Seeking Sanctuary’s Update for November.

‘One can face life without yielding to despondency or madness, since the anguish of the world   is embraced  by an infinite benevolence investing it with  purpose.’ Eric Varden, 2018.


Ben writes: As I was glancing at the BBC news a few days ago, an item caught my attention – a report that in an Ipswich school a 30 year old man was attending classes. The report was full of warnings from parents, threatening to withdraw their children from classes while the man was present in the classroom. It transpired that the person concerned is an asylum seeker whose age is the subject of some contention. What saddened me was the rapid assumption he could be a risk to his classmates – I felt that we are gradually, if not unconsciously, absorbing the narrative which associates asylum seekers – and foreigners – with risk and danger. Are we absorbing the Trumpian anti migrant narrative more than the might believe? Hence the need for our advocacy work and that of so many other organisations as we seek to combat their dangerous narrative.
It has been a source of comfort to know that we are not alone. A few weeks ago we were pleased to be with 90 people who joined us in Dover for the ‘Solidarity across the Channel’ event, which we helped to organise. It was great for activists and supporters to link up with each other, share their experiences, and learn about the various ways on both sides of the Channel in which the ‘hostile environment’ common to both Britain and France operates.
Afterwards we held a short prayer vigil at the newly installed memorial for the over 200 people who have lost their lives attempting to reach the UK from the other side of the Channel during the past 20 years. The memorial is situated on the promenade of Dover seafront, fittingly within line of sight of the French coast. (And thanks to all of our generous supporters who have enabled us to pay for the memorial in full). The official inauguration takes place at 3pm on 15th December, to be led by the Bishop of Dover. Please do join us if you are in or near Dover. Let us remember at this point the 64 people who have just lost their lives off the coast of Libya, when their rubber dinghy was punctured.
Our advocacy for the forgotten child exiles continues. We have just learnt the news that only 20 unaccompanied child refugees have been allowed into the UK under a scheme that was meant to settle 3000 vulnerable children from the conflict zones of the Middle East and North Africa. And in spite of the publicity given to the Dubbs amendment, we now know that only 220 children have been transferred to the UK under this scheme in spite of the grudging ‘official’ target of 480 children. This month marks the 80th anniversary of the first kindertransport, when Neville Chamberlain agreed to accept up to 10,000 children. What a contrast between then and now, particularly in view of Britain’s stated aims to put an end to modern slavery and trafficking, to which unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable.
Recent figures from the Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC), which identifies and tries to locate children who have crossed the Channel alone, show that since August 2016, 293 youngsters are known to have arrived via unauthorised routes, of whom, just 103 have been located – suggesting many are living underground. Our friends in Social Workers Without Borders, who jointly carried out a series of child assessments in the Calais ‘Jungle’ prior to its demolition, said that of the 42 children they then assessed as being “in need” – none of whom were granted safe passage – just 9 are now known to have made it to the UK alone, while 14 are ‘untraceable’.
The Dubs scheme was supposed to result in the UK transfer of vulnerable refugees who were languishing in the ‘Jungle ‘, desperately needed assistance. This clearly was not done. People who get over alone may be told that they owe maybe £1,000-£2,000 to traffickers. Sometimes they’re given a year to sort their paperwork, and then they’re told they’ve got to start paying it back: that is when the exploitation begins. But no one is willing to speak, because they can’t guarantee the safety of their families back home in Sudan or Afghanistan, if they do name the exploiters.
Phil writes:

As Ben has remarked, around 90 people (a third of them from the Pas-de-Calais) attended the ‘Solidarity Across the Channel’ gathering in St Paul’s Church, Dover on 20 October. We shared news and views about the situation of thousands of migrants surviving near the French coast, largely forgotten by the media and subject to an extremely hostile environment. The Justice and Peace Commissions of the Westminster and Southwark Archdioceses had organised the gathering in collaboration with us and with and the Catholic Worker house of hospitality in Calais. Everyone greatly appreciated the welcome – and hot lunch – provided by parish priest, Fr Jeff Cridland, and his community.
Conversations – translated into French or English, as appropriate – were enlivened and provoked by a short interactive play “Stage 3”, presented on behalf of the “Safe Passage” campaign to seek pledges to accept another 10,000 children over 10 years, marking this year’s 80th anniversary of ‘Kindertransport’.
UK participants were shocked to learn about the state-sponsored hostility that is part of everyday life for exiles stuck in our neighbouring countries. There was good news from those who work to alleviate some of the hardship and to provide a little dignity to those in dire need:
  • The Community Kitchen and Salam provide around 2000 meals daily;
  • warehouses set up by the Auberge des Migrants and Care4Calais provide clothes, bedding and toiletries;
  • other groups provide more specific services such as First Aid, legal advice and language classes;
  • Secours Catholique and the Catholic Worker House strive to establish an atmosphere which values people as individuals, made in God’s image and likeness, each called to fulfil their potential.
All these and other support groups constantly need fresh volunteers and donations of supplies.
Our French visitors were appalled hear the complexity and delays in the UK asylum process, where almost half the appeals against an initial refusal of any right to remain get overturned upon appeal. Also, the continued use of indefinite detention for people who have committed no crime and and have not appeared in court. This deprives people of liberty for administrative convenience, and is costly, ineffective and harmful to mental health and well-being.
Listlessness soon develops under the Limbo of indefinite detention. One week stretches into a month or three, and a sense of hopelessness is etched on every face and strains every conversation. It is particularly galling that over half the detainees are eventually released into the community, confirming their incarceration was pointless.
UK residents were further shocked to find out about the 1800 people (mainly Kurds) sleeping rough in woods near Dunkirk, including many women and children, whilst another 800 remain in and around Calais. Police regularly confiscate and destroy tents, bedding and other belongings, having been ordered to stop the coast becoming a “pole of attraction” – the equivalent of the “Culture of Hostility” practised by the UK Home Office.
All organisers are hard at work for the moment, producing a bilingual report on our time together, but will keep in touch across the sea and discern what actions we can take together, both in advocacy for these voiceless people and in raising awareness of injustices, eventually meeting together once more.
And if you are buying Christmas presents, you might consider the 2019 Wall Calendar produced by the Refugee Community Kitchen, which is full of nourishing recipes, downsized for use at home.suggested donation of £15 per Calendar, made here, will cover production costs and still make a meaningful £9 contribution to the Kitchen – enough to pay for 18 decent hot meals.
As ever, our thanks for your support and your concern,
Ben + Phil.
‘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