This post was updated on 13th April 2020.
Joint Statement on the arrival of people seeking refuge on Hastings beach.
The Refugee Buddy Project, Hastings Supports Refugees and Hastings Community of Sanctuary are relieved to hear that the people seeking refuge who have arrived by boat on the beaches of Hastings and Winchelsea in the last week did so safely and without any severe injuries.
There are conflicting reports of how many people arrived in Hastings, with some reports including numbers who arrived further along the coast towards Dover. What we do know is that 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.
Paul Barnett, local Councillor and the Hastings point of contact for the charity Care4Calais has visited Northern France in recent weeks and had the following statement:
“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.
I was coincidentally at the beach when one of the rescues took place. It wasn’t possible to see much or find out how many refugees made it safely ashore, but let’s make sure that Hastings is generous to the idea of them finding sanctuary here.”
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. We have a growing network of over 200 volunteers in the local area who welcome refugees, and Hastings is leading the way in showing how local people can offer empathy and solidarity with people who are suffering across the World. As Paul Barnett went on to say: “Those who settle here bring new experiences, skills and culture to enrich this special town.”
We are very concerned to read to the increasingly hostile rhetoric online about refugees arriving here in Hastings. 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. We are creating a fact sheet with answers to frequently asked questions about the people who make this dangerous journey, which we release in the coming days. We urge everyone to read and share it to resist the spread of inaccurate information.
The situation in Northern France is worsening every day. With COVID-19 now prevalent in France, the few volunteers who are left on the ground are doing their best to support the homeless population with dwindling supplies, only providing basic food and water through heavy PPE equipment. The Government promise of housing for those living on the streets has yet to appear, and the lack of basic sanitation and the 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.
Those seeking refuge are putting their lives at considerable risk by making the crossing. Despite the current “lock-down” environment, 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 cannot abandon already vulnerable people to the mercy of a Global Pandemic.
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 people can get the food, clothing and any medical attention they require.