sets out a series of concrete proposals for world leaders to consider in pending United Nations agreements. He repeats that our shared response to migrants and refugees may be articulated by four verbs: “to welcome, protect, promote and integrate”. It is not easy to find much echo of these verbs in the public responses of the French and UK governments to the Calais situation
Phil Kerton & Ben Bano,
26 July, 2017
'Every migrant has a name, a face and a story' (Pope Francis)
It's timely to recall this quote from Pope Francis, not least because it encapsulates the individuality of all those who seek sanctuary from desperate poverty or from wars and persecution. All too often we talk about 'migrants and asylum seekers' as if they were all the same and we forget the individual stories behind their plight.
ARRIVALS IN EUROPE
And the plight grows ever worse. In this summer season when better weather makes crossing in a flimsy boat just a little less dangerous, the narrative of intolerance becomes even more strident, both here and elsewhere in Europe. Italy which has taken in more than 53,000 migrants since the end of the year rightly calls on other EU nations to play their part. In the current febrile climate of UK politics when politicians vie in trying show their strong-arm credentials over rights of entry to Britain, the migrants with whom we are concerned with have little hope unless the pressure is kept up by people such as yourselves: our three hundred email contacts and those with whom you share our news.
HARDER TIMES AROUND CALAIS
Migrants get seen as an inconvenience, even a threat to our security, as fewer and fewer leaders in positions of authority are prepared to defend their interests. In Northern France the numbers become ever greater and the migrants there are playing a desperate game of cat and mouse with the authorities as the feeding arrangements are barely tolerated .and where the authorities' approach is to simply confiscate basic supplies and try to deter refugees with pepper spray and tear-gas.
In the wake of a scathing report from the Human Rights Ombudsman, eleven refugee support organisations won an appeal to a Tribunal in Lille on 27 June, demanding that police should stop hindering aid distributions and that a minimum of sources of drinking water, adequate toilets and access to showers be provided in order to avoid “the risk of inhuman and degrading treatment”. The Town Council had done nothing after 10 days, saying that it is appealing against the judgement and that the Mayor would rather go to prison than give way to the Court. The Minister of the Interior is also leading an appeal.
THE SCENE IN PARIS
Phil was in Paris for a few days near the start of June and managed to go out to the complex road and tram junction where the motorway from Lille and Calais terminates at Porte de La Chapelle. A dreary landscape bordered by the orbital motorway and a rail embankment. Migrants were gathering there to sleep on the streets at night and wander them by day, hoping to be among the few who get into one of the dozen or so places becoming vacant each day the extremely inadequate official shelter. The capacity is 400 and about 200 newcomers arrive each week. Some two months ago in the 33rd such clearance since 2015, 1610 people were removed from the streets to various locations. A new police clearance on 7 July moved over 2700 to temporary accommodation such as school gymnasiums that have become vacant for the holiday season.
Like most other European states, France has yet to organise a sustainable, dignified and humane solution to the challenge posed by those escaping desperate conditions in the Middle East and Africa. A purported “new” strategy was outlined on 12th July, and includes the creation of 4,000 places of shelter for asylum seekers in 2018, followed by another 3,500 in 2019. An additioal 5,000 places will be created to help refugees to access housing, with the appointment of a government commissioner for integration. Alongside these measures, more staff will be employed to cater for the objective of seeing asylum applications processed in six months (against a current period of more than a year for many cases), and to oversee new regulations to ensure the rapid deportation of unsuccessful applicants and deal effectively with people who have been fingerprinted elsewhere. Bills will be proposed in September.
UNACCOMPANIED MINORS – NEW REPORTS
A report “Nobody deserves to live this way” has been issued from an independent UK inquiry into the situation of separated and unaccompanied minors in parts of Europe, sponsored by the Human Trafficking Foundation. This concludes that protecting children on the move is not just an immigration issue but also a matter of child protection and preventing serious and organised crime. The writers point out that there is overwhelming evidence of violence inflicted by the French authorities and the police, whether it be the indiscriminate use of truncheons or the tear gassing of children and their sleeping bags. Renewed effort must be devoted to legal schemes for transfer of young people to the UK, with more transparency in procedures, improved liaison with charities who work with the children, and better dissemination of relevant information in appropriate language and formats. All matters upon which we have commented in the past!
The Human Rights Foundation has also issued a report describing and condemning routine police violence and use of pepper sprays against sleeping people and their property in Calais – including minors. This received immediate widespread mainstream media comment in France and we can but hope that the mounting pressure will eventually reduce violence.
THINGS THAT WE HAVE DONE
And all this is happening now. We need to persuade those around us and those in positions of influence (your MP perhaps?) to let basic humanity transcend whatever politics they carry and dare to start to care about this. And above all we need to stop blaming people who have zero power and stop using dehumanising language.
We helped to prepare videos for Refugee Week, and you can see three of the results here. There are plans to include these in an exhibition in Parliament later this year, and we hope that they will get noticed by some of the MPs who have not visited Calais.
If you are involved with a Faith Community you may be interested in our newly produced prayer cards which focus on the plight of those who have perished on their journeys, the majority lost at sea, including the many children known to have drowned. We are requesting a donation of £5 per 100 and if you are interested please email us for further details. As well as a newly-composed prayer, the cards include a statement of solidarity indicating the themes for action and a note of the link to our newly-added website page listing useful organisations who can help. You will find a photo of the cards attached.
ACTION TO BE TAKEN
Meanwhile the various operations in Calais continue to need goods for distribution to the places where they are needed, predominantly by skinny young men and teenagers. The urgent items listed at the start of July are fabric and foil sleeping bags and waterproof carrying covers; trainers and socks (sizes 40-43); waterproof jackets, t-shirts and jogging bottoms (sizes S & M). And all the other items previously requested are still needed – just a little less urgently.
When you have pondered this update and wondered if there can ever be a change of heart among officials and politicians, start finding out about how you can be of practical help. Our new website page listing UK support organisations may provide you with some ideas.
Start donating. Start volunteering. Demand that more imaginative solutions are considered and that children are not allowed to suffer. Start doing something about the situation!
STOP PRESS - 'Migrants are now out of fashion'
This was the comment made by a young volunteer with the Auberge des Migrants to Ben during a visit he made to Calais last Monday. The situation in Calais is now so critical that hundreds of blankets are needed each and every day as the Police use pepper spray on the ones they find, rendering them useless. The Auberge intended to distribute 500 blankets that day and luckily the blankets which Ben brought over from well wishers in England helped to make a difference as there are desperate shortages of much needed goods. listed above. Ben says: 'Migrants are still to be seen in the usual places in and around Calais, but they both look and are more destitute than ever. If conditions in the “Jungle” were bad, their current conditions are much worse. We must continue to advocate for the voiceless victims of war and persecution'.
4 JUNE 2017
UPDATE - CALAIS
CALAIS – VOLUNTEERS AND NEEDS
Phil visited Calais on 30 May, taking clothing, cash and bedding donated by various groups and individuals. He found a situation that was superficially calm, yet worrying: worries that have since been confirmed as correct
More volunteers with jobs in education can turn up during school holidays and various busy groups of volunteers are now using corners of the warehouse run by “Help Refugees” on behalf of l'Auberge des Migrants, so bringing back an air of bustle and energy rarely seen since the autumn demolition of the “Jungle”. In reality more volunteers and donations are needed as the local migrant population increases and official harassment becomes more evident.
The Refugee Community Kitchen was running at high capacity serving 1300 people a day at 4 different distributions points, made up of lunch and dinner in Calais for 550 souls; dinner in Dunkirk for 200 souls; plus 600 lunch and night-time food boxes for new arrivals and the most vulnerable, not to mention making flapjacks for partners who care for the souls in Paris, and providing 1000 litres of clean water per service in Calais. Volunteers chop, stir, wash, pack, drive, serve and then come back and do it all over again many times a day, 7 days a week with never ending enthusiasm and smiles.
The kitchen needs help more than ever: please pass on the news that people can get a volunteer pack about how to come to the kitchen, where to stay in Calais, and much more, by sending an email to email@example.com – or money can be donated on-line via the link https://mydonate.bt.com/donation/start.html?charity=147727.
CALAIS – THE DEVELOPING SITUATION
Travelling around the town, small groups of young migrants can be seen, with increased visibility due to the fresh increase in numbers since the start of the year. The same is true for the imported national police from the Compagnie Républicaine de Securité in full riot gear with helmets, shields, batons and automatic weapons, usually sporting sunglasses and moving with a pronounced swagger.
