Support for Refugees on the Northern Coast of France

Support for Refugees on the
Northern Coast of France

On the northern coast of France, from Calais to Dunkirk and beyond, thousands of people are sleeping rough in fields, parks and abandoned buildings. Sometimes with little or no shelter, sometimes with only flimsy and makeshift protection against the elements, they live from day to day attempting to get by. They are mostly people who have fled from war-ravaged, or drought/famine-stricken regions of Africa, such as Somalia and Libya, or from the war-torn Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.  They are mostly people who have undertaken a very long and perilous journey in order to try to arrive somewhere safe where they can restart their life.

The overwhelming majority of people displaced by wars, famine and other disasters, natural and created, stay in the region with which they identify and are familiar, or they relocate to a neighbouring country. For example, since 2011, Lebanon has taken in 1.5 million Syrians and Palestine refugees from Syria, accounting for 30 percent of Lebanon’s population, the highest concentration per capita of refugees in the world. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are 1.3 million people in Libya requiring humanitarian assistance, of whom 217,002 are ‘internally displaced’. Libya also hosts 43,113 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, people travelling insecure and dangerous routes to Europe. It can be inferred from these numbers that only a small proportion of refugees attempt to enter Europe, and only a fraction of these people trek across Europe to within sight of the Kent coast.

The UK is considered one of many desirable destinations for people wishing to escape the turmoil of civil war and the privations of drought and famine. One reason for wishing to relocate to the UK is because the England is much closer other anglophone countries such as Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Britain having had, until 50 years ago, an empire that covered a quarter of the globe, English is much more widely spoken throughout the world (established in 106 countries) than either Chinese (37 countries) and Spanish (31 countries), even though the latter two languages have more native speakers. A second reason for some people wanting to relocate to Britain is to join family and friends: if one is having to face culture-shock, it makes best sense to seek as much social support as possible. For those refugees who are willing to remain ‘undocumented’, the British reluctance to introduce identity cards enables some refugees to enter the informal economy in the UK, albeit that it opens them to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Among the thousands of refugees, for whom Calais and its environs are a final staging-post before embarking on a new life in the UK, there are unaccompanied children, as well as women, men and families. They live in desperate circumstances, and are frequently harassed by the French police. An array of charities has made it their business to provide the refugees with, among other things, food, protective clothing and some shelter. Quakers from Kent are among the many volunteers doing their best to deliver support. The pages that follow in this section are reports of support delivered by and witnessed by Kent Quakers.