Sometimes being as deeply immersed in the refugee crisis as I am it is easy to loose sight of the fact not everyone knows as much as I do. In my capacity as convenor for Hastings Supports Refugees I was recently asked a question as a comment to an online article.
It was really relevant and one I’m asked often, so I thought I would post it and my answer here too.
Question: Some genuine questions: Why are no women’s or children’s clothes required? Why aren’t people claiming asylum in France? Is it genuinely helping them to enable them to stay in Calais? How is this affecting the local Calais community? Is this a greater priority for us than local causes, including the increasing number of rough sleepers on the sea front? I’m not being obtuse, just trying to understand.
Answer: Thank you for voicing your concerns. On behalf of Hastings Supports Refugees I am very happy to address them for you.
Firstly the issue of women and children. Well there are many women and children as Refugees, however there aren’t really any sleeping rough in and around Calais at this time. When a family faces the heart breaking decision to flee war or persecution often they can only afford to send away one family member, that sadly is usually the oldest boy. Also the journey to Calais is very hard and dangerous. So women, children and the old tend to stay in the first place they reach. Often being internally displaced with in their own country, hoping war won’t catch up with them there as we are seeing in parts of Syria now. Or they will stay in camps in adjoining countries such as Jordan or Turkey for the Syrians or Pakistan for the Afghans. Conditions there are bad and often the countries them selves not too stable. Those that have crossed the Mediterranean will often stay in Greece as the journey onward is now virtually impossible with small children. Families sometimes then send on a male family member to try and get asylum somewhere with the vain hope that if they achieve this the rest of the family can be sent for.
People are claiming asylum in France and Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands etc. In fact all over Europe. Germany has taken nearly 17 times more Refugees than we have. When the jungle camp was cleared in late 2016 France took most of the occupants and housed them in reception centres from where they could claim asylum. However there are an amount of people for whom staying in France isn’t an option. The pull to the UK is usually because people have a connection to here, be it family members or a common language.
The question of weather it is genuinely helping them to stay in Calais is a difficult one. The British Government’s line has been to make it as unattractive as possible to be there and it will stop the “pull factor”. This has not worked it hasn’t stopped people coming and most likely won’t stop them coming. What it has done is strip them of their humanity and forced them to live in conditions most of us could not even imagine. Tents and sleeping bags are confiscated nightly by the police, possessions and people constantly sprayed with tear gas. And while it is the French authorities carrying out this brutality be under no illusion as to who pays the bill for it. The UK Government has joint responsibility for maintains the border in France rather than in the U.K. And we foot the bill to the tune of millions of ££ for it. In the Macron-May summit recently we pledged a further 45 million to maintain the border. This sadly does not all go on fences!
So when faced with people with no access to sanitation, last night we heard of young men going eight weeks with out having a shower or a change of clothes, food or warmth then the human reaction is to reach out and try to help in any small way we can.
The local Calais community is in a difficult position. And living all these years with this situation has hardened them against the refugees but there are French organisations who work with the refugees, L’auberge des migrants being the main one.
Is this a greater priority than helping local rough sleepers? Here I can only give you my own feelings, it’s a deeply personal matter that we all have to come to our own conclusions about. For me the answer is no, it is an equal priority. We are all human where ever we come from what ever our backgrounds. No one should be sleeping rough. I have made the personal choice to have the plight of refugees as my personal priority, but that does not mean I don’t support local homeless charities too. We are through our work setting up Hastings as part of the City of Sanctuary network trying to actively forge links with food banks and other groups working in this area.
I hope this helps! You aren’t being obtuse at all by asking these questions, it’s really important to have discussions like this and try and counter the false or skewed versions of what is happening that are represented in the British press.
More information about the latest Food Drive for the local Foodbank as well as Care4Calais and the Red Box Project can be found here.