Scottish Bishop to visit Calais migrant camp

Bishop William Nolan, Bishop of Galloway, and President of Justice and Peace Scotland, will travel to Calais with Danny Sweeney, Justice and Peace Scotland’s Social Justice Co-ordinator, on 28th and 29th November, to the visit the migrant camp there. The visit is in unity with the work of the Catholic community in Calais, along with many others, and in solidarity with those in Calais seeking asylum and safety from situations of persecution and conflict.

The Justice and Peace Scotland representatives will be guests of the Maria Stobkova Catholic Worker House in Calais, where local authorities have imposed measures to limit the distribution of food, provisions for showers, and possession of tents for migrants, to prevent the establishment of another camp.

The visit is in response to increasing numbers of predominately unaccompanied young people returning following the destruction of the migrant camp, usually referred to as ‘the jungle’ in October last year.

Speaking ahead of the visit Bishop Nolan said; “Though the migrant camp has been removed from Calais, and the media have moved on, there are still vulnerable young people there, unaccompanied children. Our visit is to see at first hand the plight of these children and to highlight the need for the British and French governments to care for them not neglect them.”

Danny Sweeney said:

“The situation in Calais, and other areas of northern France should be a national shame to the UK. We take in far fewer refugees than other European nations, particularly the countries which border conflict regions who bear the brunt of the current situation.

“Pope Francis has recently reminded church and political leaders across Europe that we have to reflect seriously on Jesus’s words ‘I was a stranger, and you welcomed me’. To leave these children forgotten and abandoned in Europe, at risk of abuse, exploitation, and modern slavery is a damning indictment of our country. As we approach the season of Advent, all of us need to remember who we’re seeing when we set up our nativity cribs – a displaced, migrant family searching for shelter, who had to flee the powers of the state to Egypt to keep Jesus safe.”

Bishop Nolan is undertaking this visit in order to witness first-hand the work being done to support young migrant and asylum seekers in Calais by the Catholic community and others, and to meet with those living in Calais seeking sanctuary. The visit is also to express solidarity with the young people who appear to have been abandoned by both French and British governments, and raise the profile of this issue in both public and political discourse in Scotland. Bishop Nolan will be joined in Calais by Bishop Paul McAleenan who chairs the English and Welsh Bishops’ Office for Migration Policy.

Honor Hania, Chair, Justice and Peace Scotland, said “As a strongly prolife organisation, Justice and Peace Scotland has watched with growing concern the situation for refugees in and around Calais, with especial concern for the children. We hope this visit will raise awareness of their plight and that something positive and practical can be done to help.”

A detailed briefing on the visit is included, below.

 

Briefing

Background

(This background summary is taken from the Human Rights Watch report ‘Like Living in Hell’; Police abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais, July 2017 .) Until the end of October 2016, a sprawling, squalid shantytown on the edge of Calais, known colloquially as “the Jungle,” held between 6,000 and 10,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, including many unaccompanied children. Many had fled persecution or violence in their home countries. All had endured significant hardship on their journeys to Europe and on to northern France. The location of the camp near Calais reflected a desire by many of those living there to continue their journey on to the United Kingdom. City authorities considered the camp an eyesore and regarded the men, women, and children staying there as nuisances. Aid workers, United Nations officials, and casual visitors were shocked by the deprivation they saw there. In a larger sense, the camp was a symbol of Europe’s shame, a visible reminder of the European Union’s failure to find a humane, fair, and coordinated approach to migration and to refugee flows.

In October 2016, the camp was demolished and its residents relocated to emergency shelters across France. National and local authorities hoped that its closure would mark a new chapter for the city and the region, and possibly for France’s treatment of refugees. Many of the asylum seekers and migrants who left the camp shared those hopes. As relocations began, groups of camp residents packed their bags and assembled with varying degrees of resignation, trepidation, optimism, and ebullience. Some waved French flags. By the end of the week, over 5,000 children and adults had been relocated, a significant achievement. The prefect of Pas-de-Calais, Fabienne Buccio, declared, “Our mission is accomplished.”

