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Supporters of the Refugee Buddy Project pictured in front of Warrior Square last year.

Relief over safe arrival of cross-channel refugees

Local refugee support organisations have expressed relief that several dozen people who last week made landfall in Hastings and Winchelsea after crossing the Channel in small boats arrived safely and without serious injury. Nick Terdre reports.

According to the Home Office, 57 people arrived in small boats, some on the beach between Hastings and Winchelsea, on Wednesday 8 April. They were detained and handed over to Border Force officials.

RNLI lifeboats, coastguard rescue teams and a search and rescue helicopter, and a Border Force vessel were all called into action when the boats were detected approaching the coast.

“The excellent work of the RNLI from Hastings and Rye Bay, alongside HM Coastguard, has ensured that these vulnerable arrivals have made it ashore safely and we thank them for that,” says a statement issued jointly by the Refugee Buddy Project, Hastings Community of Sanctuary and Hastings Supports Refugees.

“As a Community of Sanctuary, Hastings is committed to ensuring that all who seek refuge in our town and across the UK are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. At this time of great uncertainty both here and across the world, we encourage everyone in the local community to extend empathy to these arrivals.”

On 13 April the three organisations released an updated statement in which they express concern at “the increasingly hostile rhetoric online about refugees arriving here in Hastings.” They say they will shortly issue a fact sheet answering frequently asked questions about the people who make this dangerous journey.

Worsening situation in France

The situation in northern France is worsening every day, the refugee support bodies say. Now that Covid-19 is prevalent in France, which currently has a higher daily death toll than the UK, the few volunteers left on the ground are doing their best to support the homeless population with dwindling supplies, only providing basic food and water through heavy personal protective equipment.

“The Government promise of housing for those living on the streets has yet to appear, and the lack of basic sanitation and ability to self-isolate makes the likelihood of the virus hitting the camps very high. This all takes place against a backdrop of years of police hostility,” they say.

Paul Barnett, HBC councillor and Hastings point of contact for the Care4Calais charity, who has recently been in northern France, said, “Two things strike you in Calais: the dedication and energy of the volunteers who come from all over the UK to spend a week or two there, and the gentle humility of the refugees who are increasingly being harassed and humiliated by French authorities.

“Now that France is in a military lockdown, life is unbearable in the camps along the coast and it isn’t surprising that increasing numbers are desperate enough to attempt sea crossings.”

Those seeking refuge are putting their lives at considerable risk by making the crossing, says the statement: “The English Channel remains one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The situation they are facing in northern France is desperate; if it weren’t, people would not be risking their lives to make the crossing.

“We call on the UK and French Governments to provide places of safety for those seeking refuge in Calais and Dunkirk. This means long-term housing, places people can isolate, places where people do not live in fear of catching Covid-19 and where they can get the food, clothing and any medical attention they require.”

 

This article was amended by Nick Terdre on 14 April 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted 20:57 Sunday, Apr 12, 2020 In: Campaigns

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