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Harrassed by police, refugees gatther in a car park near Dunkirk (photo: Antonia Berelson).

Sally-Ann Hart’s claims of “illegal migrants” contested

Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart is concerned about refugees crossing the Channel in small boats and making landfall along the south-east coast. Having written to the home secretary about the matter, she has now tabled a question for the home secretary who is due to make an appearance in the Commons on Monday 8 June. Nick Terdre reports.

In her question Sally-Ann Hart asks home secretary Priti Patel, “What steps her Department is taking to stop migrants crossing the English Channel illegally.”

On her Facebook page the MP reported this month that she had asked the home secretary about health checks on people arriving in this country: “I asked particularly about the health checks on those entering the UK via the Channel crossings that have been taking place in growing numbers in recent months.

“I am keen that health checks are carried out for both the safety of these individuals who have made these crossings, and also for the safety of local residents.”

“I was pleased that the Home Secretary was able to confirm that these health checks are taking place, not just at airports and ports, but also for those making the crossings across the English Channel.”

Home-made banner in the Care4Calais warehouse, which reads: Knitwear not warfare, cast offs not blast offs (photo: Antonia Berelson).

The latest channel crossings took place on 3 June, when seven boats were intercepted by Border Force vessels and one landed at Samphire Hoe in Kent, the Home Office told HOT.

A total of 166 people were detained, mainly men, from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan and China.  All were taken to Dover, where they “were assessed to establish whether there [were] any medical requirements.

“All have now been transferred to immigration officials. They will be interviewed, and their cases will be dealt with in line with immigration rules, transferring to detention where appropriate.”

Felicity Laurence, communications and campaigns, Hastings Community of Sanctuary, commented on Ms Hart’s reference to “migrants crossing the English Channel illegally.”

“Anyone who has crossed the Channel and claims asylum here soon after arrival cannot be considered as being here illegally, until and unless their asylum claim is rejected,” she told HOT.

Legal right to claim asylum

“Everyone has the legal right to claim asylum, no matter how they have entered the country, and the UN’s Refugee Convention is clear that no one should be penalised for illegal entry.

“The available evidence in fact so far indicates that most people arriving nearby in small boats are indeed seeking asylum, often with strong claims. Those trying to enter the country clandestinely without claiming asylum tend to do so by other means.”

On the MP’s claim that growing numbers of Channel crossings have taken place recently, she said: “Over the UK generally, there has been a significant decrease of approximately 70% in people arriving and claiming asylum since lockdown.” Home Office provisional statistics show that the overall number of asylum applications in the four weeks prior to the start of lockdown on 23 March was around 2,500 and in the following four weeks less than 800.

Refugee with serious facial burns after being sprayed with CS gas at close quarters by French police (photo: Care4Calais).

Refugees in northern France are living in desperate conditions and face hostile treatment by the police. “We know that most are fleeing war and persecution, and now facing daily harassment by police in and around Calais, with constant confiscation of tents and sleeping bags, teargassing and beating. One young man was recently sprayed with CS gas directly into his face, which caused horrific burning.”

Local refugee support groups are in contact with their counterparts in France and make occasional visits. In January, a group of people including three HBC councillors crossed the Channel to take a large quantity of food and clothing collected in Hastings for refugees stranded in the Calais region.

One of their number has written an eye-witness account of that visit – see below.

“This is Hastings in action as an official part of the City of Sanctuary movement, showing its collective care and empathy,” Ms Laurence said.

An open letter to Sally-Ann Hart was recently published by the Refugee Buddy Project, Hastings, Rother and Wealden, the Hastings Community of Sanctuary and Hastings Supports Refugees, in which they seek to correct what they see as inaccuracies in her claims about those arriving in this country after crossing the Channel.

Eye-witness account of how refugees live in northern France

Healthcare worker Brian Bostock writes about a trip to Calais to deliver food and clothing collected in Hastings for refugees in northern France.

In January, once again, the people of Hastings outdid themselves in a collection of food and clothing to send to Calais and our own foodbank. I joined councillors Antonia Berelson, Paul Barnett and Ruby Cox to take our collective donation to the charity Care4Calais. We filled up two cars to the brim and set off very early the next morning for the boat trip.

Poster in the Care4Calais warehouse (photo: Antonia Berelson).

The Care4Calais warehouse, a short drive from the port of Calais, is stacked high with donations from all over the UK. Volunteers sort these and prepare packs for distribution to the refugees now occupying irregular camps all along the French north coast. The formal camps at Calais have been removed, but the people are very much still there – men, women and children.

We learned that one of these camps had been raided that morning by the police and literally everything – clothes, possessions, papers, tents, documentation and shelters – had been put into skips, and hundreds of people put onto buses for ‘processing’ and likely deportation. The volunteers told us that several of those sent away are former British Army interpreters.

That afternoon we drove in convoy to a country park near Dunkerque. On arrival, we noted several police minibuses with ‘CRS’ printed on the doors: we had been assured that with our Care4Calais bibs on we were unlikely to be troubled by the police, but a quick Google on a mobile revealed that the CRS are the riot and crowd control arm of the police service. They seemed nonchalant about our arrival, and we moved through to a parking area where around 300 refugees were gathered.

