“Tell people what’s happening in here” at Morton Hall migrant prison

10 years ago SYMAAG organised a 3 day/30 mile march from Sheffield to Lindholme Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) near Doncaster to protest against detaining refugees indefinitely. Lindholme has since been closed. Morton Hall is now the nearest IRC to us, hidden in the Lincolnshire countryside.

After reports of the deaths of two detainees at Morton Hall IRC within 6 weeks we decided to highlight what really goes on inside Morton Hall and show our support for the people detained there by organising a protest on March 11th. It was an experience that won’t be forgotten by those of us at the protest outside the prison fence. Or by people detained inside who were eager to tell us about their treatment by phone or by scaling the fence and shouting out to us. “Tell people what’s happening in here” was their message. One person on the protest, an activist with SYMAAG, wrote this impassioned report of the day. John Grayson has written a detailed report on the protest and what we learned about Morton Hall below.,

Shortly after our protest at Morton Hall a report of an unannounced HM Prisons Inspectorate visit in November was released. Written before the deaths of two people detained there it identifies a “significant decline in the area of safety since the last inspection”. The Detention Forum’s assessment of the report “it looks and feels like a prison” is here and May Bulman writing in the Independent commented that “the devastating impact of indefinite detention can no longer be denied”. She criticised the Home Office’s “out of sight, out of mind approach” to migrant detention.

We hope that our protests at Morton Hall (March 11th was the second – and we’ll be back) let those detained inside know they are not forgotten. And challenge the Home Office’s attempts to hide from the public the stark reality of detention in immigration prisons.

Dignity Not Detention. Protestors gather outside Morton Hall March 11th

‘People come in here normal, but they get ill.’ Protesting against deaths at a UK migrant jail

Intrusive police surveillance deployed against peaceful protestors at Morton Hall. (See also: Child held for 151 days at Morton Hall)

Demonstrators march on Morton Hall immigration removal centre, Lincolnshire, 11 March 2017 (Manuch)

“Thanks for coming, get it out there, tell people what’s happening in here!”

Message shouted through the wire and steel walls of Morton Hall detention centre

Eleven days into 2017 Lukasz Debowski, a 27-year-old Polish man, was found dead at a Morton Hall, a little-known immigration detention centre in rural Lincolnshire.

Fellow inmates said that Lukasz was “young and quiet, never causing any trouble”, that he had not committed any crime in the UK and that he had sought medical help for mental health problems. They said he’d spent his time watching TV, playing games and at the gym.

They said Lukasz had killed himself, and that he’d been refused bail just before Christmas because he could not provide sureties.

His partner, whose advanced pregnancy left her unable to attend the bail hearing, gave birth to the couple’s son on the day that Lukasz died.

The mood at Morton Hall was low.

Just a few weeks earlier, another Morton Hall detainee had died in hospital. A friend reported to the Detained Voices website that Bai Ahmed Kabia fell down in his cell “foaming at the mouth”, that nurses were called at 3pm, and Kabia was taken to hospital four hours later.

“He was really a nice person and was always willing to help people,” said the friend, a fellow detainee: “He would just help people through the goodness of his heart for nothing in return.”

Bai Ahmed Kabia was reportedly 49 years old and stateless, probably from Sierra Leone. The friend said he had lived in the UK for 27 years. Detainees had heard that when Bai Ahmed Kabia was close to death, the Home Office had signed his release papers.

“If he was given bail and left here. People would have been proud and happy,” said the friend. “But the way he left really weighs heavy on your heart. The media needs to know about this. This place is a stressful place. He’s been punished. We don’t have anyone to stand for us.”

Standing up for immigration detainees

Members of SYMAAG (South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group) decided to organise a demonstration to highlight the deaths, to show support and solidarity for the 392 men locked up at Morton Hall, and to alert local and national attention to this little-known immigration removal centre in the Lincolnshire countryside. We chose the date, Saturday 11 March.

Protestors march on Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre, Lincolnshire, 11 March 2017 (picture by Manuch)

In early February I took a call from Lincolnshire Police Liaison Officer Jimmy Conway 997, a Group B Community Patrol Constable, who is based in Sleaford. He said that he and another liaison officer in pale blue jackets would be the only police presence (with ‘resources’ nearby but out of sight), and asked us to appoint our own security marshalls “to keep everyone safe”. He seemed relaxed.

