I went to sleep last night listening to the midnight news and was suddenly very, electrically awake as a tiny news item announced violence in Calais as guns find their way into clashes between Eritrean and Afghani young men. Three different fights have broken out, 13 injured from iron bars and five in hospital with gun shot wounds.
What fresh hell is this.
But it's not fresh. Or at least, there is one new element for me because my daughter is there working to provide food and the fights broke out where food is distributed; I'm much too far away to even hug her, much less stand in front of a damn gun and try and protect her with a damn soup ladle, which any parent would do. I can't do anything. And I sit up in bed and am frozen as I listen, understanding she is in a now suddenly much more dangerous place than the tear gas and trench foot and systemic despair she has been tackling up to now; and at the same time I know we witness a barbarity we knew we knew we knew would happen had to happen as we stretch the tolerance of young men loosened both from the moderating effects of family and social structures and alone, unanchored, and far so far from home, *and* subjected to conditions which can only be described as physically and psychologically inhumane. What did we think would happen? We have every single ingredient you could possibly want if you want to make a toxic stew of violence: deracination, rejection, exhaustion, hunger, cold, desperation, adolesence, betrayal, loneliness, death, fear, illness, stress, confusion. We can only be astonished it has not happened yet. A fertile breeding ground for the contamination of minds, seasoned with those who would further destroy what remains of good intent amongst vulnerable young men by staining the ground with crime and greed, snaking the poisonous sinewy arms of trafficking, guns, and violence through splintered groups of exhausted minds. Of course they fought each other. Of course they did.
So I cry at midnight in bed and I cry at breakfast and I cry as I say goodbye on my last day in my last five minutes of the lesson to my class of confused students who are 24 and seventeen and fifteen and-kids-for-God's-sake as I ask them to please not to try to get to England; not to go to Calais; not to use their fists but to use their minds to craft and build their lives ahead of them and to work together and together as they do in a miniscule hopelessly lit no-windowed room of 20 students from 6 nations, because they deserve a *good* life, and because my country is letting people down catastrophically at our very borders, and because they are impossibly resilient fantastic young people with already too much experience of the world who deserve more, because we know the trauma of last night's Calais will be turned against her most vulnerable and twisted into a justification for further police brutality (and let us not dress it as as anything else) and to know that they have the *right* to create a fine happy life and I just bloody wish it wasn't so unlikely.
Spent the morning teaching a room full of refugees from across Sub Saharan Africa how to count, say the days of the week and greet a friend in English. Just about recovered from the first day teaching yesterday, when it transpired - in the tiny room with no windows and one eye-wateringly unpleasant strip light rammed with 18 young students crammed so tight you have to climb onto the desk in front to get out - that the youngest is fifteen, a third are seventeen or not much more, and one of the them got here, from Congo, looking after her teenage brother, across 8 countries to get to Morocco, by bus, car and foot, when she was 22 - and pregnant.
Wednesday 17 January: Extraordinary and humbling day scribing at a collaboration meeting between Moroccan UNHCR and local "agents communautaires": community members working as volunteers 20 plus hours a week with some of Moroccos 4,800 refugees and asylum seekers across the country, providing support on health, welfare, transport, documentation, asylum, housing and all the rest; a meeting between community organisation staff, volunteers and UNHCR -who has no hope of tackling this without them - carried out with care and respect and attention to every detailed issue raised in two languages (every word translated backwards and forwards between Arabic and French by one of the many bilingual people in the room); ordinary people giving three days or more a week to help those in dire straits coming to their country from multiple countries to the east and the south. Ordinary, not wealthy, young and middle aged, multilingual, compassionate, frustrated, hard working, practically minded, this-is-the-situation-and-we'll-just-get-on-and-deal-with-it people. A feeling of shame at my embarrassing government and deep honour for ordinary people in Morocco and at home, awe at this country's civic ethic and disbelief at the barbaric mess that is European asylum policy, incandescent outrage that *both* my kids are so moved by the hell that is Calais that they're both there right now and a fierce and unshakable hope that as we see this disaster spiral into a cauldron of inhumanity with all the other planetaryl demons we face, we become ever more determined to wrest back control of this complicated but spectacular global Community of Us All from the soul-dead elite that are fucking it up and turn it into what it was always meant to be: a safe and dignified home for us all.
NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) (ie organisations who have unpaid directors, even if they have some paid staff) has issued some useful advice for if you're thinking about going out. You can find more about some of the organisations we know about on this website, here:
Some of the organisations we know and love
And here's the general good advice from NCVO:
www.ncvo.org.uk I want to volunteer
Keep us posted on your experience...it's all incredibly useful for us all.
Fact 1: There are an increasing number of people seeking asylum in Europe.
Fact 2: This is not being well received.
In 2001, John Morrison and Beth Crosland wrote a Working Paper called "The trafficking and smuggling of refugees: the end game in European asylum policy".
