Calais: November update from Seeking Sanctuary
By: Phil Kerton, Ben Bano
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 their site, including:
The Refugee Community Kitchen, which has served 1.5 million meals over the past two 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 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 out 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 that we suspect that without their persistent pressure on the Home Office, the arrival of the 10-20 children described 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, 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 Britian 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.
In short, at the time of the Calais ‘Jungle’ clearance in 2016, 750 child refugees were successfully transferred to Britain. The procedures that were then applied appear to have since become clogged with bureaucratic red tape, and hundreds of unaccompanied child refugees are in woods around Calais, with minimal provisions and sanitation, and in constant fear of police violence and traffickers. As we write, just the first child is about to be brought from Greece after waiting for most of 2017 for paperwork for the journey to be sorted out!
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 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 governments do not fail these children, and every child the chance to flourish 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.