Nevertheless, it was obvious even then that her statement was premature. Aid groups had warned that authorities were systematically undercounting unaccompanied children in the weeks leading up to the camp’s closure, raising the risk that they would be unprepared for the numbers that would need alternative accommodation. At least 100 unaccompanied children and hundreds of adults were still waiting in line to be relocated when authorities announced that registration had ended, meaning that they spent another night in the camp. The new centres French authorities set up for unaccompanied children were not part of the regular child protection service, where unaccompanied migrant children are usually placed. These facilities, known as Reception and Orientation Centers for Unaccompanied Minors (Centres d’accueil et d’orientation pour mineurs isolés, CAOMI), were set up at short notice, with staff hired rapidly. The last of these centres closed in March 2017, with at least 700 children having run away, or left without any arrangements in place for their care, or relocation.

In March 2017, local authorities in Calais barred humanitarian groups from distributing food, water, blankets, and clothing to asylum seekers and migrants. A court suspended those orders on March 22, finding that they amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The French ombudsman (Défenseur des droits) has also criticized these and other measures taken by local authorities, concluding that they contribute to “inhuman living conditions” for asylum seekers and migrants in Calais.

As of the end of June, authorities were allowing a single two-hour humanitarian distribution each day, in an industrial area near the former migrant camp. In addition, a local priest permitted a lunchtime distribution to take place on church grounds. Police regularly disrupted other distributions of humanitarian assistance. Aid workers described one occasion when gendarmes bearing rifles surrounded them, and multiple occasions where riot police otherwise forcibly blocked migrants’ access to aid workers and knocked food out of the workers’ hands when they attempted to give food to migrants. Aid workers have begun to photograph or film these acts by police, as they are allowed to do under French law. In response, they say police have at times seized their phones for short periods, deleting or examining the contents without permission. Aid workers also say that police regularly subject them to document checks—sometimes two or more in the space of several hours. Identity checks are lawful in France but are open to abuse by police. In Calais, identity checks of aid workers have delayed humanitarian distributions. They also prevent aid workers from observing how police treat migrants when they disperse people after distributions.

By July 2017 (nine months after French authorities closed “the Jungle,”) between 400 and 500 asylum seekers and other migrants are living on the streets and in wooded areas in and around the northern French city. Investigations have documented police abuse of asylum seekers and migrants, their disruption of humanitarian assistance, and their harassment of aid workers—behaviour that appears to be at least partly driven by a desire to keep down migrant numbers. Human Rights Watch found that police in Calais, particularly the riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS), routinely use pepper spray on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose no threat; regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing; and sometimes use pepper spray on migrants’ food and water. Police also disrupt the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Police abuses have a negative impact on access to child services and migrants’ desire and ability to apply for asylum.

 

Purpose of Visit

Bishop Nolan is undertaking this visit in order to witness first-hand the work being done to support young migrant and asylum seekers in Calais by the Catholic community and others, and to meet with those living in Calais seeking sanctuary. The visit is also to express solidarity with the young people who appear to have been abandoned by both French and British governments, and raise the profile of this issue in both public and political discourse in Scotland.

Speaking at the recent COMECE conference ‘(Re-)Thinking Europe’ Pope Francis reminded us that “Christians are called to meditate seriously on Jesus’ words: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).  Especially when faced with the tragedy of displaced persons and refugees, we must not forget that we are dealing with persons, who cannot be welcomed or rejected at our own pleasure, or in accordance with political, economic or even religious ideas.“ The weekend before the visit Pope Francis released his message for World Day of Peace 2018, through the Migrants and Refugees section of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development (the Vatican department which the work of Justice and Peace Scotland falls under). The theme for this message is “Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace ” where Francis teaches that “In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands.”

 

Itinerary

Monday 27th November

Bishop Nolan and Danny Sweeney will travel to Calais, arriving in the evening at Maria Skobtsova House.

Tuesday 28th November

The day will be spent with the community of Maria Skobtsova House, including volunteers and young migrants, providing a first-hand experience of the situation in Calais, hearing the testimony and experiences of those who are there.

Wednesday 29th November

Bishop Nolan and Danny will be joined by Bishop Paul McAleenan (Westminster Diocese, and Head of CBCEW Office for Migration Policy) and staff, including specialists on human trafficking/ modern slavery. In the morning a meeting will take place with the team from Secour Catholique (Caritas France) Thursday 30th November (St Andrew’s Day) Bishop Nolan and Danny return to Scotland.

 

Motion in the Scottish Parliament

Linda Fabiani MSP has offered to put forward a motion in Parliament to coincide with the visit of the Justice and Peace Scotland team.