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Refugees arriving in Hastings and nearby from France, April 2020

Hastings Community of Sanctuary joins statement of support for vulnerable people recently crossing the Channel.

Hastings Beach

On Wednesday 8 April 2020, 57 people came ashore in several small boats on the beaches of Hastings and Winchelsea, their safe arrival ensured by the RNLI from Hastings and Rye Bay, alongside HM Coastguard. And on Easter Sunday, another 72 people arrived here in the same way. Border Force officials took over to process the group according to Home Office protocol, which includes an initial medical assessment. In the past week, many more people have attempted to cross from France. Some have been turned back, some have succeeded in reaching our shores. All face an official hostile narrative of ‘illegality’ despite the fact that it is entirely legal for anyone to seek asylum if they feel that they have a case to do so.

We join the Refugee Buddy Project and Hastings Supports Refugees in the joint statement immediately issued and disseminated to local media (see here).

You can read the report from Hastings Online Times here, and the report from Hastings in Focus here.

As described in our joint statement, it is urgent to note that for people seeking sanctuary, the situation in northern France is increasingly fraught. The virus Covid-19 is rampant across France, and their death toll similar to that of the UK, but despite the incredible dedication of the few volunteers left on the ground in trying to support the homeless refugee population, only basic food and water can now be provided. The refugees themselves endure a complete lack of basic sanitation, and have no possibility of self-isolating, both of which hugely increase the likelihood of Covid-19 infection and illness. On top of this, the ongoing police hostility is ever more brutal, with constant harassment, confiscation of the already meagre shelter the refugees may possess and direct attacks against them, including a shocking example of this a few days ago – see here – which stretches to breaking point any sense of a common consensus of civility prevailing at this time of global upheaval. But we do see the other end of the spectrum in the work of support groups, such as Care4Calais; here is recent direct testimony to this from Paul Barnett, HBC councillor and Hastings point of contact for the Care4Calais charity, who has recently been in northern France.

“Two things strike you in Calais: the dedication and energy of the volunteers who come from all over the UK to spend a week or two there, and the gentle humility of the refugees who are increasingly being harassed and humiliated by French authorities.

“Now that France is in a military lockdown, life is unbearable in the camps along the coast and it isn’t surprising that increasing numbers are desperate enough to attempt sea crossings.

“I was coincidentally at the beach yesterday. It wasn’t possible to see much but let’s make sure that Hastings is generous to the idea of them finding sanctuary here.”

People are putting their lives at deadly risk by trying to cross one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. No one would undertake this kind of risk unless the alternative is perceived as even more desperately dangerous. Our joint statement emphasises that, as a Community of Sanctuary, Hastings is committed to treating all who seek refuge in our town and across the UK with dignity and respect. We hope that everyone in the local community, and indeed across our country, will extend empathy and kindness to our fellow humans who find themselves in such desperate situations.