Cross-border action for refugee rights

Submitted by on 13 November, 2002 - 12:56

Refugee rights campaigners from Britain and France organised joint protests outside Dover Removals Centre (DRC) and the Sangatte Red Cross camp near Calais on 19 October. It was a truly international protest with similar events happening all over Europe.

Sally Murdock reports.
DRC is a converted young offenders' prison. Detained refugees - many are Afghan or Iraqi - are accused of no crime except seeking asylum in the UK, often fleeing from war, torture and terror. In the early nineties, less than 300 immigration "offenders" were detained at any one time. The government is now creating 4,000 detention places, mostly for asylum-seekers.

The demonstration was noisy - with chanting, banging drums and playing instruments. This was because the Dover detainees cannot see over the walls that surround their compound.

Kent Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers has organised a steady wave of protests outside the centre since its opening. Many visit the inmates regularly, offering essential support and sending a clear message that somebody cares about their welfare. One activist read out a letter from an Algerian refugee inside the centre - he was due to get married, and was certain that if he and his girlfriend were sent home they would die.

The Kent group have also picketed the office of the Dover Mercury, well-known for reports of "bogus asylum seekers living in luxury", etc. The Mercury has helped to dehumanise asylum seekers and poison local opinion. The paper is, unfortunately, not isolated in its ideas. Politicians, such as David Blunkett, encourage such views.
This is the Home Secretary who has collaborated with the French government to close Sangatte - a Humanitarian camp for refugees. And this is the man that the BNP have described as their favourite Home Secretary.

From Dover protesters travelled to France to the Sangatte centre. The centre which houses around 1,500 refugees sits in the middle of fields where refugees can always be seen camping out. Until recently Sangatte was a humanitarian aid centre, set up to accommodate asylum-seekers who had been sleeping rough on the streets of Calais. Many of its occupants want to apply for asylum in the UK, where they may have friends or relatives, or where there may be an established community of their own nationality.

The centre is due to stop taking in people on 15 November, and will be shut down completely in April.

Closure of Sangatte is being accompanied by increased security measures around the French Eurotunnel entrance, along 20 kilometres of coastline near Calais, and at Belgian Channel-crossing points. This is to prevent asylum-seekers currently in Sangatte from relocating further along the coast. But most likely asylum-seekers will return to sleeping rough on the streets of Calais.

The conditions inside Sangatte - which is now run by the police - are bleak. All must wear IDs, queuing for a meal can take up to 2 hours; there are only 14 toilets in the camp. Many people inside the camp are not really aware that the camp is being closed.

French demonstrators were from the sans papiers movement Immigration Banlieue, and from socialist and anarchist groups. The police guard was heavy outside the camp, but stood by and did nothing as a group of refugees marched into the area outside the camp with a banner and organised a refugee protest.

The next piece of action will involve bringing provisions of blankets, tents, food and warm clothes to the people who will be soon left out in the cold when Sangatte closes.

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