But then, things changed.

Intrusive surveillance

About 60 people travelled from Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham and Oxford to Morton Hall, near the village of Swinderby, 8 miles south west of Lincoln.

On the morning of the demonstration, just as our coach was leaving Sheffield, PC Conway called me again. He said: “There will be a number of uniformed officers present now John, and a unit who will be filming – you will recognise them by the orange flashes on their jackets.”

Surveillance as deterrence works. Some of my SYMAAG colleagues in Huddersfield and Sheffield had already chosen not to come because they were still in the asylum system. They feared surveillance and its effect on their asylum claims.

PC Conway was true to his word. We were greeted at the gates to Morton Hall by a vanload of uniformed police and a van with members of the filming unit. As you can see from the picture: specialist filming cops were getting close-ups of demonstrators. This is pretty unusual in my experience — I have never seen them openly filming amongst demonstrators at the four Yarl’s Wood detention centre demonstrations I have attended.

Intense police surveillance of a peaceful demonstration, Morton Hall, 11 March 2017 (Manuch)

They didn’t like our photographer filming them. One officer asked him: “How long have you been here in the UK?”

“Twenty two years,” he replied.

Speaking from inside Morton Hall

We had some phone numbers for men locked up inside Morton Hall who had agreed to let us amplify their voices on our sound system.

They told us management had tried to undermine the demonstration.

“They play music and stop us being outside, they also bring ice cream,” one man told us. “When we heard chants and we managed to get outside. We then heard it was people supporting us people.”

Another said: “We heard the protesting and they try to stop us going outside but we manage to. They tell us it’s about a football team.”

And another: “I shut off the music, they will come and grab me today because I stopped the music.”

“Freedom! Freedom!”

About 40 men gathered behind the wire fences. One climbed up the fencing and was able to shout to us. He was Nariman Jalal Karim, an Iranian asylum seeker who said he had been locked up in Morton Hall for six months. He was a physical education teacher who had left his family in the Middle East. For two hours, he chanted “Freedom! Freedom!”

Nariman, at top right of picture, scales the fence and shouts ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ (Manuch)

One man, who spoke for eight minutes, told us: “People come in here normal but they get ill. But they don’t care, they don’t care. There are people in here who shouldn’t be here — old people with grandchildren, some have not seen family for years.”

“People need medical attention, for mental health, for diabetes. They need physical and emotional support.

“They lock us up like prison and it’s bad conditions. They don’t want us to show how we are living here. People taking their lives, we have no release date. You’ve no idea what detention does to your mind and body.

“A hundred of us sent a letter to the Home Office because of how long they are keeping us in here, but they never replied. They treat us like rubbish, leaving us to rot in here”

Among us protestors on the outside of the fence was Kingsley, who had been locked up at Morton Hall. Our sound system carried his voice to the protestors on the other side of the fence.

Kingsley at Morton Hall (Manuch)“They refused me health care,”

Kingsley said. “They treated me like a liar and I had to prove myself. It’s a disgrace. On my first night, I was in lots of pain. They did not believe me. By the third time I asked for help and was refused, I broke everything in the room. They finally called a nurse. They finally called the ambulance.”

About the two recent deaths at Morton Hall, Kingsley said: “One man died because he was not given medical attention. You will be next if you don’t stand up for your freedom against oppression.”

“You have to fight. Never work for £1 an hour. If you refuse to cook and clean, the place will not run. Keep fighting!!”

By phone from inside Morton Hall, one man protested about mobile phones with cameras being confiscated. “They don’t want us to show what it’s like in here,” he said. “But we can’t even have pictures of our families and grandchildren to remember. We’re not prisoners, we’re not criminals, but we would be better off in prison, there we could have our phones.”

Bill McKeith from the Close Campsfield detention centre campaign told the demonstration: “This is an important day to expose what’s going on in Morton Hall. There are ten detention centres in the UK, nine are privately run – this one is run by the Prison Service on behalf of the Home Office. It was a prison for men from 1985 then for women from 2009, and since 2011 the prison changed its name and became an Immigration Removal Centre for 392 men. But it’s still run like a prison – a badly run prison. The contract paid the Prison Service £11m of taxpayers’ money in its first year, and presumably a lot more since then.”

