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  • Writer's pictureLondon Catholic Worker

An update from the CW project in Calais, France

Calais in France is a French Sea port and city that links France with Britain by ferry and by the channel tunnel train. Refugees and migrants wanting to get to the UK from North-Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Kurdistan would mostly pass through Calais or one of its neighbouring harbours to go to the UK to ask for asylum. Britain is for many of them who already know some English or have friends, communities or relatives there the natural destination. As Britain keeps its borders closed for non-EU-nationals many refugees get stranded in the North of France waiting for a chance to cross the border to the UK. If they ask asylum or get registered in another EU country they lose their chance of asking asylum in the UK. With the “refugee crisis” in Europe the border controls have been tightened everywhere and it is estimated that about 6000 refugees are ‘stuck’ in the Calais area of the North of France. The last months the tensions have been rising all over Europe on refugees; and anti-immigrant sentiments have been agitated by politicians.

A small Catholic Worker house has been opened recently to be present amongst the refugees in Calais; this is in partnership with Caritas France, the Passionists UK, the London Catholic Worker and others.

Violence. The situation in the Calais ‘ghetto’ or the camp where refugees live is not getting better. As I spend more and more time meeting refugees, families and community leaders I am confronted with people living in fear of police violence in the camp (mainly teargas use at night even in the family area) and violence against refugees outside around the camp and in the city centre.

People actually feel safer inside the camp than outside and do not want to leave the camp alone anymore. While in the Dunkerq camp people feel very unsafe because of the presence of the human traffickers.

Two days ago on my way to the camp I talked with a young Afghan teenager who had been hit by somebody passing with a motorcycle. Although the French police apprehended 7 extremist this week that attacked refugees at night in the area of Calais, this comes late. The refugees feel strongly that some of the police are themselves behind the violence and refuse to protect them when they are attacked. Today three refugee residents of the camp are still missing; hospitals, jails, detention centres, families have been checked by charities and they haven't been found. One of the Afghan missing men is a father of two sons in Afghanistan, who keep on calling to people in the camp to know what happened to their father.

For the government this is "no-mans-land", these people do not matter. While the perimeter of the camp is surrounded by police to contain the refugees, refugees and charities have to organise like their own medical and ambulance services. Through court cases by charities/ngo some basic rights like really minimal sanitation has been forced.

Eviction. Last Friday the authorities have announced a ten day eviction notice and the demolishing of ‘half’ of the camp, this is actually the larger part where refugees live. The library, the school, the newly build youth centre, Saint Michaels Angel Orthodox Church and the small wooden shelters (also recently built!) of 2000 people will be destroyed. The authorities falsely claim only 800 people live in that zone. Everybody who has visited the camp knows differently. It is the most active part of the state sanctioned ghetto. But also the Ashram soup kitchen who daily feeds hundredes of people with a breakfast and a warm meal will be destroyed. Yesterday I spoke with Faith from the Ashram Kitchen and she is hopeless, because there is simply no place to move to and yet people will need warm food!

‘State sanctioned ghetto’: I use this term because the current jungle is the result of government policy and choises and not of refugees choices as some people think. While in March 2015 all other places spread around the Calais area and from the city of Calais were ‘cleared’ by the police of refugees, the refugees and charities working with refugees were only tolerated to ‘squat’ on this industrial wasteland; which is a toxic wasteland. Now the government ‘prefecture’ is going to use ‘squatting’ laws to evict the refugees they themself pushed there.

Personally I thought they actually would wait until late spring/summer to do this, not in winter, not with families with babies and children, not with all these teenagers…. It shows the inhuman face of government, the incapability of dealing with a refugee crisis that is not even so big of what is coming ahead of us if the war(s) don’t stop.

The politics of fear and racism have a price, a huge human price – my brothers and sisters in the jungle of Calais have walked/travelled already so many miles and suffered from war, danger, persecution, violence, poverty… to become victims of a greedy Europe? Yesterday I had a brief talk with a refugee from Aleppo in Syria, I guess he is not afraid of the French CRS, he must have seen worse in Syria – but does this ever stop for these people? My brothers in Christ, Hailé and Solomon, said they would stand with each other in peace – "they can come and hit them and kill them – but they will peacefully stand with each other." I guess they have been through enough already.

Please pray for:

  • The three missing refugees

  • For an end to the violence on refugees

  • For the protection of the camp and the places people built as home away from war and conflict

  • For a change of heart of politicians in France and Europe.

  • For an end of war in the Middle East.

And for a stronger Christian presence amongst our brother and sisters refugees and migrants, for enduring peace in our hearts, minds and the life’s of people here.

Yours faithfully, praying and longing for Gods Kingdom to comebr. JohannesSaint Maria Skobtsova House

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