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Canterbury rallies support for refugees

21 June 2019


Lord Dubs (centre) at a protest this week

Lord Dubs (centre) at a protest this week

A NEW initiative supported by the diocese of Canterbury is calling on the French and British authorities to stop funding the “inhumane and punishing conditions” for refugees stranded in northern France.

The initiative, People Not Walls, is made up of French and British civil society, faith groups, and NGOs supporting displaced people living a “perilous existence” in northern France. This includes the faith organisation Seeking Sanctuary, the diocese of Canterbury, Help Refugees, and Refugee Rights Europe.

Its declaration reads: “Forcibly displaced people stranded in northern France and dreaming of sanctuary in Britain find themselves in situations of extreme vulnerability. They face inhumane and punishing conditions, with considerable police violence.

“Tactics such as the use of tear gas, the systematic destruction of shelters, sleep deprivation, and arrests, appear to reflect a deliberate strategy to create a highly hostile environment.

“The authorities have not taken sufficient measures to meet the basic needs of the exiles. In particular, too little is done to cater for the needs of children, women, and families. Pushed deeper into the woods and dunes, living in ditches and on rubbish tips, exiles are relegated to the margins of society, out of sight, out of mind — but not out of our minds.”

It also rebukes the British Government for funding a policy of “intimidation and obstruction from the authorities” along the Channel. “The policy not only has extremely high financial costs, but also human costs,” it says. This includes the lack of safe passage to the UK, which, it says, is forcing refugees to take life-risking journeys across the water.

“Our call is simple: Stop investing in walls and start investing in people.”

The declaration has been signed by the Church of England Chaplain and Refugee Projects Officer in Pas de Calais, the Revd Kirrilee Reid. “After my first few months ministering among all parts of the community in Pas de Calais, it is abundantly clear that we need to see an end to the securitisation approach in the UK/French border zone, respect for right to asylum at the border, and to open safe migratory passages to the UK,” she said.

“Moreover, we need a fresh approach to these issues, rooted in respect of human rights and dignity to those seeking a better future or sanctuary from oppression, persecution, and conflict.”

Events were due to take place on both sides of the Channel yesterday, on World Refugee Day, including a vigil and walk from St Margarets-at-Cliffe, Dover, and a “peaceful gathering” of residents, refugees, and support workers on the beach in Calais.

The Archdeacon of Maidstone, the Ven. Stephen Taylor, said: “As a church, we will continue to provide hope and sanctuary for all those in need, and those who are vulnerable, both home and abroad. As a diocese, we will continue to keep the plight of refugees on the national agenda and work with those who share our commitment for change.”

The refugee officer for the diocese of Canterbury, Domenica Pecoraro, said: “We are all one. This is our message of love and solidarity with those stranded in Calais, in Europe, in the Mediterranean, and with those who have reached safety in the UK. Today and every day, our diocese lives in spirit and action with those forcibly displaced from their homes.”

The interim co-ordinator of People Not Walls, Barbara Kentish, said: “We’ve come together in an act of solidarity across the Channel, calling on the French and British governments to bring about meaningful change. It’s time to show that love knows no borders.”

New UK resettlement scheme. At the start of World Refugee Week, on Monday, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced a new UK refugee resettlement scheme set to start in 2020, which is when the current scheme, Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement, concludes.

In a meeting with faith leaders in Westminster to discuss resettlement, asylum, and faith-based persecution, Mr Javid pledged to resettle 5000 refugees in the first year.

The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the announcement. He said: “From 2020, refugees resettled through community sponsorship will be in addition to the Government’s commitment. I call on faith leaders and communities to make the most of this opportunity to change the lives of more refugees, and transform communities in the process.”

The charity Safe Passage called for clarity, however, about how many children would be offered sanctuary in the UK, and where they would be resettled from. It reported that it had since secured pledges from local authorities, which, it said, equated to 1170 places for child refugees.

Safe Passage joined Help Refugees, Lord Dubs, and supporters from across the UK for a demonstration in Parliament Square. The chief executive of Safe Passage, Eleanor Harrison, said: “In 2018, we discovered that just 20 unaccompanied children had been resettled as part of the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme, despite up to 3000 places being made available. . .

“The Home Secretary says that the new resettlement scheme will be broadened beyond the Middle East and North Africa, but has said nothing about whether Europe will be included.”

More than 68.5 million people in the world have been forced from their homes. Of the almost 25.4 million refugees, more than half are under the age of 18.

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