A safe place?

Morton Hall, a former women’s prison, was ‘reroled’ as an immigration removal centre in May 2011. Within months —  in September 2011 — eighteen men went on hunger strike to resist their removal to Afghanistan.

In July 2012 two men took to the roof; many detainees were “upset” over the duration of their detention, the BBC reported.

The Prison Officers’ Association told ITV News in November 2012 that 150 detainees had protested and staff had “been forced” to use their batons. The POA blamed rising tensions on the mix of high and low-risk detainees.

On Christmas Day and 30 December 2012, staff and detainees were injured in disturbances involving scores of inmates. The POA told the Guardian that staffing levels were “at the very, very sharp end of what we believe to be safe”. But the UK Border Agency insisted: “Morton Hall is a safe place for detainees and staff.”

Main gate, Morton Hall (HMIP)

In September 2014 Morton Hall again erupted in a protest after a 26 year old Bangladeshi man called Rubel Ahmed was found hanging in his cell.

In March 2015 Morton Hall joined Yarl’s Wood women and people in Harmondsworth in a hunger strike to highlight conditions across detention centres which had been the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, and a Channel 4 documentary exposing conditions in Yarl’s Wood and Harmondsworth.

Across detention centres in the UK, figures show that there were 185 recorded incidents of self-harm in 2010. By 2015, that number had more than doubled to 409. In 2015 across the detention estate there were 393 suicide attempts recorded. That’s an average of more than one a day. Morton Hall IRC with 51, was the fourth highest, and had 252 inmates listed as ‘at risk’ of suicide during the year.

A team of prisons inspectors visited Morton Hall last November and reported today: “Half the detainees in our survey said they had problems with feeling depressed or suicidal on arrival. There had been a three-fold increase in incidents of self-harm since the previous inspection [in March 2013]. During the previous year, four detainees had narrowly escaped fatal or serious injuries as a result of self-harm.”

Protest and be punished

In a statement to the BBC Look North programme, after the Morton Hall demonstration, the Home Office said it respected “everyone’s right to peaceful protest” but detention centres were “essential elements of an effective immigration system”.

Directly after the demonstration Nariman and one of the people who had spoken on the phone to us, Raffael Ebison, were punished and shipped out of Morton Hall. I spoke to both of them whilst writing this article.

Nariman told me: “I am in Brook House now, it looks like another prison. They sent both of us here yesterday (Thursday 16 March)”.

Raffael said: “At the end of the protest on Saturday I was taken straight to the segregation block. We had to stay there till they sent us here to Brook House.”

Campaigners at the demonstration continue to support and contact Nariman and Raffael in Brook House. Plans are already being made for another action at Morton Hall. We are determined to shut down Morton Hall…and all detention centres in the UK

Postcript: Shortly after this article was written Raffael Ebison, who was moved to Brook House IRC as a punishment for speaking out to protestors at conditions in Morton Hall, was released after pressure. As of 26 March Nariman Jalal Karim, who scaled the prison fence to speak to us, is still detained at Brook House. We ask you to contact Brook House 01293 566 500 to demand his release. Is telling the public how our money is spent inside immigration prisons a crime?


Author note: Thanks to Lizy for notes, and to Manuch for photographs

Fail, fail and have another contract

Security contractors G4S and Serco and housing company Clearsprings have for years supplied UK asylum seekers with shoddy housing. The contracts carry on regardless.

Fail, fail, and have another government contract

G4S asylum housing, Leicester (John Grayson)

 

For five years now I’ve exposed the dangerous consequences of the UK’s ill-conceived, badly planned and poorly executed rush to privatise housing for asylum seekers. I’ve told of children exposed to health risks in rat-infested homes, a cockroach in the baby’s bottle, lone women intimidated by their landlords.

This home is one of the worst. It’s a terraced house in the East Midlands of England, just off Leicester’s city centre. I call in one frosty morning in early January. Paul comes to the door. He is an asylum seeker from the Middle East who speaks fluent English.

Living with bed bugs

“The house is full of bedbugs, in David’s bedroom, another guy’s bedroom and all in here—.” Paul points to the settee in the lounge.

