Update from Calais by Seeking Sanctuary

We are including this news update on our website to spread the word about the situation in Calais. The original article appeared on the Seeking Sanctuary website – click here to visit and find out more about their work. We will be holding a Spring appeal for the Calais Catholic Worker, Maria Skobtsova House, after Easter – watch out for more details!

UPDATE: The hazards of seeking sanctuary

Dear Friends

seekingsanctuaryAs we started to prepare this update, news came through of a 16 year old boy who has been blinded in one eye through police use of rubber bullets. The boy was shot during the attack with gas and rubber bullets against refugees who were trying to recuperate their possessions before the police destroyed their tents set up near the food distribution place in rue Verrotieres. He suffered severe injuries to his face and there is a risk for his remaining eye. And on recent form, he’ll sent straight back to the appalling squalor of wasteland where he has been staying. The two friends who accompanied him to make a complaint at the Police Station were themselves arrested for several hours. All this just after the French President’s visit to Calais. It is in the context of reports that the Police have become particularly heavy handed during the daily distribution of food and clothes. It seems that they were determined to break up the tents which provide a minimum of basic shelter and were not hesitating to use pepper spray to render the tents and blankets unusable.

So why the surge in arrivals in Calais, currently estimated to take the number there over 800? In part this is due to a cruel deception on the part of UK and French politicians. The news that the UK had agreed to be more flexible in accepting child migrants under the Dubs agreement and speed up the processing of applications travelled fast, with the result that many young people had their hopes raised, and made for Calais, only for them to be dashed. The new UK/French ‘accord’ has yet to bring any visible results. We are also very disturbed by the inter-racial violence being reported – it is a sad fact that violence increases when those involved lose all dignity and sense of hope. Apparently trafficking gangs run by Afghans are angry when Eritreans get into lorries that they plan to use for profit, or attract attention to areas where they wish to operate. Whatever the origin of this dispute, interest from traffickers seems to have lead to gunfire and several serious injuries.

The result is a growing number of very vulnerable young people who are at risk of being trafficked and sold into modern slavery. (We are often struck by the paradox of the firmness of the rhetoric against modern slavery here in the UK and our failure to denounce the abuse and trafficking of children just 20 miles from our shores). Hence the petition initiated by UNICEF calling on the authorities to reunite children – you will find details here.

Death is also a probability. Back in June 2009, 59 young Chinese were found dead in the back of a lorry in Dover. Since then the total deaths on either side of the Channel have risen to over 200, as people attempt to reach the UK in order to claim asylum – which can be done only on British soil.

And yet in all the squalor of the current situation, human dignity and optimism can still prevail. On his recent visit to Calais, Phil was pleased to see the new Day Centre near the centre of Calais run by Secours Catholique in full operation. People could relax, chat, learn new skills and play board games or get their hair cut in a warm hall, with a video cinema running in a small room alongside and a separate space for women to meet and upcycle damaged garments, which the young men had been proud to show off in a fashion show video. Phil was accompanied by young people from the ‘Bruderhof’ Community in South East Kent, to deliver blankets that they had made and spend time as volunteers with the Refugee Community Kitchen and the Warehouse.

The Catholic Worker House had been filled far beyond comfortable capacity with young people desperate to get away from the recent inter-racial violence. And we were delighted to provide three key organisations with the proceeds (€1320) of a very generous Christmas collection by a Catholic Parish in Suffolk. And for the future, if you are able to organise a collection, however modest, we will recommend NGO’s which can make best use of the money and arrange payment as required.

And so the future – will there be an amelioration of the situation in 2018? Only if those of us who feel passionate about the issues continue to put pressure on those in authority who can make a difference – on both sides of the Channel. The few children who have so far reached the UK were only admitted after huge pressure from those felt it their duty to make their voice heard.

Ben as a local Councillor recently took part in his local Holocaust Memorial Day observance – and was reminded of the remarkable efforts of Sir Nicholas Winton in the 1930’s to bring children out of danger into the UK through the ‘kindertransports’. It’s this kind of initiative that we need again in the turbulent and often intolerant nature of our politics over 70 years later.


Building Britain’s Welcome – a training with Safe Passage

As part of the Refugees Welcome initiative, Safe Passage (linked with Citizens UK and supported by Justice and Peace), will hold training on February 24th at Camden School for Girls in North London.  Workshops will range from how to campaign in the forthcoming local elections, to how to involve your MP, run ESOL classes, fundraise and more.  SafePassage Sign up via link:  https://actionnetwork.org/events/building-britains-welcome

Ethiopian hymns, the Dubs amendment and bivvy bags – Update on Calais

PrayerSpaceOn Sunday evening in Calais I was present at an Ethiopan Orthodox community service, at which a ‘Calais migrant’ officiated for his compatriots. Young men were quiet, prayerful, but sang powerfully their well-known hymns.