The former “jungle” has been razed to the ground – a wilderness waiting for the return of the particular flora and fauna that can survive on the exposed surfaces of the decaying sand dunes. Human beings have been returning for months, joined by new arrivals, but this territory is forbidden to them. Some are sheltered by local families, but with a ban on building shelters or erecting tents, hundreds sleep rough in patches of woodland in the adjoining industrial estate and in a few other locations close to lorry parks and motorway slip roads. Aid workers agree that there are around 1000 in and around the town and almost as many more scattered along the coast and in villages and countryside near main roads and motorways.
Newcomers – with a significant proportion of youngsters – arrive exhausted, unwashed, dressed in tatters, malnourished and frequently suffering from various maladies, particularly scabies and chronic fungal foot infestations. Despite the lack of sustained UK media coverage, the need for humanitarian aid has risen, especially as the Calais warehouses now additionally supply many distant locations. Volunteers do not have to be young enough and fit enough to sign up to work for long hours without a break for many days on end, as some volunteers have found at new projects in Greece. What is important is that they can promise to attend regularly and fit in to a regular routine. Sleeping bags and blankets are confiscated by police and sprayed with pepper to render them useless, bringing warehouse stocks down to zero.
But the apparently peaceful afternoon scene appeared fragile, as has since been confirmed.
The day after Phil's visit CRS police told volunteers that the distribution of clothes, food and water was forbidden, save between limited hours and to limited numbers of recipients. No written Instruction was produced, but large numbers of police have turned up to block every distribution. The experienced volunteers who go out to distribute aid are being physically and verbally attacked and treated like criminals. Associations have prepared these volunteers to be ready to perhaps end up in police custody just for handing out food and water to those in need. Some officials have said that all activities that generate crowds of people are forbidden under the long-standing state of emergency, especially as they may hinder traffic flow – and this typically down broad and quiet cul de sacs adequately designed to allow access for heavy vehicles to light industrial and commercial premises .
CHILDREN IN PERIL
On top of such recent (almost) local experiences, our concern for lone migrant children continues. And these can be found in very many places – a thousand in France alone. We suggest that you and others may light a candle to remember a child victim seeking sanctuary. More than that, anyone with young relatives who may be fleeing countries producing migrants needs to know about the work of “Safe Passage” - www.safepassage.org.uk.
This organisation, set up by Citizens-UK, works to help children and vulnerable adults who are alone and searching for asylum get access to safe legal routes to the UK. They have already reunited hundreds with their families in the UK and are working hard to help the many more who have reached Europe and still seek asylum either to join relatives or through their vulnerable condition. They are currently assembling lists of individuals with a right to be helped and asking courts of law to insist that our government lives up to its obligations to help them. Details of relevant cases should be passed on to George Gabriel, who leads this project. His office phone number is 020 7112 4984, or he can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can also supply information to be distributed to locations where it may be seen by relatives who may benefit from it.
In the wake of the Manchester and London terrorist attacks when so many young lives were lost in a heartless atrocity, it is not surprising that the nation's mood is sombre. It is of some consolation that the solidarity from so many people and organisations across the UK and beyond has been so clearly manifested.
At Seeking Sanctuary our thoughts also turn to all those those child victims who have lost their lives during journeys at sea, and by road, air and rail, in a desperate struggle to find sanctuary. The UN estimates that at least 500 children lost their lives at sea last year and there were further victims in recent weeks when grossly overloaded small boats capsized.
Who will be there to mourn and grieve for these children? Who will hold a prayer vigil for them? Their parents may well have lost their lives or lost contact with their children having committed their life savings to people smugglers in vain attempts to get their children to safety. Or the members of their extended family journeying with them may have lost their lives as well. And their plight does not make the headlines – pitiful pictures of them struggling in the sea are no longer thought to be newsworthy....
And so, we ask our supporters to remember and mourn for them – by lighting candles or perhaps remembering them in intentions and by highlighting their plight to help to bring an end to this modern day scandal. And here at 'Seeking Sanctuary' we will be expanding our area of concern, not forgetting the plight of the abandoned migrants in and around Calais, but also trying where possible to highlight the wider picture in a world in which it is increasingly difficult to seek and find sanctuary.
This is reflected in our intention to produce some relevant prayer cards to make a wider group of people aware of the dire conditions in which so many migrants survive. We need to get an idea of how many cards to produce, so please do let us know if you may like to acquire a quantity to pass on to others.
15 APRIL 2017
Hoping that you are enjoying a peaceful Easter celebration.
As we prepare this Easter update we continue to get disturbing news from Dunkirk where the camp was almost entirely destroyed by fire. Many of the residents who were displaced were put up for a few nights in local sports centres but they have now been told to move on - but to where? Some buses were provided but the majority of those involved preferred to push or carry their few possessions away to find shelter locally - a scene just 25 miles from the UK and reminiscent of the exodus from war torn areas that we see on our TV screens.
And many of these helpless people are unaccompanied children and young people who had come back from centres across France feeling that they have no future and that they have been let down by both the UK and French governments - and the recent decision of our government over the 'Dubs' children confirms their worst fears. To make matters worse we are receiving reports that these vulnerable people are becoming victims of traffickers with the very real potential of being exploited or being sold into modern slavery as their only way of paying for a Channel crossing.
Here at Seeking Sanctuary we could not stand by without making some response. And so in common with similar initiatives across Europe we organised a 'walk of witness' in solidarity with all those who are trafficked and exploited. Our 'walk of witness' took place on Good Friday - an appropriate date in the Christian calendar As we gathered together on Deal pier we could clearly see the French coast at Dunkirk - which made our event particularly poignant. We were addressed by Mike Emberson, Chief Executive of the Medaille Trust, who reminded us that the Trust now runs 11 safe houses for victims of trafficking due to the growing scale of this problem.
And so, dear friends, please do not slacken your efforts to address what truly is a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep. The various aid agencies operating from Calais, along with the Refugee Community Kitchen, continue to work at full stretch and we are happy to give you details of how you can support them financially. 80 of the youngsters from Dunkirk have family members living in the UK: please write to MPs asking them to urge the government to act promptly to deal with these cases for family reunification under the “Dublin III” regulation – the list of names has been sent to the Home Office. Furthermore, action is needed on the other children without relatives in the UK who failed to benefit under the prematurely terminated scheme devised by Lord Alf Dubs. He appeals for signatures to a petition here: www.citizensuk.org/dubs_petition
Let us hope that the coming months bring better news - in the meantime, thanks to all of you who continue to give us messages of support as well as material aid to pass on to those in need.
And, on the topic of material aid, the Dunkirk fire has left the various groups working in NW France in need of help from more volunteers and of donations of money and goods. The current lists of priority requirements are very similar and can be summed up as warm bedding, warm or waterproof men's clothes (sizes S and M), footwear (preferably sizes 40-43) and rucksacks – but if you have already collected other items, they are still very acceptable, especially appropriate foodstuffs. As ever, the detailed lists can be found at www.calaidipedia.co.uk/site/calaisaid/current-needs
With our renewed best wishes for this holiday season.
19 MARCH 2017
NEWS FROM CALAIS
News from those working in Calais is that things have never been so tough. The French ‘welcome centres’ distributed across the country may have provided a solution for some people, but for those where it didn’t, conditions are worse than the Jungle ever was. There are hundreds of refugees, mostly minors, sleeping rough on the streets of Calais and Paris with no access to shelter from the elements or even the most basic sanitation. The only food and supplies they get is what support groups are able to give them.
In Dunkirk the shelters are rotting and overcrowded and earlier in March the police entered one of the nearby smaller camps and destroyed all the refugees' possessions.
If you are able to visit Calais for a day or a week – or longer – to help, or if you can donate money or resources to help feed, clothe and support refugees, those working on the ground would be beyond grateful. They desperately need volunteers, whilst urgent priority donations include sleeping bags, gloves, men’s winter clothing (size small), men’s underwear and biscuits. You can find out more about volunteering at the large warehouses and requirements for other goods and money at www.calaidipedia.co.uk/how-to-help
Natacha Bouchart, the Mayor of Calais, has issued an Order prohibiting charities from distributing food to refugees in and around the area where the Camp used to stand. This is allegedly to preserve law and order and protect the local economy, but it is clear to the charities working in the area that the Mayor is becoming increasingly more desperate in her attempts to prevent refugees from coming to Calais. In doing so she is acting in a way that contravenes basic human rights. Food distribution does continue in Calais, using different locations daily, and Secours Catholique continues to offer showers.
All involved are continuing to work hard to ensure that refugees’ most basic needs are met, and to do their utmost to hold the French government to account.
AND FOR OURSELEVES
As well as receiving donations and moving them along, we have been busy raising awareness in the UK. Among other things we have met with an influential Vatican official and published articles in the Universe and (here) in the Catholic Times.
Thank you for your concern, your prayers and your support.
10 MARCH 2017
Organisations and Charities Issue Joint Statement Denouncing Government’s “Reprehensible Decision” on Dubs
We would like to associate ourselves with the sentiments expressed in the following statement, issued by a number of groups yesterday.