The room is full of bedclothes and personal belongings. “G4S never clears away what they take from rooms when people leave,” says Paul. “We don’t like throwing the things away, people might come back.”

Four men live here. David speaks to me in Arabic, Paul interpreting. “I have been here over a year and the bedbugs have got worse,” says David. “I had to throw my mattress in the yard and I sleep on the floor. I try and stop the bugs coming in through the floor boards by taping up the room.”

David’s room (John Grayson)

 

Outside David shows me piles of rubbish – infested mattresses, bedclothes, broken furniture.

“Ring G4S all the time,” he says in broken English. “Never come.”

Paul fetches some dead bugs he has saved. David shows me the bites on his arms and stomach.

I ask Paul how long he has been in the house. “Four months,” he says. Paul came to England in a refrigerated lorry— “It was very cold, four people on the lorry had to go to hospital.”

He claimed asylum: “They took me to detention centre, Campsfield. I was there two months, then Birmingham. One month in Kensington hotel.”

I had been to the Kensington, a rundown place G4S used alongside Birmingham initial accommodation centre, for people waiting to be housed.

Paul goes on: “Two months in Birmingham centre, then Stoke.”

I ask him about the Stoke house.

“Really bad,” he says.

After a further two months the Home Office claimed that Paul had been fingerprinted in Hungary on his journey and thus had to be deported back there. He was rearrested and sent back to Campsfield where he spent a further two months. Then in October 2016 he was moved again to the Leicester terraced house with the bed bugs.

Bed bugs (John Grayson)

 

David shows me his leg and a badly scarred knee.

“I get this from torture in my own country,” he says. “I cannot walk very far but I have been given a bus pass.”

The heating has failed many times and the radiator in Paul’s bedroom has broken away from the wall. His window doesn’t shut.

“The walls were falling on me,” Paul said, pointing to cracked plasterwork he had repaired with tape.

A G4S maintenance worker had inspected the house on 12 December and passed on an urgent text message to G4S, demanding remedy. One whole month later David told me nothing had happened. I went back to the house a few days ago. Friends had come to help get rid of the sofa and the lounge had been cleared, but not by G4S. The bed bugs were thriving. Paul showed me fresh bites on his arms.

Victoria Derbyshire — a bad day for contractors

Lately the lives of asylum seekers housed in the UK by commercial contractors got rare prime time attention on BBC television. The occasion was publication of a damning report from the Home Affairs Select Committee who’d found “vulnerable people in unsafe accommodation. . . children living with infestations of mice, rats or bed bugs, lack of health care for pregnant women. . . inadequate support for victims of rape and torture.”

The MPs had urged a complete overhaul of the contracting system.

Committee chair Yvette Cooper appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme alongside G4S executive John Whitwam.

BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme 31 January 2017

 

The presenter asked the G4S man: “Would you live in a house infested by rats, mice and bed bugs?”

“No, of course I wouldn’t,” Whitwam said.

He claimed G4S inspections had found defects and addressed them: “The issue is not that things go wrong in a house — they go wrong in my house, they go wrong in every house, but the requirement we have to address them, which we do.”

That was Tuesday 31 January. A bad day for the contractors, but not nearly as bad as it might have been.

The MPs’ report had downplayed evidence of racism and intimidation. Evidence, for example, from the Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) who said that “derogatory and racist behaviour” was common among contract staff. Asylum seekers said staff behaviour “made them feel like ‘animals’ and that they were ‘subhuman’.” Others reported that they felt bullied.

The BBC had planned to air testimony from activists and G4S tenants in Yorkshire asserting that tenants who complained had been moved against their will, had been threatened that complaints would damage their claims for asylum.

My colleague, housing rights activist Violet Dickenson, had been invited to take part in the programme as a studio guest. She was looking forward to speaking out about the culture of intimidation.

Out goes activist witness Violet Dickenson. In comes corporate voice Sharon Holmes.

 

But during the weekend before transmission G4S had lobbied the BBC, invitations were withdrawn, interviews pulled. The film clips of asylum seekers and activists (from the film, The Asylum Market, by Brass Moustache, that you can see in full here) were binned. Instead of Violet Dickenson’s live testimony about intimidation, the programme ran a pre-recorded interview with Sharon Holmes, G4S head of business, who dismissed some of the evidence in the MPs’ report as “anecdotal”.

