Ben writes: it was in the unlikely pages of the magazine of the Fire Brigades Union that I came across stories of real courage and commitment from some volunteers from the Fire and Rescue services who have been volunteering to take part in efforts to rescue people who would have certainly died if boats such as ‘Sea Watch Rescue’ had not been present in the Mediterranean. The volunteers have new challenges to contend with, including the threat of criminal charges from the right wing Italian government, and refusals to let those who have been rescued – often in a desperate condition – to land in Lampedusa or Sicily. Already this year 280 migrant lives have been lost in the Mediterranean, and since 2013 the UNHCR’s count of migrants reported to be dead or missing at sea has reached 18,740.
Of course the hazards of the Mediterranean are just one of the obstacles facing those who flee violence and persecution in dangerous parts of the world. The hazards of potential death in one’s home and community are swiftly followed by the risky journey through countries such as Chad and Mauritania where traffickers are busy at work. The journey through the desert is particularly perilous with many deaths reported.
The current civil war in Libya has meant that conditions for migrants which were already appalling have now worsened, and it is no wonder that people will risk their lives to get away from the hell of Libyan refugee camps.
Some of us will have read the story of Favour, a 9-month old baby who was miraculously saved when the rest of her family had died in the Mediterranean. But who is there to care for children such as Favour? We are increasingly seeing whole families making these hazardous crossings instead of mainly young men as in the past, and this is a reflection of the chaos existing in the Middle East and elsewhere.
And so to the current situation in the English Channel which our Home Secretary has described as an ’emergency’. We have been fortunate in being able to put right some of the myths through our appearances on local media: nonetheless the hostile environment is never far away, as is shown in this poster which recently appeared in the press in East Kent.
People not Borders
We are pleased to report that the Cross Channel liaison committee comprising people from NGOs on both sides of the Channel has born much fruit. Our friends in France are now much more familiar with the various support networks and opportunities over here, which enables them to much more readily guide people to help in unfamiliar UK cities.
Plans for a joint day of action and witness on 20 June mentioned last month have changed somewhat. As expected, to mark World Refugee Day, there will be an event on the beach in Calais, but our evening venue will not be on a beach, but on the cliff above St Margaret’s Bay near Dover. The event starts with a short period in the parish church of St Margaret of Antioch at 6 pm, followed by a walk of witness down to the cliff top, in sight of our friends on the Calais beach. Earlier in the day we will be joining a coach-load of activists from London for a short time of remembrance at the memorial for deceased migrants at 12:30 pm, not far from the Premier Inn on the Dover seafront. Further details will be posted on our website during the coming days. If you are in the area, please do join us – and encourage others to do the same.
We hope to launch a joint declaration on World Refugee Day, setting out our common concerns and our vision for improvements.
Justice for Mawda.
You may recall that a year ago we described the tragic death of baby Mawda who was just 2 years old when she was shot by Belgian police through the window of a van in which she was travelling. As far as we are aware no policeman has yet been brought to trial and this tragic incident is a reminder of the fragility of the lives of migrants even at that young age. Please remember her in your thoughts and your prayers, along with the family who mourn her passing, and so many other children who have died when seeking sanctuary.
Lord Dubs is back in the news – it was gratifying to see reports that Lord Dubs, in his 86th year, has just made a return trip to Calais to find out what has happened to the ‘Dubs children’ who were promised a future in the UK – many are still languishing either in tents or in ramshackle accommodation. He was particularly struck by the accounts of one boy who had witnessed the death of 120 children as they crossed the Sahara. We all need to keep campaigning to ensure that the UK government meets even its pitiable target of accepting less than 500 children instead of leaving them to face their fate in Northern France.
With renewed thanks for your concern and support,
Ben and 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 more 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 www.seekingsanctuary.weebly.com