[Seeking Sanctuary's name was added to the list of signatories]
On 7th March MPs voted 287–267 to close the Dubs Amendment, and to shut the door on 2650 unaccompanied child refugees living without protection in Europe. This is a reprehensible decision.
The Children and Social Work Bill was proposed to have an amendment by MP Heidi Allen, which required the government to assess each local council’s space allocation for unaccompanied minors. This is a step that would allow local authorities to make accurate calculations about how many children could be cared for under each local council. This is a step which should have happened far earlier if the government were seriously considering to uphold Dubs beyond the bare minimum.
Worst of all, the argument for upholding the cap of 350 children, is based on incorrect information. Many councils have said they contacted the Home Office about available spaces and a willingness to take in child refugees, but were ignored.
Human Rights advisors have warned that closing the Dubs scheme would lead many minors into the hands of traffickers. If we aren’t willing to protect children, what is left?
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has perpetuated misinformed ideas by arguing that Dubs and other transfer schemes act as ‘pull factors’, that they promote the role of traffickers. These arguments are incorrect, and are used as excuses to neglect these young refugees.
Now, we must be louder than ever in standing up for these children. We cannot let a decision which unconscionably denies safety to hundreds of vulnerable people go unchallenged. We refuse to allow a fearful political climate to allow the UK government to decide that young unaccompanied children who have fled war and conflict seeking refuge in supposedly “safe” Europe, are not worthy of our help or care.
18 FEBRUARY 2017
Calais: Conditions worsen and aid workers are harassed by the council and by police
Phil was in Calais again a few days ago. Volunteers there confirmed that there were probably close to 500 migrants around Calais, swelled daily by both fresh arrivals and returnees. The Paris situation is forecast to become yet more dire soon, as people realise that Germany has largely closed its doors. The reception centres across France to which people were distributed upon the destruction of the “Jungle” are now closing, and those who have not applied for asylum will again without shelter and will probably make their way towards Paris and Calais. Anyone found sleeping in the open is moved on by police and their bedding is confiscated and left out in the rain or sprayed with pepper to render it unusable.
Harassment extends to those providing humanitarian aid, especially on the streets of Paris. Secours Catholique is not immune and people were questioned when two young men were found sheltering from the early morning rain beneath a temporary building module while waiting for the Calais Day Centre to open. A full account is available at www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=31923
You will also read the start of another story there, about official attempts to prevent access to showers at the association's “wardrobe” facility in Rue Moscou. A Town Hall official blocked the entrance with his car, which was replaced by a large rubbish skip. Legal action followed,
After the weekend, a judge in Lille gave the Calais council 24 hours to remove the rubbish skip. She made no comment upon the legality of the installation of the showers, but was certain that the misuse of the skip was an illegal act. The council said that it accepted the verdict but would continue its efforts to deter migrants from staying in the area. Meantime, 25 people took showers in peace on Tuesday and the skip was removed on Wednesday afternoon.
In the meantime the Council formally instructed Secours Catholique to cease all building work: too late, as shower installation was complete. Councillors fear that Calais will become a stopping point for migrants in transit. A statement said that: "No one denies the distress of people fleeing their country and getting stuck in Calais in the utmost destitution. Today, as in the past, there is no question of the city stigmatising the migrants themselves. Our territory is again penalised by a migratory phenomenon which is not the responsibility of its inhabitants."
Then, several van-loads of CRS (national riot police, based in Calais for many months) parked nearby. Their official purpose is to stop the activities of people smugglers. Taking care to clear their actions with their superiors by radio, they detained a handful of teenage youths who had intended to get showered. In addition, they arrested a Secours Catholique staff member who was bringing the nigrants to take showers, and a journalist. This suggested that the adults were considered to have breached the legal Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum, which provides that "any person who, by direct or indirect assistance, facilitates or attempts to facilitate the entry, Illegal movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by five years imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 Euros".
Interviews with the frontier police followed, and apparently everyone had a pleasant hour-long conversation before being released without charge, leaving the youths wandering the streets again, in search of shelter.
Didier Degrémont, regional president of Secours Catholique said that the people detained had arrived in one of their vans when police had prevented its entry to their courtyard, then checked IDs and taken everyone away. He commented that, the climate in Calais has been tense for some time, "Our actions have always upset the town hall, which is in total denial of the presence of migrants," But he stressed that the arrest of an employee, along with the migrants and the journalist was a new step. "It has never been of that nature," he said. He believes that a repressive system is being established around the Calais migrants, with intimidation in operation to prevent Secours Catholique offering showers for kids.
The association's national president has posed an open question to all candidates in the coming Presidential election saying, "Do you find it normal that public authorities hinder humanitarian action by associations and individuals?" Confrontation continues!
Meantime, warm clothes and bedding are still required, as are volunteers: we attach a new appeal for people to assist at the Catholic Worker house of hospitalty in Calais (www.eurocatholicworker.org/index.php?id=33).
- The message below is from an organisation - www.socialworkerswithoutborders.org/ - that is well known to us and their work, performed to a high standard in difficult conditions, has had influence in campaigns whlch have alleviated some of the worst excesses in proposed government measures.
Following the Government’s disgraceful decision to end its commitment to the Dubs amendment, which provided safe passage for vulnerable unaccompanied children displaced across Europe, Social Workers without Borders are launching our campaign #DELIVERONDUBS. We are calling on the Government to act on its previous promises and raise the bar to protect these children.
As part of this Campaign we are launching our vital Crowd Justice fundraising effort – see link below, to allow us to continue our support to unaccompanied children and undertake professional Best Interests Assessments. These assessments are currently being used to support 37 children in a High Court challenge by Duncan Lewis Solicitors to appeal the UK Governments rejection of their Asylum claims.
There are 2 ways to help:
1. Please contribute whatever you can to fund our work. This is more essential now than ever. The accommodation centres for children across France close this month and young people are making their way back to Calais to live in conditions more appalling and unsafe then even the now demolished ‘Jungle’.
2. Please share this email and link as widely as possible with family, friends and organisations who can support. Share on Facebook and Tweet.
Thank you so much for your help.
From all at Social Workers without Borders x
4 FEBRUARY 2017
Stepping out from the Shadows - February 2017 update
We have both made recent trips to deliver much-needed goods collected by a number of Church Communities. A very generous donation from a church in North London enabled Ben to distribute €1,000 to Secours Catholique and to the Catholic Worker House which is doing such vital work in protecting vulnerable migrants in Calais.
All the reports what we heard point to the fact that the crisis in Calais has not gone away – it has merely gone underground. Estimates vary but it is thought that between 200 and 800 people have left the CAO centres to which they were transported in various locations across France, and have returned to Calais. Here, they are eking out a fragile existence in disused warehouses, in fields and ditches and in other spots where they cannot be seen – since otherwise they risk arrest by the Police who are still very active. The warm clothes in our little bags of love and hope have been particularly welcome in the recent freezing temperatures, forming part of the aid which is being distributed discreetly from vans by volunteers, often under cover of darkness.
Many unaccompanied minors are also present in Calais, having left the centres to which they were taken in November, often in remote areas of France, and returned to Calais, hoping to join their friends and get to England. Many of these youngsters have lost hope of being resettled by officials. This is not surprising as the UK is only considering those nationalities who had recorded a high percentage of success in initial applications for asylum during the year ending June 2016. Faulty guidance for Eritrea was in use during that period, so that their success rate was poor, with the result that they are not considered for transfer here to receive sanctuary. Consequently they are trying their chances in Calais in dangerous and freezing conditions. We also hear disturbing reports about the the situation in Paris where the number of places in the official shelters is nowhere near enough to match the need and hence many hundreds of migrants are having to brave the cold and freezing conditions on the streets. The warehouses in Calais are delivering much needed supplies to Paris and further afield.
The demand for humanitarian aid is as high as ever – especially for warm clothes, sleeping bags and food. During just one week in mid-January, the warehouse run by “Help Refugees” and Auberge des Migrants distributed 5000 items to the severely fire-damaged women and children's centre in the Dunkirk camp, 3000 in Paris, 1915 to people in Dunkirk, and 160 more via night patrols around Calais. Like the Care4Calais warehouse, they are desperate for more donations and for more volunteer helpers. You can find out more about how to respond here – www.calaidipedia.co.uk/how-to-help
The risk now is that people forget the plight of those in need, and so we have to step up our work to publicise the situation. At a time when Trump, Brexit and related narratives further stigmatise migrants and asylum seekers, we must keep asking politicians and decision-makers about why they fail to honour earlier commitments – in particular, in the light of the numerous successful appeals by Eritreans against initial refusals based on faulty guidelines.
