WHEN Ben Bano began collecting items for migrants and asylum-seekers in Calais last year, he met with little enthusiasm.
“It was very difficult to raise interest,” he recalled on Tuesday. “It was not on people’s radar, and they felt quite conflicted about the whole thing.”
Today, as images of life in “the Jungle” are broadcast into British homes, a car journey every other month is no longer enough. Mr Bano has been “overwhelmed” by the response, and is grateful for an offer by a local religious community of storage space, and a van for transport.
His charity, Seeking Sanctuary, is a small operation in Kent which collects basic items for delivery to the warehouse of Secours Catholique, a Roman Catholic organisation whose work includes twice-weekly distributions to migrants in Calais.
The “number-one priority” is trainers, but other items sought include jeans (size 32 and 34 waist), blankets, toiletries, books and games, cooking utensils, and religious books, including the Qur’an and the Bible.
Mr Bano’s donors were initially a small number of RC churches in Kent, but he now describes the venture as “ecumenical”. Among those who have responded in the Church of England is a London priest, an honorary curate at St George-in-the-East, the Revd Tim Clapton, who began mobilising churches in Southwark last week. He now has a bicycle shed full of items donated by churches of various denominations, as well as by neighbours and a mosque.
“I have found overwhelming support,” he said on Tuesday. “People are saying that what is happening in Calais is not right. It is not a resolution for either the refugees or England. There is a real sense that people want action.”
Mr Bano is currently collecting items for a trip in October. During a visit to the Jungle this month, he observed some improvements, including latrines and showers, “although the conditions are squalid when rain arrives”.
NGOs, including Secours Catholique, have helped make shelters more resilient, and a basic school is now in operation for Sudanese children. French lessons are being provided by volunteers for those who have decided to apply for asylum in France, and Médecins du Monde is providing medical facilities.
“We are really looking at the long haul,” Mr Bano said. “The concern is that when all the news dies down, interest might die down as well.”
Theresa May signs Calais deal with French minister
THE Home Secretary, Theresa May, and the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, signed an agreement in Calais on Thursday, detaling new measures to alleviate the situation there.
Mrs May said that the declaration committed the UK and France to "a thorough security programme in Calais and Coquelles, combined with the continued unprecedented French police presence in the region.
"This will include further physical improvements in and around the tunnel and port areas, more CCTV, infra-red equipment, flood lighting and fencing, and more than 100 additional security guards."
She said that both countries must "relentlessly pursue and disrupt the callous criminal gangs" who traffick vulnerable people.
To this effect, both countries would appoint gold commanders to direct law enforcement against the gangs, and a joint control and command centre would be established in Calais.
The declaration commits to a joint-programme to ensure that trafficked or extremely vulnerable people are quickly identified and supported.
There is to also to be a joint project team, in Calais, to maximise work to return economic migrants to their home countries.
France was responsible for people wanting to claim asylum there, Mrs May said, "But we recognise the special circumstances of Calais as the closest port to the UK and today agreed the UK will provide France with additional expertise, capacity and additional funding in support."