Ethiopian hymns, the Dubs amendment and bivvy bags – Update on Calais

PrayerSpaceOn Sunday evening in Calais I was present at an Ethiopan Orthodox community service, at which a ‘Calais migrant’ officiated for his compatriots. Young men were quiet, prayerful, but sang powerfully their well-known hymns.

I was representing Westminster Justice and Peace which has supported the Catholic Worker house there for over 2 years, and which has just run an appeal for unaccompanied migrant children. Our astonishing success (£13000 plus) supports this fragile facility. Although, while our help is important, Brother Johannes maintains that the young people’s resilience is the priority. Regular prayers in the House support their identity and faith in this time of trial.

When we started raising money, it was seen as an emergency, one-off action. We are having to revise our assessment, and to understand that supporting refugees in Nord/Pas de Calais as the region is called, may be for the longterm. Calais is far from empty of refugees. With the burning of the Grande Synthe camp at Dunkirk and earlier razing of the Jungle, many camp in the dunes or woods, while the Calais authorities are taking aggressive steps to prevent another mass informal camp growing up. We reported back in September that the national police are raiding the Calais region to move migrants on, sometimes violently, even with pepper gas (Nobody should live like this, by the Human Trafficking Foundation details the situation).

The UK border sited on the other side of the Channel disguises the reality that there a huge metal grid, called by French human rights groups the ‘Wall of Shame’, ‘protecting’ the UK from invasions, but in practice preventing legitimate and urgent asylum being offered.

It is hard to know the numbers involved, and counting a population on the move is difficult but according to the Guardian,

‘The charity Help Refugees conducts monthly headcounts and estimates that there are at least 600 migrants in Calais, around 300 in Dunkirk and another 200 in small camps along the coast. The Refugee Community Kitchen, which cooks food for people living in small groups in wasteland around Calais and Dunkirk, says it is distributing 2,500 meals a day… The Calais prefecture said that it believed there were 450 migrants in the Calais area’. (Guardian 10th Aug 2017)

The Catholic Worker Drop-in centre was recently offering 100 showers a week as well as clothes washes in an impressive turnaround. On my visit I helped fold laundry which seemed to come in never-ending bundles.

The recent good news reported in ICN about better processing of young people was very welcome. Safe Passage organiser Juliet Kilpin wrote to us after our lobby of MPs,

‘I have some great news to share with you. Today the UK and French governments announced that they have opened a centre near Calais to enable the proper processing of unaccompanied child refugees. Children will be able to claim asylum safely and legally. While this centre is open, children with family in the UK won’t have to risk their lives making dangerous attempts to cross the channel to be with loved ones. Instead they will be able to have their case considered by British authorities in Calais. We understand that children with no family in the UK will also be able to be assessed at this new centre.’

This was indeed hopeful, as was the Parliamentary debate on unaccompanied minors shortly afterwards and available via the Safe Passage link:

If you need your faith in Parliamentary procedure boosted, do watch this debate. We must of course hold government to account on this. Meanwhile, many agencies are championing the rights of migrants on our border, here, and across the Channel:

“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). Seeking Sanctuary continues to take clothing and sleeping bags across to Calais, while the Auberge des Migrants, Secours Catholique, Care4Calais and others continue to battle with the Calais authorities for the right to distribute food, water and clothing on the streets. Have a look at all of their impressive work online.

As previously, we suggest that those who want to take goods should look at the Seeking Sanctuary website for current ‘asks’, and if willing to take goods to Calais, should head for the Auberge des Migrants. We at Justice and Peace will shortly launch a Christmas appeal for the Catholic Worker house, and send a new list of requirements, including sleeping bags and ‘bivvy bags’ to enable sleeping outdoors on the Calais coast. This is a serious humanitarian situation which looks set to run and run.