Jesuits join faith delegation to Calais refugee camp

The Jungle, Calais
The Jungle, Calais

Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, Superior of the Mount Street Jesuit Community, joined a delegation of 22 people which included six rabbis, an Anglican bishop, three Baptist ministers and one chair of a mosque, to ‘The Jungle’, the temporary refugee city in Calais. Around 10,000 people currently live there including 700 children under the age of18. They have fled war and persecution in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan, and Albania.

The visit last Friday was organised by Citizens UK who are currently working with Safe Passage UK to process these children’s asylum applications.

George Gabriel of Citizens UK commented :  "Within the last year only 50 children have been accepted to be reunited with their relatives in the UK.  This is progress, but it is too slow. Each child’s application is extremely laborious, with only four ad hoc administrators working in The Jungle gathering the information required.  The UK government is legally obliged to accept children who are seeking asylum and are stuck in Calais. This is true both for those who have relatives in the UK and those who do not, but arrived in Calais before March 20th 2016. 325 children are eligible for transfer to the UK under these laws."

During the visit to Calais, the group handed in letters giving the names of the children who legally can come to Britain, asking the mayor, the immigration authority and the police in Calais to speed up processing these children.

Fr Dominic said: “the visit was an incredibly moving experience which I was so glad to be part of because this campaign is not so much about politics or religion but about common humanity.  The children detained in the Calais camp are not numbers or security issues but real human beings in need of protection from real danger.  We cannot stand idly by as unaccompanied children or children separated from their families are put at risk just for political capital.  That’s our common human responsibility and it was a great consolation to join with people of faith from across religious divides in a common cause for which we all feel responsible.”

Canon Pat Browne of Holy Apostles Pimlico, also on the visit, commented "One particular experience that sticks with me was meeting an Eritrean teenager who had fled through South Sudan, been captured (and escaped from) Daesh, before making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. However, all he wanted to talk about was football. Children like this are simply looking for a deservedly normal life, free from fear.  Living in The Jungle is unsafe for children. There have been five alleged murders there this week alone."

Citizen UK’s invites all people interested in this issue to its next action to pressure the Home Office to receive the names of the 325 children who are eligible for transfer to the UK.  Fr Dominic and Fr Pat will be taking part in the action which takes place at 10am on Friday 2nd September at the Home Office, Marsham Street, for one hour.  Friday marks the anniversary of the death of Ayan Kurdi whose body was washed up on a Greek beach as his family fled Syria.

BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme today carried a report of the visit.