UK supporters of 'People not Walls', a newly formed coalition of British and French NGOs concerned with migrant and refugee issues alongside the English Channel, met at the French Embassy in Knightsbridge on Wednesday 4 December, in support of calls by several French NGOs for a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry in France into the treatment of migrants on French borders.
The action took place in solidarity with French associations in other border locations: Menton, Briançon, Hendaye as well as Dunkirk and Calais. In Calais the action took place at the iconic Burghers of Calais statue, which they taped with crime scene ribbon, illustrating the human rights crimes being committed.
Here in London representatives included Southwark and Westminster Justice and Peace, Seeking Sanctuary, the London Catholic Worker, Amnesty International, Safe Passage Art Refuge, Human Rights Observers and Refugee Lifeboats. Phil Kerton of Seeking Sanctuary with Barbara Kentish, both among the founders of People Not Walls, handed in a letter addressed to the French Ambassador to support the call for a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, which was received by the Embassy legal advisor.
Barbara Kentish pointed out that this was not a problem for the French government alone, and that the reason for a new organisation in the quest for justice on the borders was to unite the efforts of humanitarian workers on both sides of the borders. Here there was extensive collaboration between the UK and France which had created an intolerable oppression of migrants and those helping them. The UK has spent over £150 million over the last few years in strengthening physical and 'security' measures to defend the North French border region. People Not Walls has resolved to raise awareness and oppose this situation in the months to come.
Brother Johannes Maertens, who founded Maria Skobtsova House in Calais, spoke of the presence of migrants in Calais as far back as 2004 and the changing composition of the migrant groups over the years. Amnesty International had carried out a survey of human rights defenders in Calais and documented numerous abuses, both against migrants and those standing up for them, while Human Rights Observers had counted over 800 camp clearances in 2018. They attached a list of around 50 names of those who had died in trying to reach the UK so far in 2019. Safe Passage spoke of the campaign for legal right of entry for unaccompanied minors into the UK, which has so far attracted over 100 000 signatures. She emphasised the need for a pan-European solution to the problem. Phil Kerton highlighted the 20th anniversary of the death of the Chinese migrants, which will be marked in Dover in June next year, and the importance of remembering those who have died in this ongoing tragedy.
Supporting organisations included: Art Refuge, Columban Missionaries UK, Commission for Justice & Peace, Diocese of Westminster, Help Refugees, Hunan Rights Observers, Kent Refugee Help, London Catholic Worker, Rev Kirrilee Reid, Refugee Project Officer, Pas de Calais, Refugee Lifeboats, Refugee Rights Europe, Seeking Sanctuary, Southwark Archdiocesan Commission for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation and Sutton for Peace and Justice.
See more pictures from both sides of the Channel on ICN's Facebook page.
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