This is Refugee Week 2020, running from 15 to 21 June and including UN World Refugee Day on 20 June. The theme is ‘Imagine’. Imagine a world after the Covid-19 era. Many see signs of hope for a future where we develop new ways to care for our planet and protect and value human lives. We may look less at how much things cost or how much a person earns, but rather at the benefits they bring.
Hopefully, more people will start to imagine how desperate people must be to leave homes and families, taking perilous sea journeys in the hope of reaching places where they may find an end to conflict and famine. They hope to find decent shelter, education and employment, so becoming able to contribute to society and retrieve some sense of dignity.
It’s easy to write off those refugees stuck near Calais as only seeking better lives and somehow dragging the rest of us down. As individuals made in God’s image, they deserve better lives than those from which they have fled and genuine chances to realise their potential.
20 years ago, during the night of 18 June, Dover port workers and Customs officers were traumatised to find the bodies 58 young Chinese in a sealed trailer arriving from Zeebrugge, victims of a bungled trafficking operation. We imagined that lessons had been learned, but then on 23 October 2019 another sealed and overheated container arrived at Grays in Essex, again from Zeebrugge, and contained the bodies of 39 Vietnamese migrants.
We had hoped to gather in Dover on 20 June – as we did last year – and remember the Chinese deaths – and hundreds of others occurring as people seek to reach Britain to claim asylum. Surely those in authority must imagine a better safe and legal procedure?
Conforming to the spirit of social distancing, Dr Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, will join a tiny live gathering at 11.30 am on Saturday 20 June. This will be live-streamed and reach a larger audience with a recording remaining for more to view at www.kentpahirestreaming.co.uk
Additionally, an earlier virtual ‘Zoom’ rally will be hosted by ‘People not Walls’ focussing on the plight of unaccompanied minors experiencing human rights abuses near the French coast. Join for free by registering beforehand at the link below. It will end by switching to the Dover remembrance.
Phil Kerton is a co-director of ‘Seeking Sanctuary’ and active with Southwark Justice and Peace.
He is a former Chair of NJPN and remains an adviser to the Executive.