We will continue to advocate alongside other agencies and organisations who are fighting for just treatment of exiles of all nationalities. We are also delighted that our the recent Christmas card sales raised £1,000 and that the icon appearing on the cards has been rescued, with others. They will be making their way to Ethiopian churches in London and Paris, which will provide them with a fitting setting.
Thank you for your support.
Ben + Phil.
PS Some new photographs of the warehouse and kitchens are here.
6 JANUARY 2017
Seeking Sanctuary voices its concern for the forgotten and rejected children of Calais
Seeking Sanctuary continues to raise its concern following the promise of the British government with respect to the unaccompanied minors when the camp was cleared. During clearance of the Calais camp, Parliament was told that it would be a good outcome if Britain took in half of the children, who numbered about 1800 in total. Compared to the 95,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in Europe last year, this was not asking a great deal.
In practice we have not upheld British values of compassion and fair play in dealing with these desperate youngsters. In October young people were assured that their claims to come to the UK would be processed. With no-one left in Calais, we saw an unexpected pause in activities which ended a few days into November just as new restrictive criteria appeared for allowing a start to processing these claims.
Rather than facing up to our obligations and being a leader in accepting those who are at risk, or young and traumatised, we implemented a retrospective change in the rules of the game. In October, claims by those at the front of the queue were inspected in a reasonably uniform manner. Now, arbitrary criteria keep out those who were further back, either by chance or through weakness or due to ingrained mistrust of officials. People who had their hopes raised by the grant of interviews have had them dashed to the ground by a failure to provide decent explanations for delays and refusals.
These children have already spent years of their lives in danger and have been pushed from pillar to post in search of safety. To implement the will of parliament and stay true to the “Dubs Amendment” - passed into law as Section 67 of the Immigration Act - the unique vulnerabilities of each person should be taken into account, with individual best-interests assessments prepared.
The new rules allegedly help to prioritise cases, but in practice they cause blanket discrimination by ruling out consideration of individuals of most nationalities. Hundreds of children now face an uncertain future and there are increasing reports of grave psychological problems and of despairing young people running away from centres in France. We hear that many are returning to hide and live dangerous lives in the rough, close to the Channel coast, wide open to exploitation and trafficking.
Seeking Sanctuary now calls on Amber Rudd to do the decent thing and make the bests interests of each child the primary factor for determining eligibility. This will respect the requirements of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which entered UK Law in 1992 and requires us to prevent any discrimination against a child on the basis of their nationality, religion or age. (At the end of this message you'll find a specific action that can be requesetd from MPs to ensure that this will happen in future.)
Much of our response to the refugee challenge in Europe has involved erecting walls and fences and employing more armed frontier guards, indicating that that strangers are not welcome. We have now added extra administrative barriers. The correct Christian response, in line with so many appeals from the Pope and other religious leaders, is to help all people and especially children, to meet their basic human needs as well as to fulfilling their potential as human beings. This response is needed not just in respected of the forgotten children of Calais but across Europe where thousands of children are languishing without hope or a future.
Fr Dominic Howarth comments:
All that I would add to this really excellent statement is something like:
Jesus is crystal clear when he offers his words in Matthew 25: “Whatever you do to the least of my sisters and brothers, you do to me.” The children who initially found their way to Calais, and are now dispersed across France, are some of the most traumatised children in the world; they have fled the appalling violence and destructive war zones that we have seen on our TV screens throughout 2016; they have made desperate journeys on which they have seen others die from drowning – including, in some cases, their own parents. Each child – each one precious in the eyes of God – will need a great deal of counselling and therapeutic support. With such support, they have bright futures. As the sixth largest economy in the world, we are more than able to support what is, in reality, a very tiny number of children – less than 2,000, if we took every single one. To achieve this takes political will and moral leadership. Politicians are most likely to act when they know there is public concern; the very best thing that any Universe reader can do today is to write to Amber Rudd, MP, Home Secretary, or email her at email@example.com. In a letter or email, challenge the criteria being used to “select” children; challenge the length of time this process is taking, which is adding to the trauma of the children, and challenge the overall vision of the Government; are we to be a nation with closed doors, expressed through ever higher legal hurdles, or a nation of welcome, and open-hearted embrace, to the “least of our sisters and brothers.”
Every blessing for 2017.
An appeal from "Calais Action".
ON 14 DECEMBER, MPs LOST BY TWO VOTES ON GIVING ASYLUM-SEEKING AND REFUGEE CHILDREN EXPLICIT PROTECTIONS UNDER THE CHILDREN AND SOCIAL WORK BILL sections 16, 17 & 22.
The Bill deals with matters of care for looked-after children, and will be debated in committee stage on 10 January. Failure to explicitly include a reference to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and those accepted with refugee status means that they won't be assessed under their "best interests" as defined by the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and that nationality can take precedence over need. Yet ALL children deserve equal protection under the law.
If you live in the constituencies of Lewes, North Dorset, Crewe, Faversham, Cannock Chase, Bexhill or Poole, PLEASE contact your MPs - who did not support the addition of these references - and ask them to think again. The Bill is still in Committee stage, and therefore if we can get more MPs onside, a protective clause may still be inserted, as proposed in amendments tabled by Stella Creasy MP - but we only have until 10 January until it returns to the Commons. You can see a timeline here: http://services.parliament.uk/…/…/childrenandsocialwork.html
Please write or email and call your MPs local surgery today! (And if you live elsewhere and hear that the clause has not been added, then ask your MP to demand its addition when the Bill returns to the House of Commons later this month, after its Committee stage!)
2 DECEMBER 2016
CALAIS: A NEW CHAPTER STARTS
A report on Phil's visit a couple of days ago. There is still much work being done to help those in need.
I set off to drive to Dover on the last day of November to make my first visit to Calais since the destruction of the 'Jungle' camp. The temperature was permanently below zero as I headed East along the A2 and M2, with the blinding morning sun ahead of me. I had already packed goods from a variety donors into the car and met up with Ben and his son to add an even larger quantity principally collected by the people of St Aidan's church in Coulsdon. Ben also handed over a large amount of cash which had been raised in recent weeks to support the continuing work in Calais.
The sky over the Channel was clear, with the French coast already in sight from the harbour and, thankfully for this season, the sea was as flat as the proverbial millpond. On the reaching Calais the temperature had risen by ten degrees Celsius – quite reverse of the usual cross channel pattern in winter months.
My plan was to visit a number of associations who we had assisted over the previous eighteen months and find out how things had changed and what their vision was for the future. My first stop was the Catholic Worker house – a chance to meet some people face-to-face for the first time. The House – the first Catholic Worker house in France – was set up in February. it's a large “house of hospitality” that works with volunteers in Calais to try to help some of the most vulnerable people.
An important part of its mission has been to help organise emergency hospitality to the most vulnerable, such as families with children; unaccompanied minors; refugees with medical needs or who are recovering after treatment; pregnant woman, and all at risk of exploitation. Also visiting people in hospital and being alongside lonely refugees. The Eritrean icon artist, Henok, has spent time there and they are looking after some of his work. A few weeks ago there were six visitors, but the number “visiting” was down to two when I arrived, with at least six more being visited in hospital.
Volunteers live simply, in community with their visiting refugees and migrants, and are actively involved in prayer and work for peace and justice. Its coordinator is a Dutch Protestant brother, Johannes Maertens. I was delighted to hand over a sum of money to help with the expenses of running the house, along with sufficient “little bags of hope” - the first to be distributed this year – to provide a festive present to all those that they were currently helping.
My next stop was not far away, at the new Secours Catholique “migrants' locker-room” whose opening had been delayed for close to a year by wrangles over compliance with various regulations. The eventual result is a splendid resource where they can welcome their migrant friends in a different setting, in a more dignified way away from squalid shelters and muddy fields. Clothes can be selected at a counter where there is no need to queue and where choices are available. Shelves are currently being stocked with winter clothes, footwear and bedding in the firm expectation that, as in the past, numerous clients will return during 2017. For the time being they get just the odd visitor, new arrivals and people staying for medical treatment, or with leave to remain while asylum applications are processed. Goods can be sent to other places where there is a demand, if the shelves eventually get full.
Those working there were able to confirm that they will be pleased to distribute our “little bags of hope” when we have accumulated a good supply – probably to people in the Grande Synthe camp near Dunkirk. I handed over a small supply of bags for them to give their next few visitors and headed off towards the warehouse run by the Auberge des Migrants and Hep Refugees.
My route took me along the port access road to the business estate best known in the UK for its discount wine and beer outlets. Workers were busy erecting the “great wall of Calais” alongside the section of the road that had not been fitted with extra-high security fences and razor wire. This is allegedly intended to abate traffic noise and not to keep migrants off the carriageway, but it is still being erected where the land alongside the road dips down to a much lower. As I drove in at tortoise pace in a queue of HGVs on the carriageway that was not closed to allow the construction work, I pondered the structure, reported to be consuming some £1.9 million of UK aid, and wondered if its designers might soon be bidding to wall off Mexico from its northern neighbour.
