Calais: immediate appeal and long-term solutions

Westminster J&P Commission Thursday July 30th 2015.

While all are horrified at the sufferings of the refugees and migrants in Calais, most in the UK are paralysed from action because of the huge issues raised.  If we ‘open the gates’, will this act as a magnet for thousands more refugees to come knocking on the UK door?  This could mean further competition for scarce housing and resources in the poor boroughs which are already coping with huge shortages.  If we continue to pour in extra security money, and simply make Calais a more effective barrier, we risk prolonging the distressing scenes in camp and Eurotunnel in Calais currently flashing onto our screens.

The long-term Christian response is not clear. In contrast, the Churches are not standing idle in France.  Thierry Cuenot, head of emergency services at Secours Catholique-Caritas France, has pooled resources with 3 other NGOs in Calais to provide emergency humanitarian aid in ‘The Jungle’ camp in the Calais sand-dunes.  With Medecins du Monde, Solidarité Nationale and Secours Islamique, the volunteers of his NGO are carrying out an emergency operation as if in a war zone or a natural disaster, in order to help the 3000 or so migrants.  Cuenot explained in an interview on Radio Chretienne de France on Monday that there had been an excellent response from volunteers for the summer months, and they were working with migrants on a partnership basis to set up more, and more permanent, shelters, even though the space had originally been allocated for 1500 people.  Solidarite Nationale was putting in sanitary structures, while Medecins du Monde was providing health care.

On this side of the Channel help is also being organised, though in smaller and less coordinated ways.  A small Kent charity,, is collecting supplies for Secours Catholique on a regular basis.  Ben Bano and his wife, the organisers, are taking foods, cooking utensils, crockery, books, games, toiletries and footwear to the Secours Catholique centre, which has supported migrants in Calais for the past 15 years, since the Sangatte camp, while the London Catholic Worker has taken blankets, food and even bicycles across the Channel, supplying also the Secours Islamique base.

APPEAL: Ben has asked Westminster Justice and Peace to organise parishes to collect goods as described above.  We are waiting for more details about transport and delivery.

If parishes are able to organise this themselves they could contact Ben  at

Meanwhile we look forward to the Churches on both sides of the Channel holding discussions about this distressing situation.  A Pax Christi speaker declared at the recent Justice and Peace National Conference that there needs to be more burden-sharing in Europe of the refugee and migrant issue.  We at Westminster Justice and Peace wholeheartedly agree.

For further comment, contact Barbara Kentish on 07758630961