Missing the boat

As for the MPs’ call for a complete overhaul of the contracting system, it was weaker than it appeared. For that ship had already sailed.

Since 2012 Home Office accommodation has been provided to asylum seekers by companies — G4S, Serco and Clearsprings — their subcontractors, and hundreds of small private landlords, through what’s known as COMPASS contracts (an acronym for Commercial and Operational Managers Procuring Asylum Support Services). The contracts, worth a reported £1.7 billion over five years, had been due to expire in 2017 — unless the government exercised its option for a two year extension.

“Before the Home Secretary signs the next contract, the committee will have things to say,” the then committee chair Keith Vaz MP had told BBC Scotland back in March 2016. “So, we will conclude our inquiry in plenty of time for the Home Secretary to be able to reflect on it before she signs the new contracts.”

That didn’t happen. Instead, the report’s publication was delayed. And delayed.

By 8 December 2016, and still no sign of the report, the government quietly issued a written ministerial statement confirming that the Home Office had extended the existing contracts, and that it was going to pay more — though not how much. “I have increased the amount of money that the Home Office pays for the provision of welfare officers and staff property management,” wrote immigration minister Robert Goodwill.

As for five years’ compelling evidence of rats, cockroaches, racism and intimidation, Goodwill wrote mildly: “There has been considerable interest in the accommodation and support that is provided to asylum seekers,” and he had “listened carefully” to concerns.

“Considerable interest”

What does “considerable interest” look like?

It looks like this:

Asylum seekers “are treated as luggage rather than people who deserve some dignity and respect. Government must get to grips with that with housing contractors.”

That was Sarah Teather MP in the foreword to her Parliamentary inquiry report in January 2013: “Racial abuse and victimisation at the hands of members of the public were striking enough, but more shocking for us were the examples of abject disregard for basic human dignity demonstrated by housing providers.”

A Home Affairs committee report later that year noted: “We were very concerned by the description of the substandard level of housing provided to asylum seekers.”

In January 2014 the National Audit Office reported: “Both G4S and Serco took on housing stock without inspecting it . . . many of the properties they had taken on did not meet the contractual quality standards.”

 

 

The Asylum Market from Brass Moustache Films on Vimeo.

The Public Accounts Committee followed up in April 2014: “The standard of the accommodation provided was often unacceptably poor and the providers failed to improve quality in a timely manner.” And: “Contractors have remained slow in providing decent accommodation for a very vulnerable group of people.”

Red doors and a Taliban room-mate

In February 2016 Stephen Doughty, Labour MP for Cardiff South & Penarth, secured a debate in Westminster Hall: “We appear to have a situation in which the Home Office is contracting a small number of companies to place highly vulnerable people — often, it seems, in crowded or unsuitable accommodation — in a very small number of areas in a small group of dispersal centres and cities, and frequently in areas of low rents and deprivation,” he said.

Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, reported: “A young man in my community who is gay and who has come to this country is having to share a bedroom with somebody who was once a member of the Taliban.”

Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East, SNP) said: “We have had refugee houses easily identifiable by the colour of the door; stories of humiliation and harassment caused by the requirement for refugees in Cardiff to wear coloured wristbands; and a level of overcrowding that would be more appropriate in the slums of the 1900s, not the 21st century. It is clear to me that the system is broken, not just in one location and not just with one provider. That is why the Scottish National Party is calling for an urgent inquiry.”

But that didn’t happen.

Labour’s Keir Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, said: “There is now a short period until most of the contracts come up for renewal, so now is the time for a review to be carried out so that whatever mistakes were made in the past can be avoided in the future. I think some contracts will expire in 2017, with a possible two-year extension clause, so time is of the essence.”

He said that lately: “I spent the whole day in Oldham, and in the end I came away with the conclusion that the only reason why more than 600 asylum seekers were there was because the unit price per head of accommodating them was lower there than anywhere else.”

Starmer went on: “I lend my support to the call for a review. There is now a window of opportunity.”

As we’ve seen, that window slammed shut in December 2016 when the Home Office extended the contracts.

MPs in the dark

During the Westminster Hall debate, Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton North, highlighted the matter of secrecy, how MPs are kept in the dark about how the companies carve up all that public money.

