It is with heavy hearts that we bring to your attention that on 30th June 2020 Parliament voted to:

  • continue holding people seeking refuge in indefinite detention
  • continue to charge nurses coming to the UK to work in the NHS. The very nurses who have given their lives to be on the frontline saving us from COVID-19
  • prevent family reunion for lone child refugees wanting to be united with their family in the UK.

The Immigration Bill is the most racist Bill to come through our Parliament in a generation. We must continue to resist this Hostile Environment and fight for the rights of all migrants and people seeking refuge. The fight goes on.

Rossana Leal, Founder and Director of The Refugee Buddy Project

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Dear Sally-Ann Hart

You recently published on your social media pages an open letter to Priti Patel MP.

As members of your constituency and representatives of The Refugee Buddy Project: Hastings, Rother & Wealden, Hastings Supports Refugees and Hastings Community of Sanctuary, we are deeply concerned that your letter does not accurately reflect the situation itself or the feelings of your constituents here in Hastings and Rye. We refer you to our statement issued on 9 April 2020 (published both on our website and in the local press), and would like to pick up on some of the points you make in your letter.

  • To characterise the issue as “migrant crossings” is to misread the situation. Those seeking refuge are not migrants, they are seeking asylum which is completely different and an important distinction.

  • It seems highly unlikely that these boats, which are little more than rubber dinghies, are aiming for Pett Level, but rather are drifting there due to currents and wind direction. To say it is a choice implies an attempt to raise anxiety among local people.
  • You suggest the situation “is causing deep unease and concern to local residents”. In fact, many of us are deeply concerned that Northern France is so unsafe for people seeking refuge that they are risking their lives to make the journey across the Channel. We are also worried about the treatment of those seeking refuge once they arrive on our shores: in particular that they are placed in detention, which is inhumane at the best of times and, given coronavirus, extremely dangerous as the moment. In addition we are not convinced that those seeking refuge will have their claims dealt with fairly.
  • The notion that crossing the Channel is “illegal” for the purposes of claiming asylum is utterly incorrect. Claiming asylum is absolutely legal under International Law; indeed the Article 31(1) of the 1951 Refugee Convention clearly states that there should be no penalisation of peoples who cross a border without prior consent in order to claim asylum.
  • As we, and others, have said time and again, the only way to stop people risking their lives to enter the UK is to have safe and legal routes of entry. Furthermore, the attempt to turn this into an issue of criminal human traffickers is to ignore the global refugee crisis and our responsibility as a nation to respond to it humanely and fairly.
  • The current Government is underperforming on its own testing targets of people already in the UK, is not testing those arrival at airports, and is not offering testing to the public at large. It would be of greater benefit to your constituents to urge your leadership to commit to a comprehensive package of testing across the UK. The notion that people seeking refuge are coming in and infecting the community is nothing short of scaremongering.
  • The Home Office has been quoted in multiple news sources as saying that those seeking refuge are taken to Dover to see if they require medical attention, and then transferred to start assessment of their asylum claims. This latter part happens in Lunar House, in Croydon, as we’re sure you’re aware. It seems, therefore, that you are suggesting the Home Office is lying to the press as well as preventing them from accessing due legal process. We are sure this is not your intention, so we can only conclude that you are making such statements to further whip up fear in our local community.
  • You state that “these crossings are clearly being used my (sic) economic migrants as well”. We are interested to know how you have determined this, as you surely do not have access nor take part in the formal process which those seeking refuge go through on arrival to the UK. We would ask that you elaborate on how you have access to this, supposedly confidential, information.

We are glad that you accept that crossing the Channel is incredibly dangerous. We agree. You should also accept that, to use the words of British-Somali Poet Warsan Shire: “no one puts their child in a boat unless water is safer than land”. We would hope that you, as an MP, would be fighting for the rights of people to be treated with the respect they deserve and afforded the legal access enshrined in both UK and International Law.

Hastings has a long standing and well-respected reputation welcoming people seeking refuge, bolstered by the success of the Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Programme (formally the Syrian Resettlement Programme). We encourage you to speak to the organisations working with and for people seeking refuge in our constituency, because your views do not reflect your constituents who work in this area nor, we believe, Hastings more broadly. Many of your constituents volunteer much of their time and resources to support those seeking refuge and we would be more than willing to show you what we do, and how you can support us – your constituents – in that work.

Yours sincerely

The Refugee Buddy Project, Hastings Rother & Wealden

Hastings Supports Refugees

Hastings Community of Sanctuary

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.

Rossana Leal, winner of Woman of the Year 2019 and Founder and Director of The Refugee Buddy Project, will be taking part in Woman on the Move Awards again this year.

Taking place on Friday 6th March 2020 and the Southbank Centre in London, WOMA 2020: The Greatest Hits will be a celebration of the past 10 years of the Woman on the Move Awards.

We will be posting on our social media on the night so follow us on Facebook Twitter or Instagram this coming Friday! We will also post some photos and an update here next week.