Seeking Sanctuary: SEPTEMBER UPDATE


We have received a good number of remarks complimenting us and our fellow-organisers on arranging the cross-Channel and bi-lingual event planned for 20 October in Dover. But we really need to know if you hope to attend, so that we can arrange to have enough chairs and food available! If possible try to let us know before 13 October. (One of the other organisers is temporarily experiencing problems with receiving emails!).  

Download event poster here; DOVER EVENT


We now know that a drama group associated with the “Safe Passage” campaigns team will join us to present an exciting new short piece looking at the bureaucracy and power of the naturalisation system and at young peoples’ sense of belonging and citizenship rights. It’s a participatory performance leading to discussion,that addresses the process of being categorised on the basis of race, age and socio-economic background, and raises questions about perceptions of power and powerlessness.



As we write these lines we are hearing about the fate of the ‘Aquarius’ which has been refused permission to land at Marseilles with 48 migrants – it is sad think that complex negotiations were needed to place such a small number of people across Europe. France is evidently following the ‘hostile agenda’ actively pursued by Italy and the UK. Remember that people from Africa seeking sanctuary often face a threefold trauma – the persecution and sometimes genocide at home, the atrocious conditions in refugee camps in Libya, and finally the hostile welcome off European shores. Is it any wonder that mental illness and post-traumatic stress are so common amongst exiles?


2 October saw the arrest of Domenico Lucano, the mayor of Riace in Calabria, one of the most impoverished regions of Italy. He became famous for bucking the trend of snowballing unemployment rates and net emigration and taking in at least 6,000 migrants in the past 20 years and offering opportunities for work. The almost-ghost town of 900 residents in 1998 now has a population of over 2,000 with migrants living alongside many former inhabitants who had left but who are now returning.


Italy’s right-wing populist coalition government intensely dislikes the model which has restored the ailing economy and cultural fabric of the town whilst assisting refugees. After 14 years as mayor, Lucano has received increasing attacks from the political establishment, culminating in the Guardia di Finanzia putting him under house arrest accused of ‘aiding and abetting illegal immigration.’



Closer to home, the situation has not improved. The pattern of repeated clearances of camps has continued. At Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, after four clearances in four months, many play a cat and mouse game with police who do not hesitate to destroy tents and possessions as they find them. At the start of September, police arrived before dawn with a row of coaches to move people to “Welcome and Orientation Centres” elsewhere in France. 100 to 200 evaded them and about 550 were removed – only for several coaches to return in the early evening, having found no-one willing to receive their passengers. Police would not allow them to receive food and water near their previous settlement, leaving them forlorn for the night, slumped against a wall on a small patch of wasteland near the Auchan hypermarket. Hundreds more returned over the next couple of days and by the end of the month, when another ‘evacuation’ took place, the population was approaching 1300 – including 250 children.


Those concerned are largely Kurds whose asylum applications have been refused in Germany and Italy and who neither wish to be returned to places where they were not welcome nor to apply for asylum in France where they are harshly treated. It is said that most of them are controlled by people smugglers who have already been paid for their transport to the UK


The Mayor of Grande-Synthe, Damien Car êm e, has been persistent in demanding the provision of even basic shelter as winter approaches. The small warehouse near the site  has also been rendered unfit for use by fire and there the local Women’s Centre reports a desperate need for basic supplies, including clothing for women and children. You can donate money and order new goods from their wish list or donate goods listed on their other list.


Other support groups – listed in past updates that can be found on our website – are keen to receive new regular volunteers, now that many younger activists have resumed their courses of education.


Attempts to reach the UK are now being made from many ports and beaches along the Channel TV images have been shown from Ouistreham, near Caen, which has ferry and catamaran links to Portsmouth. We are concerned to hear that the Portsmouth Red Cross has spotted people illegally being refused entry by UK officials and being sent directly back to France, rather than taken into custody for processing by the immigration service.

As it happens, in July, the British Red Cross issued a report calling for an overhaul of the immigration detention system, the first major charity to do so. Thousands of innocent asylum seekers – often fleeing war and torture – are detained each year and locked up indefinitely with no support, and very many suffer mental health problems which sometimes lead to suicide attempts.



A welcome – though tardy – development in September was the announcement that children from the former Calais ‘Jungle’ are to be granted the right to remain in the UK. More than 200 youngsters will gain a new status to allow continued access to study, work and the NHS until they can apply for citizenship in 10 years’ time. Around 550 of the 750+ lone children brought to the UK in 2016 went to live with family already residing here and over the past two years the majority of them gained the right to remain in the UK under existing international protections. However, a small group fell through this gap as they did not qualify for the same protections.


The Home Office announcement skates over the fact unaccompanied children who arrived under the “Dubs scheme” but were subsequently reunited with family members have still been counted towards the final (grudging) target of admitting 480 lone children. This means that others remain stranded when they should have been given refuge in the UK as intended by Lord Dubs’ amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act.


We repeat that there are unjust repercussions from other cruel elements of the Home Office’s past culture of hostility that remain unaddressed. A Supreme Court judgement issued on 3 October states that ‘ the reasons given for rejecting a child [in Calais] … were patently inadequate.’ The government should now recognise that every child considered for transfer under the Dubs scheme and refused must be given full reasons for that decision. And as a consequence they will be able to appeal against decisions.


Sadly, the number of places under the scheme will remain capped at 480, as the Court was not convinced that the government’s consultation with local authorities over how many could be accepted was defective. “Help Refugees”, who led the legal actions are asking us to write to MPs and tell them that all remaining Dubs places must be filled by the end of the year: i n just under two-and-a-half-years, nearly half of the miserly 480 places listed as available for these children remain empty!


A separate, but allied, campaign marks the 80 th anniversary of the WW2 Kindertransport initiative in November. The aim is to convince authorities that we can again provide safe havens for 10,000 young people – from conflict regions across the world – and do this over the coming 10 years. A useful campaign information pack is available, indicating channels through which you can encourage local authorities and MPs to pledge to undertake the necessary actions.



On this side of the channel we  are pleased to confirm that the memorial to those who have lost their lives attempting to reach the UK will soon be in place – the official inauguration will take place on 15th December at 3.00 pm and will be led by the Bishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott. We are still £300 short of our target  and donations to help to cover this  amount will be most welcome. Cheques should be made out to ‘Cleverley and Spencer’ (stonemasons) and sent to Ben at 95 College Road, Deal, Kent CT114 6BU.


Phil + Ben.



‘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. Our special concern is for the 1000 or so exiles who are stuck 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.


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Further information from Ben Bano on 07887 651117 or Phil Kerton on 01474 873802. See our latest news at