LAST Saturday over 250 pro-asylum seekers protested outside a former military barracks housing asylum seekers near Folkestone, the first refugee camp in Britian, which opened last month.
Far-right protesters clashed with the police around midday on Saturday as they encircled the refugee supporters with vans.
‘The vast majority of people are supportive of migrants, but we don’t always hear their voice, we only hear the voice of a very vocal, significant minority,’ said Bridget Chapman, one of the event’s organisers and a leading member of the Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN).
‘There are groups of far-right vigilantes who are claiming to send back migrant boats,’ said Richard, a volunteer with Channel Rescue who preferred not to give his surname.
Dozens of asylum seekers have been placed in quarantine in one of the redbrick blocks after one person tested positive for coronavirus. It comes after repeated warnings were given over the cramped and unsanitary conditions at the site.
Inside the barracks, a group of men waved back at the crowd, clapping and shouting: ‘Thank you!’
Among those supporting asylum seekers was Ross Emans, 43, who came with his son. ‘This is the first time I’ve been involved with a demonstration to support migrants,’ he said, holding a sign that read: ‘Welcome.’
‘I used Google to translate “welcome” into Arabic. Hopefully, it’s correct!
‘The migrants have been demonised and dehumanised on the internet by far-right groups. Some people refer to them like they are animals when they are human beings and each of them has their own story. It really concerns me and I can understand why they are leaving their countries.’
65-year-old Edward Troup from nearby Newchurch said: ‘Britain has been built on waves of immigration, we have hundreds of years of being welcoming and it’s sad that we have stopped being welcoming to people who can help make this a great country.’
KRAN’s Bridget Chapman explained that the support demonstration ‘came about because we felt there was a lot of local support for the new residents at Napier Barracks and we thought that people needed a way to actively display that support.
‘We were getting messages all the time from people asking what they could do and we thought that this would be a really nice way to demonstrate all that goodwill.’
The British Red Cross is calling on the Home Office to stop using Napier Barracks as an asylum processing centre.
The charity is deeply concerned for those living in the accommodation.
Since last month the barracks in Shorncliffe has been housing hundreds of asylum-seekers whose claims are delayed because of a processing backlog at the Home Office.
A similar model is being operated at the Penally Army base in Wales.
Alex Fraser, the British Red Cross’ director of refugee support said: ‘By their very nature, military bases are not an appropriate place for people seeking asylum to be sent to.
‘Many will have fled unimaginable horrors, including conflict, persecution, and imprisonment in their home country, before seeking sanctuary here in the UK.
‘We have visited the site in Penally so far, to understand what level of welfare and health support people can access, and what we can do to ensure that everyone has the appropriate information and support, access to legal advice and essential practical items including winter clothing.
‘We hope to do the same in Folkestone. We will continue to liaise with the Home Office to ensure that the risk of further trauma to those staying on these sites is reduced, while urging the government to find alternative, safe and more humane accommodation options.’
Chapman added: ‘We were getting lots of people contacting us asking how they could help the people in the barracks.
‘It became evident there was a huge amount of support locally and we thought it was important that support had a chance to be shown physically.
‘That’s because, regardless of their status at the point of entry, those moving from one country to the other are human beings.
‘You will have seen them commonly referred to as “migrants”. This is not incorrect.
‘The UN Migration Agency defines a migrant as “any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a state away from his/her habitual place of residence,” – regardless of the person’s legal status, whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary, what the causes for the movement are, or what the length of the stay is.
‘The UN definition of refugees is people who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalised violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.
‘There’s a narrative that suggests local people don’t want these refugees staying at the camp but I don’t think that’s representative of the local community and the support we’ve been getting for the event.
‘We’re getting support from across the community from a wide correlation of groups and more is coming in all the time. It’s heart-warming, this is the real Folkestone as far as I’m concerned.’
- The body of a refugee was found on Sunday morning on Sangatte beach on the northern coast of France on the English Channel, while several rescues took place off the coast of Calais last Saturday.
Firefighters said they found the stiff corpse of a man, aged 20 to 40, on the south Sangatte beach. His appearance was ‘rather Middle Eastern,’ and he was wearing a life jacket.
He is ‘probably’ a refugee who drowned while trying to cross the Channel, said the prosecutor of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pascal Marconville, stressing that ‘there were a lot of attempts to cross’ in the night.
