Seeking Sanctuary: Conditions worsening in Calais

Phil Kerton of Seeking Sanctuary, the Kent-based charity and member of the Caritas network working with the migrants in Calais and Dunkirk, brings you the latest from Pas-de-Calais.  As Heidi Allen MP stated in a parliamentary debate on Thursday 23rd February 2017, one of the many reasons to help child refugees in Greece and Italy is to prevent “another Calais” situation.

Volunteers in Calais have confirmed that there were probably close to 500 migrants around Calais, swelled daily by both fresh arrivals and returnees. The Paris situation is forecast to become yet more dire soon, as people realise that Germany has largely closed its doors.

The reception centres across France to which people were distributed upon the destruction of the “Jungle” are now closing, and those who have not applied for asylum will again without shelter and will probably make their way towards Paris and Calais. People found sleeping in the open are moved on by police; their bedding is confiscated and left out in the rain, or sprayed with pepper to render it unusable.

Harassment extends to those providing humanitarian aid, especially on the streets of Paris. Secours Catholique (Caritas France) is not immune – people were questioned when two young men were found sheltering from the early morning rain beneath a temporary building module, while waiting for the Calais Day Centre to open. A more detailed account is available at Independent Catholic News.

We have also been told of attempts to prevent access to showers at the association’s ‘wardrobe’ facility in Rue Moscou (where donations of clothes are distributed to refugees). A Town Hall official blocked the entrance with his car, which was replaced by a large rubbish skip (pictured above).

The following Monday, a judge in Lille gave the Calais council 24 hours to remove the rubbish skip. She made no comment upon the legality of the installation of the showers, but was certain that the misuse of the skip was an illegal act. The council said that it accepted the verdict but would continue its efforts to deter migrants from staying in the area. In the meantime, 25 people took showers in peace that Tuesday before the skip was removed on Wednesday afternoon.

In the meantime the Council formally instructed Secours Catholique to cease all building work: too late, as shower installation was complete. Councillors, fearing that Calais will become a stopping point for migrants in transit, issued a statement: “No one denies the distress of people fleeing their country and getting stuck in Calais in the utmost destitution. Today, as in the past, there is no question of the city stigmatising the migrants themselves. Our territory is again penalised by a migratory phenomenon which is not the responsibility of its inhabitants.”

Then, several van-loads of CRS (national riot police, based in Calais for many months) parked nearby. Their official purpose is to stop the activities of people smugglers. Taking care to clear their actions with their superiors by radio, they detained a handful of teenage youths who had intended to get showered. In addition, they arrested a Sécours Catholique staff member who was bringing the migrants to take showers, and a journalist. This suggested that the adults were considered to have breached the legal Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum, which provides that ‘any person who, by direct or indirect assistance, facilitates or attempts to facilitate the entry, illegal movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 Euros’.

Interviews with the frontier police followed, and apparently everyone had a pleasant hour-long conversation before being released without charge, leaving the youths wandering the streets again, in search of shelter.

Didier Degrémont, regional president of Secours Catholique said that the people detained had arrived in one of their vans when police had prevented its entry to their courtyard, then checked IDs and taken everyone away. He commented that the climate in Calais has been tense for some time: “Our actions have always upset the town hall, which is in total denial of the presence of migrants.”  But he stressed that the arrest of an employee, along with the migrants and the journalist was a new step. “It has never been of that nature,” he said. He believes that a repressive system is being established around the Calais migrants, with intimidation in operation to prevent Secours Catholique offering showers for children.

The latest press reports say that ten more youngsters and four adults were detained yesterday as they arrived at Secours Catholique’s premises. They say that all migrants are being denied entry, not just those wanting showers; Secours Catholique are appealing to the human rights ombudsman.

Meantime, warm clothes and bedding are still required, as are volunteers: details of the latest appeal have been published here (last checked 24 February 2017).

Bedding, warm clothes and other items currently listed on the Calais warehouse websites are still required (http://care4calais.org/donate/  and www.helprefugees.org.uk/news/northern-france-latest-needs-3/).  Seeking Sanctuary (www.seekingsanctuary.weebly.com) is always pleased to provide advice about packing goods and getting them to France.

The Catholic Worker house of hospitality in Calais is also in need of volunteers, both short-term (weekends or odd days) and long-term (three months or more, live-in). Tasks include: housekeeping, prayer, cooking, writing, accompanying refugees, helping in English or French, sign-posting, distribution of aid material and befriending. Please contact johanmaertens@hotmail.com if you are interested.