To add to my anger I found that the builders had closed the exit slip road that I had intended to use, sending me off on a circular trip of several extra miles!
The warehouse also houses the Calais Community Kitchen, where volunteers were still working hard preparing food, mainly destined for Dunkirk. I get the same report in each place that I visited: numbers at Dunkirk which had dropped to around 500 a month or so earlier had shot back up during November, passing the 1500 mark by a wide margin, now probably hovering near 1800. This was another place where I handed over a welcome sum of cash. Donations and supplies of ingredients are arriving much more slowly now that the 'jungle' has been razed: please people, they are still needed! And the same is true at the neighbouring warehouse which last month distributed 21,000 items to people in Dunkirk, Paris and accommodation centres across the country.
My final visit was to the Care4Calais warehouse, located in Blériot-Plage on the edge of the town. Rather than trust my instinct and speed along the autoroutes, I asked my SatNav for a fast route and found myself in a sequence of traffic jams close to the town centre. There are still plenty of riot police hanging around beside strategic roads and on street corners. They are quick to question anyone who they believe looks like a migrant and demand to see their papers. If there are any problems, then its straight into a van to be carted off to detention somewhere.
Handing over the boxes and bags of donations (all very well labelled to assist the warehouse operations), I met a volunteer who had just spent a week in Paris. He confirmed what I had heard on my three previous calls that day: there are hundreds of people sleeping in the open on the streets of the capital. Informal camps have been cleared in recent months and no more are allowed to develop. The capacity of new “reception centres” is inadequate, and the maximum permitted stay is only some ten days.
Temperatures have been down to seven degrees below zero. There is a desperate need of tents, including pop-up designs that can be used on pavements. Other major needs are warm hats, gloves and scarves, along with men's winter clothes in sizes S and M, and new underwear.
So, to sum up, everyone in Calais is preparing for numbers to increase again. Will this be from the brand new arrivals, still turning up in their dozens each week? Or from those – including children – who are dissatisfied with their accommodation in remote respite centres and who have disappeared? Or will those who have not applied for asylum in France be thrown out of the centres and wander back to the Channel coast? Or do the authorities want to keep the numbers in Calais down to a minimum until after second round of the Presidential elections in May 2017?
Meantime, there is the Dunkirk camp to supply, and there are many thousands in respite centres across France, some of who lack some essentials. Calais can act as a hub to supply all of these and any surplus goods can be packed on pallets to be added to vans on their way to refugee camps in Greece.
And spare a thought for the long-term volunteers, who are all pleased that the 'jungle' has gone – though not with the manner in which it was demolished – and who are suffering the bereavement of finding a hole in their lives and losing the friends who they had helped for months on end.
And for my own short day of “tourism”? On my way back to the port I snatched up a couple of bottles of Christmas cheer, which I will see consumed with guilt, when remembering what other poeple need in order to merely survive. (Perhaps I'll find the excuse to talk about the circumstances in which I happened to buy them?) And I managed to make it on to an earlier ferry and discover that a cousin and her husband were among my fellow passengers. Calais seem to be an extension of London for those who live in the South East, but what a terribly different place it has been for the past year and a half.
As for 2017? Those on the ground in Calais are preparing to do their best to provide aid, whatever scenario develops. If only the politicians of Europe would choose to follow their lead.
18 NOVEMBER 2016
ACTION BRIEFING: POOR CRITERIA IN NEW HOME OFFICE GUIDANCE
Having promised to process claims to come to the UK from young people in the Calais camp, it emerged this week that our government has retrospectively changed to criteria for processing their claims. More than half of them will not even see a start to consideration of their situations.
We a briefing on this sorry state of affairs is here, based upon statements made by support agencies and politicians during the past few days. Please read this.
If, after reading, you are as angry as we are, PLEASE WRITE to Amber Rudd demanding that the Home Office immediately amend its guidance on Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 so that it does not discriminate by age or nationality. Also, write to your MPs, asking them to draw the Minister's attention to your concerns and to let you know about her response.
Seeking Sanctuary says that:
- The government should face up to its obligations and be a leader in accepting those who are young, vulnerable, traumatised and in danger. The Home Office must amend this guidance and meet its responsibility to all unaccompanied child refugees, regardless of their nationality.
- We do not object to certain children being prioritised, but the strict eligibility criteria totally rule out bringing many of the youngsters who had been living in the Calais camp before it was cleared in October. Hundreds of children now face an uncertain future. We strongly urge the government not to use the new criteria retrospectively, or at least to reconsider them and show compassion in this ongoing crisis.
- In order to stay true to Section 67 of the Act, each child’s unique vulnerabilities should be taken into account, rather than applying arbitrary criteria. The government must ensure that a full and proper best-interests assessment is carried out for each individual, respecting the needs of children who have already been pushed from pillar to post in search of safety.
- Officials should understand that is important to avoid assessing children according to arbitrary criteria – especially to these, which leave any child subject to a medium or moderate risk of sexual exploitation on their own!
- We call upon the government to accept a maximum of the Calais children of all ages and nationalities by Christmas. During the camp demolition parliament was told that it would be a good outcome if Britain took in half of the total number of children. We agree. It is now clear that there were over 1600 unaccompanied children in Calais at the time of demolition. Compared to the 95,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in Europe last year in the refugee crisis, this is not too big an ask.
You can find out about contacting your MP at both these websites:
Please pass this Briefing on to others so that they can take action.
15 NOVEMBER 2016
Calais update - Basildon project ending & continuing support for refugee charities
COMMENT FROM SEEKING SANCTUARY
We will be visitng Calais at the end of the month to assess the best way forward. For the time being, winter clothes and food (or money with which to buy them), are needed by the Calais warehouses and we will continue to help others to supply all of these.
Fr Dominic and his team are about to pause to take stock of the situation. Their sustained efforts and great accomplishments will continue to be an inspiration to many, as they have been for the past year.
His attached message is yet another thought-provoking reflection upon how we should care for our fellow-humans,made in God's image, and stand in solidarity with them in their times of need - despite the failings of governments and international agencies. We again commend the children to your prayers, especially those who have become separated from their families.
3 NOVEMBER 2016
Re: Calais Church
The Eritrean church building has now been razed to the ground. (See this photo - courtesy of Caroline Gregory)
Most of the contents have been salvaged and the worshippers have been moved on (or have departed) to other locations in France.
30 OCTOBER 2016
Update for the end of October.
This is probably one of the most difficult updates that we have had to prepare. As we write there is a prayer vigil going on in the Eritrean Church – bulldozers are close by but no one has yet given the order for demolition – although this could happen at any time. Is there a last-minute pang of conscience? We simply don't know. Those responsible for the upkeep of the Church have been prevented from returning there and we await firm news of the final fate of the beautiful icons (one appearing on our Christmas Card) which have been rescued in the hope that they can adorn an Orthodox Christian Church in France.
Our feelings after the expulsion of residents from the camp are very mixed. While we are pleased that our migrant friends are able to get away from the squalid and dangerous conditions of the 'jungle', many face an uncertain future in 'Welcome and Orientation Centres' at locations that are often in remote parts of the French countryside with populations that are often wary, if not hostile.
We believe that many will make their way back to Calais and there is already evidence of new arrivals settling in clandestine 'mini-jungles' nearby. Another large group of people, around 1000, are still in the camp near Dunkirk. We have been asked if we have a role in the new situation and the answer is a resounding YES. In addition to helping the migrants in Dunkirk (who require at least 800 daily meals) we will try to establish where the needs are and act accordingly. And so for those of you who have shown an interest: please continue with the 'little bags of love and hope' initiative.
Thanks also to those of you who have been in touch with us about Christmas cards - the front cover has a particular poignancy at the moment and 2000 of the cards are being distributed. The artist will receive a further royalty and the proceeds will go to the Refugee Community Kitchen which is still preparing a large number of meals for Dunkirk and elsewhere.
Alongside all this, the the 1500-place container dormitory in its fenced compound now contains 1800 unaccompanied minors and dozens more are sheltering nearby, not far from the 400 women and children in the Jules Ferry Centre. These people, approximately 2500 in total (with scores more arriving daily), also need shoes, clothes and daily meals – and above all, human companionship. A good number are eligible to find refuge in the UK, but most have endured the extra trauma of being shoved from pillar to post by confused officials both during their official registration and the departure of adult buses.
