North West MEP Reports Back on Visit to Calais Refugee Camp
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- Published: Thursday, 21 January 2016 09:33
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NORTH WEST STAND UP TO RACISM
NORTH WEST MEP REPORTS BACK ON VISIT TO CALAIS REFUGEE CAMP
Press Release - for immediate release
WEDNESDAY, January 20th 2016.
- Julie Ward MEP urges other elected members to visit The Jungle to see conditions for themselves
- Meeting included live phone link with a camp resident
- Trade Unionists planning for follow up solidarity trips and 19th March, European anti racism day, National demonstration in London
- “It is our duty as humanitarians, and indeed as human beings, to speak out and do what we can” - Michael Dodds, Communication Workers' Union
North West MEP Julie Ward reported back on her fact finding mission to Calais' refugee camp the “Jungle” at a meeting in Manchester's Cross Street chapel this week.
The MEP, who visited the Calais camp in December as part of a North West Stand Up to Racism delegation, urged other elected politicians to make similar visits so they could see the horrendous conditions refugees are living in for themselves. She has used her own first hand knowledge from the camp to make recommendations to the European Parliament.
Julie told the meeting that she and other Labour MEPs had also visited the refugee camp in Dunkirk where conditions were worse than in Calais. People were dying at the camps and she urged everyone at the meeting to sign and publicise the 38 Degrees petition launched at The Jungle in December https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/show-solidarity-with-refugees-uk-calais-and-europe/?
The meeting was chaired by Dr Rhetta Moran, of the Manchester-based Human Rights charity RAPAR. One of the organisation's members has been working at the Calais camp since September and RAPAR has argued that people living in inhuman conditions at the Jungle are, effectively, on Britain's borders and should be given immediate entry to the UK.
Dr Moran spoke through a live phone link to Mohamed, a community leader among the Afghan refugees at the camp and one of the representatives of all the people who are living there.
Mohamed described to the meeting how he had seen babies being born and people dying in the camp – recently, he had lost a friend who had died in one of the tents in the Jungle.
He said the French authorities' threat to bulldoze part of the camp and move them into purpose built container blocks will be peacefully resisted by the refugees. People living in the Jungle have likened the proposed container blocks to a prison and say there are no communal areas such as mosques, churches and kitchens for them to use. If the French government carries out its threat, 1,600 people out of the 5,000 living at the Jungle will be evicted.
Other members of the North West delegation to Calais spoke about their experiences. Leading North West trade unionists said they were planning follow up visits including an humanitarian and solidarity trip during half term.
Ian Hodson, President of the Bakers' Union, said he had listened to the delegation's description of the terrible conditions people were living in – and which were largely going unreported in the media.
“We need to make our government reconsider its position and help people who have been displaced because of war.
“Calais is a refugee camp full of families fleeing from war. MPs said the justification for bombing Syria was to save the innocent - yet here we have people, including many from Syria, being left to die in horrendous conditions in a refugee camp on our doorstep.”
Michael Dodds, from the Communications Workers' Union, added: “The situation refugees find themselves in at Calais, Dunkirk and other camps is deplorable. It is our duty as humanitarians, and indeed as human beings, to speak out and do what we can to help our brothers and sisters across the channel.”
Stand Up to Racism is also supporting two Iranian refugees, 20 year old Farein Vahdani and 25 year old Payam Moradi Mirhessan, who were arrested in Folkestone in October as they walked the 31 miles from Calais through the Channel Tunnel. They are due to appear in Canterbury Crown Court on Thursday (January 21st) accused of obstructing a railway contrary to the Malicious Damages Act of 1861.
A 40 year old Sudanese man, Abdul Haroun who was accused of a similar offence after he walked through the Channel Tunnel in August, was granted asylum in the UK in December.
A RAPAR spokesperson said: “The men are refugees, not criminals. Throughout Europe, refugees have risked death to reach safety, and so many people have already died in that process . The UK government should be granting asylum to these two young Iranian men instead of imprisoning and prosecuting them.”
Both RAPAR and Stand Up to Racism are demanding that the UK government allow refugees living in the Calais camp to enter the UK immediately. Medical aid, food, clothes and other support being given to people in the Jungle is necessary in order to save lives but it is not a long term solution.
The meeting concluded with a commitment to continuing this work and ensuring that the North West has great representation at the European anti racism day, National demonstration in London on 19th March.
Report back from North West delegates to Calais: from left, Julie Ward North West MEP, Nick Wigmore (National Union of Teachers), Phil from Manchester's Gaskell Garden project which delivered bikes to refugees in Calais, and Syrian refugee Amaf Youssef.
Libyan refugee and Rapar leader Hanibal with the Calais petition
Syrian refugee Amaf Youssef, a member of the North West delegation to Calais, speaks at the meeting