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.
Phil and Ben
About 'Seeking Sanctuary'. Almost all of the 8,000+ migrants still encamped in Calais in October 2016 have been moved away, hopefully to better accommodation. 1616 unaccompanied minors have also moved, along with hundreds of vulnerable women and children, to secure temporary accommodation throughout France hoping for their cases to be processed. But around 1000 people remain in the camp near Dunkirk and more are hidden in the nearby countryside. 'Seeking Sanctuary' aims to raise awareness about their situation and is organising basic humanitarian assistance through Faith Communities and Community Organisations in partnership with experienced aid workers. Food and clothes are still needed by most of them, not least the scores of new arrivals who turn up weekly.
For further information on how you or your organisation can help, contact Ben Bano on 07887 651117 or Phil Kerton on 01474 873802. To check the latest news, visit our website on www.seekingsanctuary.weebly.com