19 OCTOBER 2016
CHRISTMAS APPEAL - AND CARDS
Our Christmas Cards are now ready. They feature a beautiful picture of the Madonna and Child painted earlier this year by an Eritrean artist in the jungle (draft copy here). All proceeds will be for the Calais appeal and the maintenance of the Eritrean Church. Please let us know if you are interested in these – and we will send you details of how to pay. The price is £11.50 for five packs each containing five cards, including postage and packing within the UK. Please get in touch with your postal address to find out about methods of payment.
LITTLE BAGS OF LOVE AND HOPE
As Christmas approaches many will want to support the Calais migrants, wherever they are dispersed to. We plan to repeat last year's initiative – 'Little bags of love and hope'. Typical contents should include some or all of the following (suitable for the young men): a wind-up torch (or torch plus spare batteries), deodorant, scarf, hat, gloves (fabric or leather – not knitted) and a small pack of nuts or dried fruit. If your parish or community would like to take part, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07887 651117.
It is very important that all your bags have the same contents. You may prefer to arrange this by getting your community to donate items and then finding a group of people who are able to pack them with you. If people are also allowed to donate money you can use that to buy goods and use them to compensate for any contents that are in short supply. Despite the "bags" in the title, you can pack in boxes, bags or parcels, as is most convenient - you may even be able to raise money to buy small back-packs as containers which will be useful after their contents have gone.
Please don't send unhealthy sweets; and don't use Christmas wrapping or mention the Christian festival in greetings – most recipients will be Muslim, just make things generically festive, perhaps expressing hope for better times in 2017. Gifts for Northern France should be mainly for teenage-to-twenties young men, so please don't include teddy bears and cosmetics! Keep your words simple, as few recipients will be accustomed to reading our Western alphabet.
16 OCTOBER 2016
Fr Dominic's Calais Reflection from Wednesday
Please find attached the reflection from our visit to Calais last Wednesday. I hope it gives an insight into life at the camp, and the amazing work of Care4Calais and other charities in ever more difficult conditions. Please feel free to quote it, share it, and use any pictures from it (email me if you would like any originals).
The reflection is a snapshot from last Wednesday, so does not look in detail at the bigger picture. In case it helps – and mindful that some of you who are receiving this already know the situation far better than I do – in brief summary:
· This weekend, the Home Office have agreed the 387 children documented as having relatives in the UK can now come to the UK, once an official list has been agreed with the French authorities.
· This is undoubtedly a good and positive thing, but it will leave approx. 500 children (who do not have relatives in the UK) still within the Calais Jungle, unaccompanied and at risk. (At least a proportion of these could be brought to the UK under the terrns of the "Dubs Amendment" to the recent Immigration Act", especially assessed as being vulnerable and at risk.)
· The demolition of the camp could begin at any time; various reports had suggested this Monday but getting the 387 children out may delay that by a week or two.
· The French Government are unclear about whether the containers that currently house approx. 1500 refugees could remain and what will become of the Accommodation for women and children in the Jules Ferry Centre..
· They are very clear that the packed area of tents which is home to about 8,500 people will be demolished.
· They have spoken of dispersing the refugees across France into centres of approx. 150-200 people, but it is very, very unclear how this is intended to work. The refugees, who have regularly had tear gas and rubber bullets fired at them by French police, do not want to stay in France, in many cases. Additionally, a good number – perhaps as many as 2,000 – have a claim to come to the UK, as they have relatives here. No British Consul in Calais means the first time they can make such a claim is after they have (illegally) travelled to the UK.
· There are nightly injuries, and there have been several deaths, caused by the increasing desperation of the refugees to get to the UK prior to the demolition of the camp.
· None of the politics or economics of this is simple. But we have spent £19million on fences and millions every month sharing the costs of the security operations with France. Had this money been spent on a Consular presence, on legal assistance, or even just on simple dialogue with the refugees, the picture now could look very different.
· The likely outcome of the demolition is that the refugees will mainly disperse up the coast of France and Belgium. Half the camp was demolished in February; numbers diminished for about a month before growing again, and the camp is now the biggest it has ever been. Demolition is not a solution to the complex needs and problems of our brothers and sisters in Calais.
· Once dispersed, humanitarian aid will still be needed and the charities working in Calais will do their best to continue to bring aid to the refugees; it will be a much harder task.
· And all of this as winter approaches.
Please pray for refugees everywhere, and for peace in the countries from which they come.
With every blessing,
OCTOBER 12 2016
Seeking Sanctuary says: 'Bring the children NOW !'
In the confusion and squalor of the Calais jungle, hundreds of unaccompanied children await their fate. There have been reports that 10 per cent of the children identified in August as eligible to come to the UK have gone missing, very possibly at the hands of traffickers.
Ben Bano, from Seeking Sanctuary who has 40 years experience in social work, said: '"This situation is intolerable. These children who have been traumatised by their experiences of war and genocide need sanctuary and safety immediately.
Both the British and French authorities need to review the complex bureaucratic requirements in place at the moment and bring them to the UK to safety in the next few days where there are enough organisations and individuals waiting to ensure that their best interests are met while their papers are processed.
Please act NOW. We call on all our supporters and the many Faith Communities with which we are in contact to keep up the pressure on politicians to make sure this happens."
27 SEPTEMBER 2016
CALAIS: Closure Looms; Calls for Action
The main informal (“Jungle”) camp is now scheduled to be removed during October, but the people will still be in need somewhere in France. In addition, about 2000 may remain for a while in official shelters in Calais and certainly about 1500 more in the Grande Synthe camp near Dunkirk, not to mention those who "fade away" locally.
It's going to be a tough and emotional few weeks: so we all need to pull together to make sure we get huge amounts of aid ready to help people as they move to official dispersal centres or to informal squats and small local camps. We need to remember that these could well be in isolated places which will be hard to reach for volunteers and NGOs.
At the moment we can only guess at who will go where and what they will need, but people on the ground are making educated guesses and more news will arrive in the coming weeks. At the moment, warm sleeping bags are a priority because some folk are already leaving, intending to sleep rough in the area from Calais to the Belgian border. You can buy them here for free delivery to Calais; www.leisurefayre.com/section.…/86100/1/help_refugees or collect or buy yourself and send them across. Rucksacks, wheeled suitcases and tents (portable, but warm) are also a top priority. Pots and pans will also be appreciated, so that people are able to cook their own food when scarce resources permit. (And the usual items of clothing, food and equipment are still needed while “business as usual” continues.)
We've added a list of some current relevant petitions to the website, and we attach below the excellent detailed proposals from Citizens-UK about working for the rapid safe transfer to the UK of vulnerable unaccompanied children and young people.
With renewed thanks for all your help. Do keep up your interest and commitment to the cause.
6 SEPTEMBER 2016
Latest Calais News and Reflection
There is no date for closure of the Calais "jungle" and the displaced people living there remain in great need of help, as confirmed by the latest - attached - reflection from Fr Dominic Howarth, who visited a few days ago. Please take the time to read it.
As you will read, there are 9100 people there now, including up to 700 children, of which 387 have been identified as having automatic asylum rights within the UK, but are being kept in legal limbo; you will have seen this in relation to the “Lord Dubs amendment.” His campaigning work – himself a child refugee – is magnificent, but despite the legal obligation imposed upon the government, no unaccompanied child has yet been moved to the UK.
In addition, this video from Parliament suggests that our Home Secretary is unquestioningly accepting everything that she is told from her counterpart in Paris, ignoring what she is told by MPs who have visited the camp, and making no effort to find out the true facts about life there - www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5VQBL5yLV4
Meantime, Secours Catholique announces that it can finally start operations in the new premises of its "migrants locker room" and seeks donations of clothing and bicycles:
Dear British Friends,
After a long struggle, we are finally able to host asylum seekers in our new building in town, 39 rue Moscou, in CALAIS!
For us, it’s about having the ability to receive our migrant friends in a different setting, in town, in a more dignified way, for a distribution of clothes where they can have a choice, without needing to queue and with a different type of welcome ... which is not possible in the “Jungle”.
So from September we will resume with two major distributions per month for a few hundred people at a time. For this we need donations in quantities because there are 9,000 people and we are short of everything!
Please no women and children’s clothes - only clothes for men and focusing on small sizes (S and M): Jeans, jogging trousers, T-shirts, sweaters, underclothes, backpacks, hiking boots and sneakers, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, scarves, gloves, hats ... washing powder … … we also always need bikes in large numbers. (No food please, we are not involved in food distribution )
You can deliver every Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon from 14h00 to 17h00 without appointment at our offices at 47 rue de Moscou, in Calais. We can also arrange appointments for sizeable deliveries. In which case please make an appointment with Christine in advance by email.
Thank you for helping by widely distributing this request and for your involvement in our work.
