World Refugee Day: Cross-Channel online rally and commemoration

  • Barbara Kentish

An online rally, attended by around 60 people, to mark World Refugee Day on Saturday June 20th was organised by People Not Walls, a French-British partnership, working for human rights on our borders, and Seeking Sanctuary, a small organisation promoting awareness of migrants near our shores and all lone children, also providing humanitarian assistance to exiles' It had been planned to take place in Dover but current restrictions meant that only the second part of the session came live from the seafront there, led by the Bishop of Dover. (for full report see People Not Walls Facebook page)

First, Juliette Delaplace, regional director of Secours Catholique-Caritas France in Nord-Pas de Calais addressed the online gathering. She gave an up-to-the-minute report on the position of exiles around Calais, a topic which never fails to shock listeners. Despite the many boat crossings, and the 300-plus places provided by government for the exiled homeless, still many are coming to the north coast, and number around 1000, including Sudanese, Eritrean, Iraqi and Iranian people, of whom about 100 are children. Their property, such as tents and clothing are constantly confiscated, along with documents and medication. A senior Ministry of the Interior official visited recently from Paris, and while he was photographed beside the walls, the surveillance technology and other security measures, he did not visit the exiles. The government aim is to prevent refugee settlement.

Juliette noted that 2000 people had crossed to the UK from the beginning of 2020 till the French quarantine. During this period a further 1500 have crossed. There is much talk of crossing in kayaks and even windsurfing, and without lifejackets.

Caia Fallowfield, from the NGO Project Play spoke about Project Play, which initiates activities for displaced children across Europe. Play has been shown to mitigate childhood trauma caused by their experiences. They operate mostly in the Grande Synthe area, and work with Iraqis, Kurds, Pakistanis, Iranians, Afghans. There are currently about 300 people with a handful of families and 15 unaccompanied minors. Since the change of mayor, conditions are now similar to those in Calais. All are in informal settlements, with no toilets, no showers, or access to anything, including state help.

Hannah Lindler of Human Rights Observers filled out the picture of the life of would-be asylum-seekers on the French North coast with the statistics she and her group have been collecting, and which are published monthly. There are daily evictions, she reported, with each camp in the Calais area being overturned every two days, and in the Grande Synthe area every week. Human Rights Observers have authority to carry out on-the-ground scrutiny across Europe, though this is sometimes challenged. In Calais HRO recorded 961 raids in 2019, 354 in 2020, and a further 169 during the French quarantine. In May there were 15 cases of document confiscation, nine telephones taken, and two sets of medications. HRO volunteers still went out, and incurred 30 fines for breaking the lockdown regulations.

Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) Youth Ambassadors then spoke up. Rishan spoke of the journey from her native Sudan through Libya, being separated from, and losing, two friends as they crossed the desert. She felt lucky to have made it from Italy to Calais,where she spent a difficult month before reaching the UK. Placed in foster care here, she has had wonderful experience with her foster family, despite arriving terrified and scared. Her foster-mother she described as a 'perfect woman', and KRAN was her 'first school' where she learned English and made friends. Now she is applying to university, and works on a KRAN panel with young asylum seekers.

Two Safe Passage Youth Wing members, Laura from Burundi and Nouran from Syria performed an impressive twin act, describing the work of Safe Passage, which lobbies for unaccompanied minors to rejoin families in the UK. They are making a video to support their case, stressing the importance of family as the basis of society, and the rights of all to have their family around them. Legal routes of access are essential and they urged us to speak up for this: 'Your voice is power - use your voice, use your power!'.

Finally Marie Charlotte Fabié, of Safe Passage International, warned of the dangers awaiting young migrants and those lobbying for them with new legislation in the post-Brexit situation. With the proposed Immigration Bill, In six months' time there will be no legal routes for young people so the way forward is bleak, with regulations getting tighter all the time. We need to lobby as a matter of urgency to make sure that provision for unaccompanied minors is included in the new Bill.

There was little time for questions, but Juliette from Secours Catholique was able to explain the limited access to health care, and the medical outreach carried out by themselves and Doctors without Borders three times a week. She herself was astonished that there was no government outreach whatsoever to the migrants during the Covid19 crisis, relying instead on NGOs capacity for this.

Since the full programme left little time for questions, Barbara Kentish promised these would be followed up in later reports. Meanwhile the whole group was 'transported' live to Dover where Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkin led a service of commemoration for migrants who had lost their lives trying to reach the UK. See the press release from Seeking Sanctuary below.

See a video of the full meeting here :

Read the text of Bishop Rose's reflection here:

Tags: Refugees, Migrants, Asylum Seekers, Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkins, World Refugee Day, Refugees, Dover, Barbara Kentish, People Not Walls, Secours Catholique

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