We are including this news update on our website to spread the word about the situation in Calais. The original article appeared on the Seeking Sanctuary website – click here to visit and find out more about their work. We will be holding a Spring appeal for the Calais Catholic Worker, Maria Skobtsova House, after Easter – watch out for more details!
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.