“We must make the companies involved more accountable to the taxpayer,” Cunningham said. “Private companies that deliver public services, such as G4S and Jomast, are exempt from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner has no power to investigate private contractors.” He went on: “It is nigh on impossible to get our hands on the details of much of what private companies are up to with public money. Accountability must not stop where private sector involvement starts.”

Criminal investigation into G4S and Serco

Lack of transparency isn’t the only problem. Both G4S and Serco were caught out “overbilling” the taxpayer under contracts for monitoring offenders — the tagging scandal. Both had charged the Ministry of Justice for applying electronic tags to ex-offenders who were not being tagged. Some were in prison. Others were dead. Serco agreed to pay £68.5m back. G4S tried to get away with paying back £24.1 million but eventually agreed on nearly £110 million. The Serious Fraud Office has had both companies under criminal investigation since November 2013. Information supplied by the SFO prompted the Financial Reporting Council in June last year to open another investigation — into Deloitte’s handling of Serco’s accounts.

During “emergency talks” with the Home Office in December 2015, G4S and Serco used the financial press to air their concerns about the losses they claimed to be making on the Compass contracts. That summer Serco boss Rupert Soames had used an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s business programme The Bottom Line to almost boast that over five years Serco would lose  £115 million on the Compass contracts. “The taxpayer presumably is smiling,” he said.

Financial Times features ‘struggling’ outsourcers, 23 December 2015

 

At the Home Affairs Committee hearing on 13 September 2016, Soames told MPs: “The reasons why the contracts are losing money for us are varied. One is that we under-bid. The price was too low. I have to say that a system of reverse Dutch auction conducted over the internet may not be the best way to establish pricing for a contract to provide care to tens of thousands of people.”

He said the other reason was an increase in the numbers of asylum seekers.

David Winnick MP asked Soames for a copy of Serco’s contract with its subcontractor Orchard & Shipman. Soames replied: “No, sir, I do not think that would be appropriate.”

The National Audit Office in November 2013 issued a warning about the “crisis of confidence in contracting out of public services: “There is currently a lack of transparency over the role that contractors play, the business that they do, the rewards that they make and the way that they perform.”

The NAO explained: “It is difficult to isolate the profit relating solely to their public-sector work. They (the contractors) rarely separate out their public-sector work as part of their segmental reporting. The government only has access to information on the profits contractors make where ‘open book arrangements’ are written into contracts.” Such open book arrangements do not apply to the Compass contracts.

Turning the tide

At a public meeting in Sheffield in 2012, when people learned that G4S had been given the asylum housing contracts, an asylum tenant from Zimbabwe stood up and said: “I don’t want a prison guard as my landlord.”

Remember the executive sent to defend G4S’s reputation on the Victoria Derbyshire show? John Whitwam’s expertise is not in housing, nor human rights, nor the asylum system.

G4S executive John Whitwam on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme

 

He’s a military man. As Lt Col John Whitwam he served as commanding officer, Royal Fusiliers. Then, after a brief go at investment banking — at Barclays, according to his LinkedIn profile, he moved into soldiering-for-profit, as commercial director at Pilgrims Group, before joining G4S, the world’s biggest security company, and becoming “managing director immigration and borders”.

Asylum housing doesn’t belong in the private security industry and its Asylum Market.

Tenants and rights campaigners did find some things to welcome in the Home Affairs Committee report. We in Yorkshire had already pushed our local councils to ban the forced sharing of bedrooms. The MPs recommended: “That forced bedroom sharing be phased out across the asylum estate as a whole and that the use of large scale HMO’s (Houses in Multiple Occupation) be reduced.”

And . . . The MPs recommended that future contracts should involve local councils and the devolved nations, and voluntary organisations in deciding on and scrutinising local, and regional contracts for the provision of asylum housing.

Asylum rights campaigners will seize on these recommendations to turn the tide against privatisation and intimidation, take asylum housing out of the market and put it back where it belongs, in public hands.
Asylum-seekers’ names have been changed.

 

This article was originally published at https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/shinealight/john-grayson/fail-fail-and-have-another-government-contract

 

See also Kate Smith at The Conversation: “Despite repeated failings, private firms continue to run asylum housing”.