I was representing Westminster Justice and Peace which has supported the Catholic Worker house there for over 2 years, and which has just run an appeal for unaccompanied migrant children. Our astonishing success (£13000 plus) supports this fragile facility. Although, while our help is important, Brother Johannes maintains that the young people’s resilience is the priority. Regular prayers in the House support their identity and faith in this time of trial.

When we started raising money, it was seen as an emergency, one-off action. We are having to revise our assessment, and to understand that supporting refugees in Nord/Pas de Calais as the region is called, may be for the longterm. Calais is far from empty of refugees. With the burning of the Grande Synthe camp at Dunkirk and earlier razing of the Jungle, many camp in the dunes or woods, while the Calais authorities are taking aggressive steps to prevent another mass informal camp growing up. We reported back in September that the national police are raiding the Calais region to move migrants on, sometimes violently, even with pepper gas (Nobody should live like this, by the Human Trafficking Foundation details the situation).

The UK border sited on the other side of the Channel disguises the reality that there a huge metal grid, called by French human rights groups the ‘Wall of Shame’, ‘protecting’ the UK from invasions, but in practice preventing legitimate and urgent asylum being offered.

It is hard to know the numbers involved, and counting a population on the move is difficult but according to the Guardian,

‘The charity Help Refugees conducts monthly headcounts and estimates that there are at least 600 migrants in Calais, around 300 in Dunkirk and another 200 in small camps along the coast. The Refugee Community Kitchen, which cooks food for people living in small groups in wasteland around Calais and Dunkirk, says it is distributing 2,500 meals a day… The Calais prefecture said that it believed there were 450 migrants in the Calais area’. (Guardian 10th Aug 2017)

The Catholic Worker Drop-in centre was recently offering 100 showers a week as well as clothes washes in an impressive turnaround. On my visit I helped fold laundry which seemed to come in never-ending bundles.

The recent good news reported in ICN about better processing of young people was very welcome. Safe Passage organiser Juliet Kilpin wrote to us after our lobby of MPs,

‘I have some great news to share with you. Today the UK and French governments announced that they have opened a centre near Calais to enable the proper processing of unaccompanied child refugees. Children will be able to claim asylum safely and legally. While this centre is open, children with family in the UK won’t have to risk their lives making dangerous attempts to cross the channel to be with loved ones. Instead they will be able to have their case considered by British authorities in Calais. We understand that children with no family in the UK will also be able to be assessed at this new centre.’

This was indeed hopeful, as was the Parliamentary debate on unaccompanied minors shortly afterwards and available via the Safe Passage link: http://safepassage.org.uk/news_posts/parliament-debate-on-calais-and-unaccompanied-minors-in-europe/

If you need your faith in Parliamentary procedure boosted, do watch this debate. We must of course hold government to account on this. Meanwhile, many agencies are championing the rights of migrants on our border, here, and across the Channel:

“Safe Passage” and “Help Refugees” are helping Lord Alf Dubs to call for full implementation of both his amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act (meant to allow 3,000 minors to come to the UK) and the EU’s Dublin III Regulation (allowing children to join family in UK). Seeking Sanctuary continues to take clothing and sleeping bags across to Calais, while the Auberge des Migrants, Secours Catholique, Care4Calais and others continue to battle with the Calais authorities for the right to distribute food, water and clothing on the streets. Have a look at all of their impressive work online.

As previously, we suggest that those who want to take goods should look at the Seeking Sanctuary website for current ‘asks’, and if willing to take goods to Calais, should head for the Auberge des Migrants. We at Justice and Peace will shortly launch a Christmas appeal for the Catholic Worker house, and send a new list of requirements, including sleeping bags and ‘bivvy bags’ to enable sleeping outdoors on the Calais coast. This is a serious humanitarian situation which looks set to run and run.

Human Rights in a post-Brexit era

Barbara Kentish


Sr Liz O’Donohoe with 3 students from Queen Mary College who study Human Rights

Around 60 people took part in the Westminster Justice and Peace annual day on Human Rights on Saturday October 28th. The Commission had decided that in this uncertain European transition period, it was time to reflect on the state of human rights across the continent, particularly, but not only, with reference to the migrant and refugee phenomenon. The session began with prayers around the Lampedusa Cross, symbol of welcome onto European shores.