Barber station

Other volunteers were already distributing food and hot drinks, and we began giving out hot drinks too, and firing up a generator so that people could charge mobile phones, offering first aid and – a surprise to me – setting up a barber station, where we  provided mirrors, clippers, scissors and razor blades.

We walked a little distance to find women to whom we could give the feminine hygiene packs we had brought, but found none. Under French law, women and children are entitled to housing if the temperature drops too low, so we were not surprised as it was bitterly cold. But there were several children, all under the age of ten, and all boys.

Then three of the CRS minibuses raced past us with blue lights flashing, and as we came back to the parking area, I saw two more already parked side by side, backed up towards the crowd. Policemen with SJ-102 tear gas launchers and hand-held trigger-operated pepper spray canisters poured out of the buses and formed a sort of cordon. We could hear music and, moving past the police, we saw men dancing, queueing peaceably for a cup of hot tea, and barbering. I couldn’t see any reason for this intimidatory response.

For ten minutes the cordon shuffled about, one of the officers apparently filming proceedings, but the dancing men ignored them. Eventually, the police all climbed back into their buses and drove off. The dancing just carried on.

This was the epitome of the spirit of the men caught here in woodlands on the border of France. I expected heartache, pain, suffering, desperation – but I got no sense of that from the crowd at all. The most popular attraction was the barber station, because the men wanted to look their best, hair and beards trimmed. They may be trapped but they have not lost their humanity.

Men dancing in a line (photo: Antonia Berelson).

One man stripped to the waist to have his hair and beard trimmed, and I noticed the unmistakable scars on his right arm of a shrapnel wound that has not had primary closure. You could see where the pieces of shrapnel had entered his flesh, travelled though his arm and exited. The wounds had long healed but bore the hallmarks of a wound that had not been treated and had not closed well.

I had several faltering conversations with the men there. They told me they were mostly Kurdish, with no government of their own; they are in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria – and nowhere do they have parliamentary representation. They are for the most part well-educated – one was a mathematics teacher. Most had not brought their families, and now feared greatly for their safety back at home.

Polite and welcoming

They were polite, warm and welcoming, sharing conversations with each other. The dancing was quite a joyous affair, and others played football together. They shared a joke where they could – the one I really understood was whether it was “all me” or did I have a lot of clothes on. They told me that they saw Britain as a place of acceptance, peace, freedom – not free houses or free benefits, but just a freedom to be.

The humanity of these people – surviving in this informal campsite in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold – astounded me. As we left, they helped us pack up the generator, the tables and the cables. It was a bit of a struggle to close the barbershop – one man was desperate to have the razors out again to even up his beard. His friends took some delight that he would have to wait for this. I lied horrendously and told him it looked beautiful, which only made his friends laugh even more. That spoke volumes to me – these men want to feel human and be proud of their appearance.

I will remember one man – Yah – who told me he had been there for four months. He has tried to enter the UK several times. He doesn’t think he will ever make it. I asked him if he could go back – but there is no back for him. Just persecution, at worst death. He has no way forward and nothing to go back to.

How can we be living in a civilised world when we have people, ordinary human beings, effectively stateless at a border and living in a tent?

 

This article was amended by Nick Terdre on 9 June 2020.

 

Posted 19:18 Sunday, Jun 7, 2020 In: Campaigns

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Keith Piggott

    Since my comment on June 7, I have received video evidence of covert UK-France complicity in escorting powered dinghies full of so called ‘refugees’, across the former ‘English’ Channel. The French Navy does not intercept, but feigns a ‘Search and Rescue’ without rescue, handing immigrants’ dinghies over to pre-arranged UK Border Force ships, received in Dover by UK Home Office also UK Immigration, all at unquantified costs to the public purse.

    To allon either side of our MP’s vexed question of ‘legality’, I recommend all to watch this link: . KP

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Monday, Jun 15, 2020 @ 01:15

  2. Keith Piggott

    It used to be EU policy to admit any genuine ‘refugee’ seeking asylum, but not economic migrants. Hungary and Germany treated EU ‘refugee-status’ very differently during vast middle-east conflict migrations via Greece and Turkey. Africa’s economic boat migrations landed primarily in Italy also France.

    Migrations by many millions changed all understanding of term ‘refugee’, formerly required to claim asylum on entering the first non-threatening country. What then is so threatening about the EU, France in particular, that ‘refugees’ needs must flee by any means to England for safety?

    Question is not to discriminate against Channel boat-people still arriving in numbers, but merely to understand the legality of their flight to our golden shores – cited as illegally by Mrs Sally-Ann Hart MP to the Home Secretary.

    I write as one from a generation fearful of insurgents, fighting-age columns intent on violent disruption of governments across Asia and South America, now the middle-east. Human migrations created the world we occupy, lately recognised as having benefits too, depending on the’refugees’ theselves .

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Sunday, Jun 7, 2020 @ 23:25

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