The story of how G4S lobbied BBC to get The Asylum Market documentary pulled is here and you can watch the doc by Brass Moustache Films in full here

 

Asylum Market: the film G4S don’t want you to see

“Asylum accommodation is a disgrace” was the conclusion of the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report on privatised asylum housing on 30th January. The same day the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show was also due to hear evidence of a culture of intimidation in G4S asylum housing in Yorkshire. They had invited Violet, a leading asylum housing rights activist and member of SYMAAG to take part in the discussion. And to show the newly-released film The Asylum Market about G4S asylum housing in Yorkshire. After pressure from G4S the BBC caved in. Violet’s invitation was withdrawn, the film was not shown and there was no discussion of the evidence of intimidation in G4S asylum houses.

You can see The Asylum Market here

<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/201062637” width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

Merry Christmas from G4S, you’re evicted

After constant failures and abuse of asylum housing tenants over nearly five years, and serious jail riots at a G4S managed Birmingham prison it is still business as usual as G4S (and Serco, and Clearsprings) are given lots more taxpayers money to continue their disastrous asylum housing contracts for another two years to 2019.  John Grayson reports

 

 

This week just before Xmas two G4S asylum tenants went to the weekly Drop In session in a Sheffield city centre chapel and told the workers for ASSIST, a charity working for destitute asylum seekers, that one of them had been told that because he had lost an appeal on his asylum claim he would lose all support from the Home Office and G4S would evict him on 21 December. Another man told ASSIST he had a similar letter for his eviction on 28 December.

Catherine a volunteer with ASSIST told me “We have some temporary shelters and emergency housing for destitute asylum seekers but we would never dream of asking people to leave over Xmas.G4S have some discretion – they could postpone the evictions – but of course they would lose money then, not getting their contract payment from the Home Office for a few days.”

Just before Xmas in 2011 the UK Home Office announced, amongst the festive news trivia, a bombshell – that G4S the largest security company in the world was its ‘preferred bidder’ for a chunk of the £620 m contracts for asylum housing for the 23,000 asylum seekers waiting for the outcomes of their claims across the UK.

G4S had no experience of housing but it did have a dubious record in managing prisons and detention centres in the UK and worldwide, and at that time was being held responsible for the death in October 2010 ofJimmy Mubenga on a deportation flight restrained by G4S guards.

Andy McDonaldMP when G4S subcontractor painted asylum tenants' doors red, marking them out for racist attacks

Andy McDonaldMP when G4S subcontractor Jomast painted asylum tenants’ doors red, marking them out for racist attacks

Last week again amongst the welter of news from Aleppo and Brexit trivia Robert Goodwill Theresa May’s Immigration Minister offered the lowest possible profile in lodging a written statement in the Commons announcing extension of the asylum housing contracts and promising more taxpayers money or“more investment”, for the companies, and their managers and owners.

He dealt with the fact that over the past three years there had been four major damning parliamentary inquiries into the management of asylum housing contracts by two international security companies, G4S, Serco and the housing company Clearsprings; constant media criticism; and protests from local councils, in one short sentence

“There has been considerable interest in the accommodation and support that is provided to asylum seekers.”

He publicly contradicted the findings of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2014 when he claimed that “improvements…. have been made to the standard of accommodation when compared to those achieved under previous arrangements.”

Asylum tenants protest in 2012 in Sheffield at the start of the G4S asylum housing contract.

Asylum tenants protest in 2012 in Sheffield at the start of the G4S asylum housing contract.

Margaret Hodge the chair of PAC in 2014 drew attention to “the loss of the knowledge of experienced specialist providers”, pointing to the important role previously held by local councils and the specialist knowledge necessary to deliver such contracts. “Far from provision of housing for asylum seekers improving under privatisation, this evidence suggests that things are getting much worse.

Goodwill then gave the details of his largesse:

  • “Firstly, I have increased the amount of money that the Home Office pays for the provision of welfare officers and staff property management.”

Perhaps Stuart Monk head of Jomast, G4S contractor in the North East with a family income of £175m from property development and asylum housing, could have used some of the £8m his company received last year for asylum housing for better staffing. Local M.P. Alex Cunningham has described Jomast taxpayer funded asylum housing as“hovels”. Mr Monk describes them as “a product suitable for an asylum seeker” and seems unrepentant in painting many of the doors with red paint attracting hate crimes and far right attacks.