‘’There was a weather window that seems to have tempted the smuggling networks,’ he noted.
A calm sea off the coasts favoured crossing attempts last weekend after several days of bad weather. For several months, these crossings on makeshift boats have increased.
In mid-August, a Sudanese migrant drowned while trying to cross the Channel on a rubber dinghy, accompanied by a teenager who had managed to get back to the beach. The migrant’s body had already been found on a beach in Sangatte.
On Saturday, the maritime prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea reported two refugee rescue operations: one of six refugees, in difficulty on two kayaks lashed together, the other concerning 16 refugees.
Saturday morning, around 9:00am, five young refugees attempted the crossing aboard an inflatable boat and also found themselves in difficulty as soon as they left the shore as the waves where high witnesses said.
Picked up in a state of hypothermia by the Calais firefighters, they were handed over to the border police.
At least 1,354 migrants have been intercepted at sea by the French authorities as they tried to cross the Channel, on board makeshift boats or by swimming, since January 1st.
A survivor who was with Abdulfatah Hamdallah, the Sudanese refugee who drowned in the Channel in August, has made it safely to the UK after taking the same route.
Ahmed Fadol Adam, 21, who said he spent five years enslaved in Libya, travelled with 11 other Sudanese refugees and one Chadian on an inflatable dinghy on 29 September.
It was his fifth attempt to reach the UK – ‘The dream of reaching the UK just held me’ he said.
After reaching Dover, the group was sent by the Home Office to Bedford, where they were detained for five days before being transferred to a temporary hotel in central London with dozens of asylum seekers from different countries.
‘After Hamdallah’s drowning I nearly gave up, but a friend who lives in Paris convinced me to try again, said Adam.
‘He told me that France is not a good place for us, and to be honest I saw countless refused cases including the late Abdulfatah.’
After that, Adam said he tried to reach the UK four times by different ways; three times he jumped into trucks, but had to jump off after discovering they were not going to the UK.
A separate attempt by boat was also unsuccessful ‘because the two guys with me got really exhausted and one was vomiting and the other one was dizzy, so when a French ship neared us we jumped in and went back to Calais.’
Adam has been struggling with sleep, but refused to see a therapist when he was in the hospital in Calais.
‘Memories,’ he said, ‘Whenever I remember the drowning I can’t sleep. I saw death in front of my eyes.’
Originally from west Darfur, he recalls spending some of his childhood years in slums around Gazera agricultural scheme in central Sudan, helping his farmer father and learning to swim in the Blue Nile river.
‘Learning how to swim back then helped me to survive. Abdulfatah couldn’t swim.’
When their boat capsized, Hamdallah disappeared under a strong wave. ‘I didn’t see him after that.’
Adam swam to the Sangatte coast, where he met some fishermen who called the police, and he was taken to a hospital.
He first left Sudan at the age of 16 after the 2013 conflict around Geneina, the capital of west Darfur state.
He said he spent five years in Libya, where he was enslaved in Al-Kufra and Ajdabiya cities in eastern Libya, before his family paid for his freedom.
‘We were around 49 Sudanese people who were sold by one man to another.
‘I was beaten and my left knee was broken by the man’s bodyguards who were just like us, they had been enslaved and their relatives could not pay for their freedom, so they became bodyguards for the Libyan smugglers.
‘I was lucky, some others were tortured in a really bad way, they poured oil on their backs.’
Adam’s family had to borrow money from different people to free him, he said.
After his release, he met a Sudanese man in Ajdabiya who plastered his knee using local methods, and he then got a job as an assistant builder before becoming a sheep herder outside the town.
He often didn’t get paid, he said, so once he’d earned some money he travelled to Bani Walid in western Libya. But he was kidnapped again and jailed for four months.
‘I refused to give them the phone number of my family, so they beat me on my head till I bled. I just couldn’t ask my family again for money.’
He said he then managed, along with other enslaved Sudanese men, to hold down the Ethiopian guard at the jail and flee towards Tripoli, where he worked in a Turkish restaurant to earn some money and paid the smugglers 1,200 Libyan Dinars to travel by boat towards Italy, spending five days at sea.
In Italy, he was jailed twice before fleeing, because he didn’t want to stay there; he said he slept rough for two weeks in Rome, where NGOs fed him, then he took a train to Ventimiglia where he walked the length of a train tunnel to Nice.