Columban JPIC was represented at an event in Dover – ‘People Not Walls’ – during World Refugee Day on 20 June 2019. It called on British and French authorities to stop funding the “inhumane and punishing conditions” for refugees stranded in Northern France.
The event was organised and supported by Seeking Sanctuary, Westminster and Southwark Justice and Peace Commissions, the Catholic Worker and the Anglican diocese of Canterbury.
A full-day programme included a service at the sea-front remembering those who have lost their lives at sea in attempting to seek security in the UK, and a silent witness with banners at a roundabout for traffic leaving the port. There were plenty of hoots of support from passing cars. In the major Anglo-French initiative, migrants and their supporters also gathered simultaneously across the channel at Calais, protesting at conditions they have to live in and alleged excessive force against them by French police. Despite the high-profile closure of the so-called ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais, migrants have remained in makeshift camps along the north coast of France.
remembering those who have died in attempts to cross the Channel
Events in Dover begin early afternoon with a gathering of around 40 people – including Ellen Teague of Columban JPIC – at the migrants’ memorial at the Dover seafront. This remembers those who have died in attempts to cross the Channel, including 58 Chinese who perished in the back of a lorry arriving at Dover in 2000. The cross-Channel migrant issue has seen migrants often trying to reach Britain in dinghies and rigid-hulled inflatable boats. Landings, or arrivals by rescue, have happened at Dover and along that stretch of coast. Despite the sunshine, the choppy sea and winds underlined the perilous nature of the journey desperate migrants make to try and cross the Channel. Fr Joe Ryan, Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace, reminded that 70 million people are displaced worldwide, a rising number of people needing refuge from warm, conflict, persecution and environmental disasters.
The seafront memorial quotes Pope Francis that “every migrant has a name, a face and a story”.
The group then visited the offices of SAMPHIRE- a small organisation which helps Ex-Detainees, as and when they are released by port authorities. Samphire runs a community engagement project, working with migrant and British communities to improve social cohesion, and better inclusion of migrants into Dover and surrounding areas of Kent. The small staff hosted an inspiring question and answer session. They clearly deliver a high-quality service to assist former detainees with the difficulties they face, primarily via a telephone helpline, and they run an excellent schools’ outreach programme.
The day rounded off with a 6pm service at the 11th century Church of St Margaret-at-Cliffe in the village closest to the French coast. It was led by Revd. Diane Fawcett whose sensitive homily was rooted in her experience of supporting refugees in Calais and on the Greek island of Lesbos. A similar event took place at the Plage Bleriot beach at Calais. Then a lantern walk – which parishioners joined in – followed towards Dover’s famous White Cliffs. As the sun was setting a ‘Love Knows No Borders’ banner was displayed and the ‘People Not Walls’ Declaration read, a declaration of solidarity with all migrants. The group at Dover waved across to Calais and the French coast, which could be seen just 22 miles away.
The initiative ‘People Not Walls’ is a call to both British and French governments to replace the security-focused approach with a humanitarian alternative. It is summed up by the words: “Stop investing in walls and start investing in people”. Columbans in Britain have signed the declaration.
Barbara Kentish, interim coordinator for People Not Walls, 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.” Many paid tribute to Phil Kerton and Ben Bano of Seeking Sanctuary and Southwark Justice and Peace for their faithful response to the plight of so many so near to British shores.