Christine Descamps, volunteer manager of Migrant Relief locker room in Calais. (M.email@example.com)
1 SEPTEMBER 2016
Letter from Seeking Sanctuary
Have you been in a restaurant recently and become impatient if your food has not arrived after half and hour or so? The migrants in Calais face up to a four hour wait in the sun to get their one meal of the day - so it is no wonder if tensions rise. The independent restaurants, although 'reprieved' by a court judgement, are still unable to cook food as this has been banned by the authorities. And at the moment, the 'official' kitchen only serves 3900 of the 9000+ meals actually needed if people are to eat once a day. Hence the vital contribution of the other kitchens such as the 'Refugee Community Kitchen' which now cooks 2500 free meals per day.
We were in Calais and the 'jungle' last week and we were able to give the kitchen €650 which had been donated by a generous parish in the North West of England. The other kitchens that provide free meals have also increased their weekly output by a total of 1000 over the past fortnight to try to compensate for the current closure of other outlets. Sadly, the 'Belgium Kitchen' fears that it may soon have to close down due to a lack of donations.
The kitchen estimates that at least £1.50 is needed to feed someone each day, so many thousands of pounds are needed just to keep the kitchen going for a week. Where possible, ingredients are delivered to different areas of the camp for people who have pots and pans to do their own cooking, as this provides both autonomy and a degree of dignity - but gas bottles are in short supply.
On our visit last week we were able to deliver several hundred books to 'Jungle Books', which is based in several shacks near the Eritrean Church, and manned by some committed volunteers. There is a keen appetite to learn and to keep informed. There are many people with professional qualifications who are keen to keep up their knowledge and learn English terminology, not least for future CV's. Outside the shack an Adult Education Class was in full flow and youngsters were studying in another shelter. Gifts of exercise books and pencils are much appreciated.
It's always a pleasure to visit the Eritrean Church. In this oasis of peace and tranquillity members of the Eritrean Community provide a welcome and spiritual refreshment. In front of the Church was a newly painted picture of the Virgin Mary and Christ in honour of the Assumption and at the side of the Church a young man was painting a scene of the Last Supper. In the midst of all the rubble and dirt a flower garden has been created as a contrast to the rather dismal surroundings - and there are even two chickens! (See photos.)
The truly scandalous situation of the hundreds of unaccompanied children carries on. The (slightly) good news is that three children arrived in the UK towards the end of August. The bureaucratic and legal procedures to achieve the move of children to their families in the UK are highly complex and depend upon cooperation between the French, British authorities and the various voluntary agencies. Please support the campaign led by Lord Dubs and sign his new petition which you will find here: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/child_refugees_to_school_loc/?bAhOkbb&v=80223&cl=10485793408&_checksum=cff7db1c91c35766d141754c947997c545f23d75fbabe4764184b7f430b01e38.
We have also heard that some of the children were recently turned away from the sea by police during a trip to the beach because they were not carrying identity papers! A few days ago a group of Faith leaders visited, see: www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=30805 Calais in support of the work being done by Citizens UK, and handed over a list of all the names of eligible children at the Prefecture.
They will also visit the Home Office in Marsham Street, London, on Friday 2 September. They need people to join them for up to an hour from 10.00 am, starting with an interfaith memorial service, then media work and finally the formal request that the Home Office come down and receive the list of 387 children with a right to relocate to the UK. The UK government is legally obliged to accept these children who are seeking asylum and are stuck in Calais. This is true both for those who have relatives in the UK (under the Dublin III regulations), and those who do not, but arrived in Calais before March 20th 2016 (under the 'Dubs amendment' to the 2016 Immigration Act). Progress on the children's cases is painfully slow - far too slow. Processing of each application is extremely laborious, with only four ad hoc administrators listed as working in the 'Jungle' to gather the required information.
Following statements from French politicians who starting to establish a position in advance of national elections, recent media interest has centred on future of the 'Le Touquet Agreement', which regulates the foreign frontier police operations in Calais and Dover. The continued desolation in the Calais 'jungle' has attracted little concern. Phil was interviewed about this on Premier Radio, doing his best to avoid the bubble of interest caused by out Home Secretary's visit to Paris and highlighting the fact that each exile is a human being. The broadcast clip is linked from the foot of a Premier web page - www.premierchristianradio.com/News/World/Prayer-is-the-only-answer-on-Calais-migrant-agreement.
As Christmas approaches many of you will be thinking about how best to support the migrants in Calais. We are able to give advice on where cash donations can be sent. We are also planning to repeat the initiative from last year - 'little bags of love and hope'. We are yet to establish a final list, but it is likely that typical contents could include items from the following list, suitable for the young men who make up the vast majority of the camp residents: a wind-up torch (or torch plus spare batteries), deodorant, scarf, hat, gloves (fabric or leather - not knitted) and a small pack of nuts or dried fruit. If you know of a Faith Community or other group interested in taking part in this initiative, please do let us know so that we can help to make the process as efficient and effective as possible.
With best wishes,
Phil and Ben.
PS News just received! The World Council of Churches appeals for signatures on the UNHCR's petition to the UN General Assembly meeting on Refugees and Migration, to be held in New York on 19 September. The UNHCR's #WithRefugees campaign, calls on world leaders to find solutions for protection of refugees, based on a spirit of shared responsibility, shared values and common interests - see: www.refugeespetition.org/.
ARCHIVE NEWS - SUMMARIES
(Click above to open link to full texts)
19 August: Stocks, Orthodox Church, Food, Books, Needs and Burials: A Calais Visit by Phil.
Warehouses have decent stocks of some items, but others are in perilously short supply. Often 100 people can arrive in one day, generally with worn out shoes and clothes and no tents or beddin.g New garments or shoes are greatly appreciated, as is the ability of people to exercise some small element of choice in deciding what to wear. Nothing is wasted; inappropriate donations are diverted to central Europe when there is space in passing lorries, or sent as return loads to the UK for sale in charity shops or recycle. Conversely, many unsaleable items from charity shopsmade – like odd saucepans and pans – can be sent to Calais to be used, rather than going off to be recycled.
The Orthodox church was very busy with the feast of the Assumption coming up, preceded by a week of fasting and prayer. The chanting went on for many hours with different people coming and going.
We went also to the informal shops near the camp entrance. The once-thriving walkway presented a dismal face with outlets saved from demolition but still prohibited from cooking meals. The state supplies about 3500 meals a day, which equates to one daily meal for just under 40% the current population. Four community kitchens provide almost 5000 more free meals daily. The kitchens face great challenges and you can read more about them and how to support them here: www.calaidipedia.co.uk/calais-kitchens
We had just time left for a brief visit to the cemetery at Vieux Coquelles, pausing in sight of the Eurotunnel tracks at the paupers graves, holding the bodies of young people killed when trying to board those trains.
16 August 2016: Sowing One Million Poppies In A Refugee Camp
Caroline Gregory, a long time volunteer in Calais, ponders the parallels between the wastelands created a century ago and the land created near Calais today, churned up by rubber bullets, tear gas and earth movers, and still occupied by 9,000 people fleeing terrible regimes and living in abject squalor. Poppies have arrived in both places. Do please read the complete essay at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/caroline-gregory/calais-jungle-remembrance-poppies-refugee_b_11537212.html
10 August: MP Asks for Action
Stella Creasy (Labour) MP for Walthamstow visited Calais and, seeing the current situation - especially the lack of progress on processing claims for family reunification - recorded a video during her journey back the UK. You can watch it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSuUaHeJ0Ig
8 August: Update
In the past year we have had the privilege of responding to numerous offers of help as well as helping to channel significant sums of money raised by well wishers such as yourselves to the places where it is most needed. There is much to be thankful for in spite of the dismal conditions of the “jungle”. The plight of so many migrants inspired hundreds of volunteers and newly created voluntary organisations which proved essential, given the lack of will of both the British and the French governments to tackle the problems on a more strategic scale.
The latest census shows that the issue of migration to Calais is not going away – if anything it is getting worse. The attitude of the French authorities continues to be ambivalent and highly confrontational, yet life goes on – new services meet the needs of children and of women have sprung up and others specialise in all sorts of fields: medical and social care, entertainment, education, drainage, waste management, to name but a few.
We continue to advocate for children to have their claims expedited to be reunited with relatives in the UK.
14 July. Excerpts from Reflections on Conversations in the Calais “Jungle”
by Fr Dominic Howarth
The full illustrated account can be found here.
One of the two Care4Calais warehouses is completely empty. The other is barely two thirds full. Every bit of charity here is piecemeal: small and dedicated groups doing what they can. Where, in all these months, have the aid agencies been? Where are they now? Only Médecins sans Frontières is present, focussed on medical aid. In such circumstances, as the donations to these little groups dry up, food is for the first time becoming a significant problem.
I looked into the eyes of people perhaps ten or twenty years younger than me who had already lived for more lifetimes than I will ever know; often, tears welled up , and they shared their stories while looking at me through glistening eyes. Yet these are not men seeking pity, or handouts. I met only decency, and dignity – such extraordinary dignity. These are gifted, courageous men who just want a chance to live in peace.