Julie Ward says EU is a Peace Project

Julie Ward MEP for the North West opened with the emphatic statement that the EU was first and foremost a Peace project in its conception, not simply a set of trading agreements. She pointed out in passing that there was not a European refugee crisis, as it is called, but a crisis of solidarity and humanity. Julie came late to politics, only becoming an MEP in 2014 after much campaigning through the arts, on, amongst other things, women’s issues and trafficking. She expressed outrage that no guarantees had been made to EU citizens living abroad whether in the UK or other EU countries. The so-called ‘Henry VIII law would short-circuit discussion and implement government wishes without challenge. The EU is a powerful human rights institution, and while we will remain with the Convention on Human Rights, we will leave the Charter of Fundamental Rights which strengthens many basic rights including those concerning data protection, children, disability, and workplace discrimination. The global achievements of the EU on human rights are not reported back sufficiently in the UK.

Patrick Riordan says the ground of human dignity is the basis of all rights

Dr Patrick Riordan SJ, lecturer in philosophy at Heythrop College, gave a scholarly examination of what we mean by rights, which, he explained, are discussed in very different registers. Lawyers talk about rights as principles to be defended legally. Philosophers try to establish whether there are intrinsic rights to being human, such as for water, air, food, while rights can also be claimed by individuals simply because they have a very strong wish for something. As to the question of why we believe in rights, this depends on what we believe to be the origin of human dignity, – which Christians see as deriving from our being made in God’s image. The dignity of the human provides the common language of rights.


Nicolette Busuttil of JRS reminded us that standing up for rights costs us personally

Nicolette Busuttil, of the Jesuit Refugee Service, gave a vivid presentation of the relationship of her work to the rights which for many asylum seekers, are being violated: rights to safety, to work, to have a home, to asylum from persecution and so on. She spoke honestly of how reaching out to refugees can touch us in a very personal way: a man claiming asylum had had to be admitted to hospital for a serious medical procedure, and rang her shortly beforehand, to ask if he could name her as the next-of-kin. He had no-one near to hand when in such a vulnerable situation. Reaching out demands faith and courage, and defending rights becomes a very practical matter.


l to r Fr Joe Ryan, Julie Ward MEP, Dr Patrick Riordan SJ, Nicolette Busuttil, JRS, Barbara Kentish

After a delicious lunch provided by St John Vianney parish caterers, participants chose from a variety of workshops on action for human rights by partner agencies: the Apostleship of the Sea, the Catholic Association for Racial Justice, the London Catholic Worker, Safe Passage, London Mining Network, Haringey Migrant Support Network and Taxpayers against Poverty, and Human Rights in a Brazilian community.


Remember the Calais Children! – Parliamentary Debate


Remember the Calais Children!  – Parliamentary Debate


Safe Passage, a lobbying group allied to Citizens UK, is urging as many as possible to write to their MPs, asking them to attend a Parliamentary debate on October 24th, about the specific issue of stranded young migrants in Calais.  It is known that the numbers run into 100s, and that they are being very roughly treated by French police, who are implementing a policy of not allowing a resurgence of the ‘Jungle’.   To abandon children to this treatment so near to home is a scandal, and UK immigration law is being flouted, as we do not honour the Dubs Amendment, which would allow any unaccompanied minor to enter, and the Dublin 3 Agreement, which would allow one to enter if he or she had family in the UK.

What’s the ASK?

Safe Passage asks as many as possible

a) to write to their MPs (helpful bullet points will follow, as well as being on their website), asking to meet  them and ask them to attend and speak at the debate on October 24th,   AND

b) to be part of the action at Westminster which starts at 12 noon, with a ‘World Citizens’ choir of activists and refugees, followed by lobbying, all before the debate itself.  

Justice and Peace will shortly publish suggested bullet points to go in your letter, (it’s suggested that this should not be an email, but a paper, even handwritten! letter, as this gets taken more seriously), but meanwhile try and plan a letter writing session with friends, to get a letter in the post arriving at Parliament by October 20th.

See website www.safepassage.org.uk  

Very successful appeal for unaccompanied minors in Calais to be extended!

Donations arriving in CalaisWe are very grateful to all those who were able to respond, despite the holiday period, to our appeal for goods, clothes and cash for young people in Calais.  Our main contact in Calais is Brother  Johannes Maertens, who with other Catholic Worker members is running a small house for young people stranded in Calais with no means of moving on.  We raised an astonishing £4300 in 5 weeks, and the amount has shot up again in the last week.  Brother Johannes was very grateful and continues to do sterling work there.   We have extended the deadline for donations to November 5th, for those who would still like to contribute.  Here is the link to our Justgiving page.

