Migrant advocate groups Seeking Sanctuary and People Not Walls are saying “end this cruel dilemma” for exiles in Calais.
“Migrants in a double bind”
Seeking Sanctuary is concerned that while the UK Government insists that France is a safe country in which to claim asylum, many applicants are suffering as they receive no support until their claims start to be processed.
Additionally there are worrying reports that asylum seekers returned from the UK to France are being issued with instructions to leave the country rather than seeing proper inspection of their claims.
The situation, already desperate, is made worse by the new restrictions from the French authorities on voluntary groups making free distributions of food and other basic supplies while the migrants are waiting in Calais.
Ben Bano, Co-Director of Seeking Sanctuary, explained: “Migrants in Calais are in a double bind. There is no incentive to claim asylum in France as they will be left destitute and subject to police harassment during the lengthy wait while their application is processed, even though the UK insists that France is a safe country.”
It’s no wonder that they turn to traffickers and dangerous crossings in the Channel as their only hope of finding respect, a decent life and hope for the future.
The only answer is to provide safe and legal ways to claim asylum in the UK to put an end to this humanitarian disaster and to return asylum seekers to France only when there are assurances that their claims will be properly processed.
About Seeking Sanctuary
Seeking Sanctuary’ aims to raise awareness about people displaced from their homes and to channel basic humanitarian assistance from Faith Communities and Community Organisations via partnerships with experienced aid workers. The group’s special concern is for the 2,000 or so exiles who are stuck in north-western France, mistakenly expecting a welcome in the UK.
They need food, water, good counsel and clothes, which are accepted, sorted and distributed by several organisations, including two Calais warehouses which also supply needs further afield.
People systematically deprived of food and shelter
In the meantime, People Not Walls has denounced that migrants in Calais are being systematically deprived of food and shelter.
The most damaging twist lately has been the issue of an injunction by the Prefect of the Pas-de-Calais to stop the distribution of food, water and other items in certain parts of Calais by any organisation, because of the health and sanitary problems this causes. Those who continue to do so are incurring personal fines.
In a statement signed by 10 NGOs, including Amnesty International, Help Refugees and Secours Catholique, the organisations point out that ‘yet again’ the situation has been caused by the authorities themselves, who have expelled the migrants from out-of-town encampments, and fenced off the areas.
The migrants are thus forced to come into town, where the NGO volunteers attempt to provide hot meals and water, while still avoiding residential areas, and are being fined for this humanitarian aid.
An attempt is being considered to mount a legal challenge to this ruling. The NGOs state that this injunction contravenes the constitutional value of ‘Fraternity’, in preventing citizens from freely giving aid and satisfying basic needs of the exiles present in Calais.
They will, they say, continue to support people in need. Meanwhile L’Auberge des Migrants (‘The Migrants Hotel’, a coalition of organisations), has written directly to the Prefect, asking for the injunction to be removed.
On Wednesday morning (16th September), several deputies (MPs) from the new Ecology, Democracy, Solidarity Party visited Calais to see for themselves the contested distribution points.
They called for the Prefect’s injunction to be overturned. (The new Minister for the Interior, M Gérald Darmanin, met Priti Patel in Calais in July, but did not visit the NGOs to hear their experience or views).
On September 26th the NGOs will mount a demonstration for the right to provide adequate provisions for migrants or exiled persons, as they prefer to call them, commensurate with their human dignity.
People Not Walls will support the action in the UK, and will hand a petition in to the Home Office and the French Embassy asking for decent conditions for migrants on the borders as well as safe and legal routes for them.