Campaigners in Dover and Calais marked World Refugee Day on Thursday with prayers, visits and demonstrations, calling on British and French authorities to stop funding the "inhumane and punishing conditions" for refugees stranded in Northern France. The day was organised by Seeking Sanctuary, Westminster and Southwark Justice and Peace Commissions, Catholic Worker, the Anglican diocese of Canterbury, Caritas and Secours Catholique.
In the major Anglo-French initiative, migrants and their supporters gathered simultaneously on both sides of the channel, protesting at conditions they have to live in and alleged excessive force against them by French police. Despite the high-profile closure of the so-called 'Jungle' camp in Calais, migrants have remained in makeshift camps along the north coast of France.
The full-day programme in Dover began with a short service beside two memorials on the sea front dedicated to those who have lost their lives, attempting the channel crossing. One plaque was inscribed: 'in memory of 58 young people from China who died near here on 18 June 2000. All human life is precious.' The other stone read: 'In memory of the many victims who have lost their lives seeking sanctuary in the UK. October 2018. 'Every migrant has a name, a face and a story' - Pope Francis.' Fr Joe Ryan, Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace, recalled that 70 million people are displaced worldwide, a rising number of people needing refuge from warm, conflict, persecution and environmental disasters.
This was followed by a silent witness with banners at a busy roundabout for traffic leaving the port. There were plenty of hoots of support from passing cars.
The group then visited the offices of SAMPHIRE- a small organisation which helps ex-detainees, as and when they are released by port authorities. Samphire runs a community engagement project, working with migrant and British communities to improve social cohesion, and better inclusion of migrants into Dover and surrounding areas of Kent. The small staff hosted an inspiring question and answer session. They clearly deliver a high-quality service to assist former detainees with the difficulties they face, primarily via a telephone helpline, and they run an excellent schools' outreach programme.
The day ended with an evening service at the 11th century Church of St Margaret of Antioch, in St Margaret-at-Cliffe in the village closest to the French coast. Rev Diane Fawcett, read a passage from Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini. Her sensitive homily was rooted in her experience of supporting refugees in Calais and on the Greek island of Lesvos during her s churchabbatical. Her parish has welcomed two families as part of the government resettlement programme. Phil Kerton from Seeking Sanctuary also gave a reflection.
A similar event took place at the Plage Bleriot beach at Calais. The English evening ended with a lantern walk towards Dover's famous White Cliffs. As the sun was setting, a 'Love Knows No Borders' banner was displayed and the 'People Not Walls' Declaration of solidarity with all migrants was read.
The group at Dover waved across to Calais and the French coast, which could be seen just 22 miles away.
The initiative 'People Not Walls' is a call to both British and French governments to replace the security-focused approach with a humanitarian alternative. It is summed up by the words: "Stop investing in walls and start investing in people".
Barbara Kentish, interim coordinator for People Not Walls, said: "We've come together in an act of solidarity across the Channel, calling on the French and British governments to bring about meaningful change. It's time to show that love knows no borders." Many paid tribute to Phil Kerton and Ben Bano of Seeking Sanctuary and Southwark Justice and Peace for their faithful response to the plight of so many so near to British shores.
Read the Declaration here: www.indcatholicnews.com/news/37331
Watch a video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy95JZ68AKk
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