We are also supporting other charities, such as Secours Catholique in France, and Safe Passage here in the UK are working on the long term issues such as caring for the other migrants (including women and children) drifting back to Calais, and working for legal entry for those who qualify under the Dubs Amendment and Dublin 3 agreement.

Calais: Nobody should live like this – report from Westminster J&P visit

‘The overwhelming evidence of violence inflicted by the French authorities and the police on children is one of the more shocking findings of this inquiry, whether it be the indiscriminate use of truncheons or the tear gassing of children and their sleeping bags. The UK must work with our European counterparts to ensure that in all cases safeguarding processes are prioritised, the rights of the child and the child’s best interests are upheld’. (‘Nobody should live like this’ Report of Human Trafficking Foundation)

On a wet, cold, end-of-August day, four members of Westminster Justice and Peace left London for the Catholic Worker house in Calais. It was our third or fourth ‘day-trip’ in two years. We arrived to find Brother Johannes tired and preoccupied with health and practical issues in the house. A volunteer sister had accompanied someone to hospital, while some young people were waiting for showers and clothes washing. Johannes took us quickly to a point near the former ‘Jungle’ camp, where several charities were serving hot meals to 40 or 50 young people who looked damp and chilled in the un-summery weather. We had arrived at the tail end of the proceedings.

Help Refugees, Calais Kitchen, Auberge des Migrants and others have banded together to provide nearly 2000 meals a day (lunch and supper) to those who have come back to Calais still hoping to cross the Channel by one means or another. From there we were taken to the far side of the city to another industrial estate where these big charities take deliveries and have a giant industrial size kitchen to cook the meals in large steel containers. Brother Johannes is able to get a good deal of food for the house from this distribution centre.

We were able to tell this very energetic Franciscan brother about the generous donations from parishes and individuals who responded fast to his appeal, which Westminster J&P publicised at the end of July. We raised an astonishing £3,500-plus sum, which Brother Johannes will put towards the drop-in work of Maria Skobstova Catholic Worker House. The bills for electricity and water, alone, are shooting up as some weeks more than 100 showers and clothes-wash-and-dries are offered.

The charity Seeking Sanctuary, has been monitoring and helping the migrant situation in Calais for so many years. They quote the Human Trafficking Foundation as follows:

‘Rt Hon Fiona Mactaggart and Baroness Butler-Sloss GBE, recent Chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, oversaw the production of a report (ii) from an independent UK inquiry on 10th July, “Nobody deserves to live this way”. It examines the situation of separated and unaccompanied minors in parts of Europe, including France, and was sponsored by the Human Trafficking Foundation. It concludes that protecting children on the move is an issue of child protection and prevention of serious crime as well as immigration. There is overwhelming evidence of violence inflicted by French authorities and police, whether the indiscriminate use of truncheons or the tear gassing of children and their sleeping bags. With the premature end of the “Dubs” scheme and a police-induced mistrust of officials, young people see their routes to the UK as paying people smugglers or becoming entangled with traffickers. The UK should devote resources to devising legal schemes for transferring young people, with more transparency in procedures, improved liaison with charities working with children, and better dissemination of relevant information in appropriate language and formats. (see www.seekingsanctuary.weebly.com for further reports and information).

It is clear from just one short visit, that proper procedures are essential so as to respond to the needs and demands of these young people. A Home Office presence in Calais to deal with applications is a minimum requirement. Indeed, the report, Nobody should live like this maintains.

The administration of the Dubs scheme cannot be a solely London based exercise it requires multi-agency teams of specialists on the ground where most children are located, including Calais and Dunkirk to build confidence in safe routes and resistance to traffickers.

After seeing young people abandoned on the edges of the Calais industrial estates, we couldn’t agree more.

The summer in Calais has been difficult but volunteers are very worried about what will happen to the young migrants on the north French coast once the cold weather sets in.

Help a Calais Minor!

Justice and Peace has launched an appeal for the young people in Calais who are surviving hand-to-mouth as the French authorities try to prevent any humanitarian aid on the streets. See our newsletter for more information.



You can contribute via our Justgiving page –


We at Justice and Peace will also be collecting items as requested by Brother Johannes, who lists them as follows:

Donations and gifts are welcome     We can use:    For Personal use:  Shower gel, shampoo, toothbrushes, body cream or oil (like Vaseline, Nivea), Socks 36-43  Boxer shorts S/M  (No Large please), Sport shoes 39-40-41, Pocket nail cutter  (Also helpful: Power bank mobiles).   