9 March: 'Eight miles: the distance between abject squalor and fresh dignity'
Reflections on Calais/Dunkirk by a group from Basildon, March 9 2016
7 March: PRESS RELEASE- Seeking Sanctuary says 'Bring the children to sanctuary and safety'
4 March: URGENT MESSAGE FROM CALAIS WAREHOUSES - PLEASE DO NOT STOP BRINGING AID!! There is a crisis of aid supplies in Calais right now: because of the demolition of the "Jungle" people assume Calais is "over" and they've stopped bringing donations, BUT there are thousands of people still there and needing help!
1 March: Update. It is deeply saddening that we have to report on the tragic events in Calais as they have unfolded in recent in days and try to forecast what comes next.
27 February: Parishioners from Aylesham in Kent report on a recent visit to the Calais "jungle" with Fr Petros, a Vincentian priest from Ethiopia, who is based in Dover and ministering to Eritrean and Ethiopean exiles in Calais
23 February. Ben Bano: Judge's visit to Calais "a ray of hope" ahead of clearance decision - by Alex Williams for Premier Christian Radio
It is hoped a judge's visit to "the Jungle" camp in Calais offers "a ray of hope" that plans to clear part of the site will be blocked.
19 February. For those following Fr Dominic Howarth's thoughtful accounts of Calais visits by people from Basildon, here is a link to the story of their latest journey: http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=29467
16 February: PRESS RELEASE. Seeking Sanctuary says “No” to enforced expulsions in Calais.
In an inhumane and clumsy measure, taking place in the bleakest of winter weather, French authorities are about to clear a large area of the Calais “Jungle” camp.
7 February: Comment
Phil Kerton in BBC Radio Kent discussion on Destruction of Calais Church and Mosque.
2 February: Update
Our thanks to all of you (and your friends) who contributed so generously to our emergency appeal. The £5000 requested was raised within ten days. The group from Tunbridge Wells was able to purchase much needed supplies, and took a large quantity of goods on their mission of 27 January. We have a report from Alice, who coordinates the group. We await the coming months with some uncertainty - the authorities seem determined to reduce the numbers in Calais – perhaps even closing most of the camp by Spring, adding to the uncertainty of all those who have no alternative but to live there. Official action is usually unexpected and often brutal in its execution.
1 February: Seeking Sanctuary denounces the destruction of places of worship in the Calais "Jungle".
We were appalled to learn of the destruction today of a mosque as well as an evangelical Church in the jungle at Calais in spite of assurances given earlier not to disturb places of worship, ... 'The destruction of these places of worship is at odds with the fundamental human right to worship freely according to the beliefs and principles of all .... We support all the efforts of our partner agencies to challenge this wanton act of destruction.
23 January: PRESS RELEASE: Seeking Sanctuary says 'Let the children in...'
Following the recent court case in Boulogne when a British citizen was acquitted after an attempt to smuggle a 4 year old girl through border controls, Seeking Sanctuary is urging a humanitarian response to the problem of young children being left to fend for themselves in the 'jungles' in and near Calais. We support the campaign and ask all the Faith Communities and other organisations with which we are in touch to lobby to allow into Britain up to three thousand vulnerable minors currently in Europe .....
19 January: Refugees in northern France - recent developments
A link to an article by Phil Kerton setting out some of the facts behind reports in recent weeks - find out for yourself how much is totally false and how much is partly true!
19 January - Christian charity: clearing at Calais camp is preposterous (Premier Christian Radio)
Seeking Sanctuary says trying to relocate migrants from areas of the camp nicknamed 'The Jungle' during the freezing winter weather is bad timing and there are not enough shipping containers to accommodate those being evicted.
11 January: Emergency Appeal for funds.
Seeking Sanctuary is launches an emergency appeal for funds to relieve the immediate human suffering following the recent heavy rain and high winds in Northern France.
19 January. Greetings in Solidarity.
Supportive Cards can be sent to the exiles in the Calais camp. An Exile, chez Secours Catholique, 434 route de Saint Omer, 62100 CALAIS, FRANCE.
6 January. MEDIA RELEASE - PROVISION OF SHELTER IN NORTHERN FRANCE.
As the current wet and windy weather continues to hit South East England and Northern France, we remain mindful of the thousands of migrants living in squalid conditions so near to our doorstep. Tents and other shacks rapidly become waterlogged and basic possessions are often blown away, ruined and cannot be replaced.
5 January. Seeking Sanctuary writes: 2015 has passed by with no sign of significant improvements to the situation in Calais. There has been an amazing increase in the number residing near the town. Conditions were dire for a “Day of Solidarity” on 19 September and the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Migration's visit on 20 September. Pollution and endemic diseases were already noted.
12th December - Link to an account of the fourth visit by the Tunbridge Wells group.
9th December - Link to an an eloquent report of a further Calais visit by Basildon people, here.
26th November - Link to YouTube video of 8th visit to Calais by Emmaus, Care4Calais & YWAM Harpenden. (By way of a change from written contributions supported by still photos).
22nd November - Links to accounts of well-planned Calais visits by Fr Dominic Howarth and his team from Basildon.
11th November - Christian refugee worker [Ben Bano] on EU crisis meeting: "The solution has to be found at source" - Premier Christian Radio.
8th November - A link to a vivid and well written diary entry by one of the many foreign volunteers who are spending time in Calais - link here.
6th November - An account of one of several visits to Calais made by a group from Tunbridge Wells
1st November - BBC Radio Kent's "Sunday Breakfast" programme included two items about the Dunkirk camp which can be heard here and here, Also, Canon Caroline Pinchbeck talked [here] about an acclaimed 2008 French film, "Welcome", about the story of a migrant learning to swim in order to escape Calais.
27th October - The news from the 'jungle' in Calais continues to be troubling. Recent reports confirm that the numbers in Calais have swelled to between 5000 and 6000 people and continue to grow.
20th October - Listen here to Phil Kerton interviewed by BBC Radio Kent's "Breakfast" programme.
5th October - And so the scandal of the Calais jungle continues. The latest report from Birmingham University reveals not just the squalor but the health and other risks resulting from the shameful conditions
5th October - Phil Kerton contributes to BBC Radio Kent's "Sunday Breakfast" programme - Listen here.
19th September - Barbara Kentish provides an account of the Day of Solidarity wth Refugees in Calais.
21st September - Peter Sutherland, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Migration, visited Calais and was horrified by the squalor and chaos. Phil Kerton was among those who accompanied Peter and you his detailed report is here to download. Subsequently Peter has spoken out in public about the squalor and has called for a centre to process asylum claims to be set up in France, funded jointly by the UK and French governments.
6th September - Seeking Sanctuary says: 'These are our sisters and brothers'... .
9th August - Seeking Sanctuary says: '3000 migrants = 3000 people like you and me'
31st July - 'Seeking Sanctuary' is becoming increasingly concerned, as are other organisations, about migrants in Calais being 'demonised' as a result of the traffic chaos and delays in Kent.
6th July - Article for "The Pilgrim" (Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Southwark)
***** PETITIONS: A list of relevant items is available here. *****
NOTE: Seeking Sanctuary does not endorse all information and opinions appearing on websites to which we offer links.
Ben Bano writes:
We would like to thank the numerous groups, faith communities and individuals who have been in touch with us.The messages of support we have received help us to keep our activities going in the face of rhetoric which describes migrants as a 'swarm' and as 'marauders'.
(Those wishing to pray for the migrants and their plight will find resources here.)
- ABOVE: Delivery of goods to aid warehouse in Calais (January 2016)
BELOW: Terrible injuries are sustained as migrants tackle the security fences paid for by the UK government. This 18 year old girl's hands will need specialist treatment after her unsuccessful attempt.
But there are stories of optimism and hope in the 'jungle'...
'I'm not going to let myself go downhill'
A typical scene in the jungle - many 'shacks' are now durable thanks to the efforts of aid agencies
ABOVE: A very special house for the jungle !
BELOW: Volunteers deliver a horsebox full of goods to a Calais warehouse (January 2016).
Planning permission has been sought...
We even have our own front door !
'Our Church is the priority for us'...
ABOVE: A full programme in the school of 'Chemin des Dunes'
BELOW: Visitors are welcome (January 2016).
BELOW: Visitors are welcome (January 2016).
'We must all learn to live together like brothers - otherwise we will die together like idiots'
ABOVE: 'Here we're vaccinating against racism'
BELOW: Volunteers load up with donations in the UK (January 2016).
BELOW: Volunteers load up with donations in the UK (January 2016).
A quiet moment away from the bustle as Eritrean women teach the bible to their children in the Church (Independent Catholic News)