In it, they state:
"This report analyses the response of European governments to the increasing problems of human trafficking and smuggling, and concludes that much of existing policy-making is part of the problem and not the solution. Refugees are now forced to use illegal means if they want to access Europe at all. The direction of current policy risks not so much solving the problem of trafficking but rather ending the right of asylum in Europe, one of the most fundamental of all human rights. Any comprehensive approach that tackles trafficking and smuggling successfully requires legal and safe migration opportunities for all refugees, as well as necessary enforcement measures. Europe is in urgent need for political and moral leadership on this issue and it is hoped that the final recommendations contained in this report might stimulate some reflection. "
This was in 2001.
In December 2017, ECRE ( The European Centre for Refugees and Exiles) writes in its Policy Note 09:
"The 2017 Commission Recommendation on making returns more effective when implementing the Return Directive (the 2017 Recommendation on returns) encourages Member States to increase returns and tackle obstacles to the implementation of return decisions that could act as pull factors. It promotes punitive measures to reduce perceived abuse by individuals to avoid return, including urging Member States to increase detention, lower safeguards, and limit the examination of risks of refoulement. It also suggests limiting access to voluntary departure and reintegration support where they hinder return. Detention is not ruled out for children or families. Health problems are seen as a potential abuse of the system. Recommendations are still consistent with the Return Directive, but they will lower standards in some EU Member States, justified by the need to increase numbers."
16 years, millions of migrating people, catastrophic warfare, drought, degration, social , political and economic unrest: and we the developed nations have moved precisely this far in acknowledging, understanding, engaging with or creating anything approaching a constructive response to the issue.
This is the reality of what is happening across Europe. Or Fortress Europe, as it's called.
Mellilla is a Spanish enclave on the northern coast of Morroco. That means it's a tiny bit of land within the landmass of Morocco, over which Spain has jurisdication.
You may remember this photograph: it was taken in 2014 at the golf course in Melilla by photographer Jose Palazon. It's exactly what it looks like. A golfcourse within the Spanish enclave on the Moroccan landmass, surrounded by an enormous fence; with young men from sub-saharan Africa (ie the bit that's not Arab in the North) trying to access what they see as the Eldorado of Europe that is lliterally fencing them out. They have a right, as every person does, to claim asylum. Whether they get it or not is unknown. But they are not even being given their legal right here. We just build higher fences. Pretty much like the one Trump threatened. And the border control guards (Guardia Civil) have an unconvincing grasp on humanity once they get hold of the men trying to climb the fence.
You can find out a bit more here:
And there is much, much more. This clip below is distressing; but if we want to know what's happening, we need to open our eyes.
And you can find out a little more of the impact on the families of the fifteen who died in the sea, below. It makes difficult watching.
Sanctuary : noun:
In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrined the notion of asylum, backed up by the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Everyone has the right to be allowed to claim asylum according to these international laws, of which the UK and much of Europe are signatories. Within them, the concept of "refoulement" - of pushing back, rejecting, without giving a person to right to claim asylum - is seen as inhumane and illegal.
Yet this last month saw the death of two boys, killed on the road in Calais as they gave up on the Waiting for Godot hell of asylum application when nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens. It is effective refoulement. Making it as hard as possible (we have a Hostile Environment Team in the UK to do this - ahh, makes you proud to be British, doesn't it) so that people stop trying.
Chris, working in Calais in the same time as Ruby, had this to say.
I don't see that as sanctuary.
These are human beings, no heroes, ordinary people like us who are being forced to stay in intolerable conditions. How, I wonder, would I behave?
Today my 18 year old son got a 5am bus from Truro to travel to London to Calais to volunteer alongside my 21 year old daughter who is trying to feed 1,000 refugees currently sleeping rough, and hiding in the woods from the French police who are taking their food and slashing their sleeping bags as part of their control of the UK border. Their objective is to make the conditions even fouler than those they have fled, in order to discourage. This is beyond any understanding of a civilised response. There is a critical need for Safe Passage.This is not how I see my nation, or continent. I'm volunteering right now in Morroco at small human rights organisation, researching the impact of the changes in asylum law. The short version is it makes jaw dropping reading. It is very clear that the UK, and Europe, are now actually in breach of international law which states that every person arriving on our shores has the right to claim asylum. We are breaking it in two ways: 1: creating a "hostile environment" (There is a Hostile Environment Team in the UK Govt) to make it almost impossible to enter our country, regardless of ones's status; and 2: engaging in whats called "refoulement" - ie pushback/discharge - physically and bureaucratically kicking people back from the borders without giving them the right to set out their case for sanctuary. Reading the reports and watching videos has left in in tears. It's almost impossible to believe this is happening in 2017, in Europe. I will be posting some clips and information which you may find distressing. But if we don't know what's happening, we won't know to take action. And action is required. I have no doubt we can change this. But we must decide to do so first. If our children are driven to take action, that should leave us in no doubt what we should be doing too.
This is an extraordinary video. It takes away the cultural fog of unfamiliarity that can blind our engagement with the reality of a situation, and make it as real as we can possibly imagine.
Took only hours after this website went live before Mid Cornwall Community Radio contacted us and wanted to hear more. I think what Cornwall and her communities are doing on this are awesome and a source of inspiration for all who want to help (and together with the radio email invite came another slew of emails from people who'd seen the link to the website and want to know how to help. In hours. Amazing. Goooooo Cornwall.....: you rock!