Clothes for young men are welcome, BUT PLEASE FOR NOW ONLY small size T-shirts and jeans!  WE HAVE ENOUGH TOWELS AND TOOTHPASTE thank you!   For the house:   Disinfectant,  All-purpose cleaner, Anti-scalant, Toilet cleaner, Washing powder or liquid (mostly color wash, Laundry Stain remover, Softener, Calgon, Washing-up liquid, Tablets and liquid for the dishwasher, Toilet paper.   Food:   Ground Coffee  and lots of MILK – the youngest ones really drink a lot of it. (J&P advise: Buy it at French supermarkets if you visit, or send money.

For small amounts, send the money via our Justgiving website.

For large amounts (making it worth paying the exchange rate), go to Maria Skobstova bank account direct:

Association Maria Skobtsova.  Here are the bank details:  IBAN: FR7615629026250002172700193   BIC: CMCIFR2A Bank: CCM Calais, 85 rue Mollien, 62100 Calais, France



by Brother Johannes Maertens

The house offers emergency hospitality to young and vulnerable refugees in the Calais area and Justice and Peace have visited several times in the past (Ed). 

Next to accommodation we offer also on almost a daily base to young and vulnerable refugees a shower, a meal, tea, do their laundry and we offer them to spend some time in a house.  Through the offer of this basic help we can accompany more than 10 unaccompanied minors under 16 and many other young refugees.  As we are serving more people than ever before we are using more of our resources than planned.    

Donations and gifts are welcome     We can use:    For Personal use:  Shower gel, shampoo, toothbrushes, body cream or oil (like Vaseline, Nivea), Socks 36-43  Boxer shorts S/M  (No Large please), Sport shoes 39-40-41, Pocket nail cutter  (Also helpful: Power bank mobiles).   Clothes for young men are welcome, BUT PLEASE FOR NOW ONLY small size T-shirts and jeans!  WE HAVE ENOUGH TOWELS AND TOOTHPASTE thank you!   For the house:   Disinfectant,  All-purpose cleaner, Anti-scalant, Toilet cleaner, Washing powder or liquid (mostly color wash, Laundry Stain remover, Softener, Calgon, Washing-up liquid, Tablets and liquid for the dishwasher, Toilet paper.   Food:   Ground Coffee  and lots of MILK – the youngest ones really drink a lot of it. (J&P advise: Buy it at French supermarkets if you visit, or send money, as suggested below) Financial support is welcome!   Association Maria Skobtsova.  Here are the bank details:  IBAN: FR761562902625ms. 0002172700193   BIC: CMCIFR2A Bank: CCM Calais, 85 rue Mollien, 62100 Calais

NB  Justice and Peace will probably make a trip towards the end of August to take gifts as listed above.  Please get in touch if you wish to contribute items. Barbara Kentish

Bishop Paul McAleenan responds to Trump Travel Ban

‘Justice Violated and Hardship Imposed’ by Trump Travel Ban

‘What has President Trump’s travel ban achieved? Initially amazement and confusion, now as it is enforced extreme hardship precisely for those to whom we should be offering hope and a chance of a new life. Opposition to this decision goes beyond any political agenda, it is being rejected by those who clearly see that with this ban justice is being violated and hardship wilfully imposed.

‘Those who have the welfare of all humanity, especially refugees, at heart, must continue to let President Trump know that his protectionist policies are not the way forward. These policies do not correspond with the rest of the world’s attempt to alleviate the hardship of those who are long familiar with violence, fear and impoverishment.

‘One of the principles of Catholic social teaching is solidarity and the promotion of peace. Never was there a better time to proclaim it.  Those who believe in it will feel obliged to oppose President Trump’s policies, the proposed wall between Mexico and the US, and now the travel ban.’

President Trump issued the executive order entitled, ‘Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States’, on Friday 27 January, International Holocaust Memorial Day.

The executive order suspends the refugee admission programme for 120 days and prioritises refugee claims of religious-based persecution, provided it is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. It halts the admission of Syrian refugees and restricts entry to no more than 50,000 refugees in the fiscal year 2017.

The executive order further imposes a travel ban on nationals from a number of countries of ‘particular concern’ (seven, predominately Muslim, countries have been named) and introduces a vetting system for everybody entering the US.

This statement originally appeared on the Diocese of Westminster website, www.rcdow.org.uk