 

  • Secondly the Home Office has decided to “further reduce the need to use contingency arrangements, such as hotels, in the future.” A blow perhaps to Alex Langsam, founder of Britannia Hotels, twice voted the worst hotel chain in Which? Polls. Langsam has an estimated personal fortune of £220m and has been dubbed ‘The Asylum King’ after securing contracts in 2014 to house refugees in 17 of his budget hotels and making a profit of £14m for the company.

 

  • Thirdly “There will be a new higher price band for any increases in the number of asylum seekers requiring accommodation, this will allow the providers to further increase their property portfolios if required and widen the areas in which they operate.”

This will be good news to Clearsprings managers whose CEO James Vyvyan Robinson formerly of G4S, has an annual salary of more than £200,000. Graham King, the founder and chairman of Clearsprings, trousered £960,000 from the company in 2014.

It is also good news for Serco and their CEO Rupert Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill. They have extended another contract in their asylum market businesses, they have recently extended another controversial contract – to continue to run Yarl’s Wood detention centre for women in 2014,worth £70m over eight years, and more over a possible eleven years.

 

Serco bizarrely described another £20 million of taxpayers’ money for its asylum housing contracts as a reduction in losses. The Telegraph said Serco  ”plans to recalculate future losses in the coming weeks and it expects the figure to be slightly reduced, potentially by as much as £20m”. Serco shares were up 2.8 per cent after the announcement

Goodwill also formally announced a consultation on new contracts from 2019

“My officials have started work on putting in place new arrangements for when these contracts expire in 2019. This work is at an early stage and we are engaging with a range of stakeholders to consider options for the future arrangements.”

Grayling offering "Shedloads of (public) money" for G4S

Grayling offering “Shedloads of (public) money” for G4S

I attended such a consultation in Leeds on Friday 18 November where a senior Home Office civil servant Kirstie Greenwood signalled very strongly that G4S and Serco would be the contractors beyond 2019 – and then for a very long time .Without mentioning anyone she spelt out that the Home Office was ‘mindful’ to have only national asylum housing contracts,to have longer contracts beyond the five years under present arrangements, and remarkably in Austerity Britain “We are clear that we shall have to spend substantially more money on future contracts” Ms Greenwood did not rule out that contracts would reflect current Home Office policies on creating a “hostile environment” for asylum seekers –‘policy’ apparently was not part of the consultation.

In the statements of Robert Goodwill and Kirstie Greenwood we can surely hear the voice of Chris Grayling in 2011, then Employment Minister:

“What we have tried to do is to create a situation where our interests and the interests of providers are really aligned.They can make shedloads of money by doing the things we would absolutely love them to do”

On Friday 9 December after the worst U.K. jail riot since 1990 G4S had to transfer its management of HMP Birmingham back to the state prison service. Demonstrating once again that G4S fails miserably to deliver on its outsourced public services contracts.

A campaign has already begun by SYMAAG to reverse the decision to extend the asylum housing contracts to G4S,Serco and Clearsprings.

 

Welcome to my asylum home. I’d offer you a seat — if I had one

No chairs or table. Dangerous gas appliances. A blood-stained mattress. Rats. Squalor. Asylum housing today

Local authorities, charities and asylum tenants from all over the UK have given evidence that indicates the failure of the COMPASS asylum housing contract

John Grayson looks at G4S asylum housing in Sheffield ahead of Home Office negotiations to give more public money to G4S, Serco, Clearel to operate the “unacceptably poor” COMPASS asylum housing contract

 

This article was first published on Open Democracy on November 18th

 

Meanwhile a parliamentary inquiry into asylum housing lumbers on over ten months . . . and today in Leeds the Home Office holds yet another ‘consultation’ on a sorry business.

Jayne chops vegetables on a tray on her kitchen mat (John Grayson)

 

Jayne is on her knees, chopping vegetables on a tray on her kitchen mat. Jayne has no table or chairs. She and her two young children have lived in this squalid house in Sheffield for two weeks. Their landlord is the international security company G4S which holds part of a £620m government contract to house asylum seekers.

“I cannot stay here, it is not safe for my children.” Jayne is crying. She points to her storage ‘cupboard’. There’s shelving around steep, filthy and unguarded stairs that lead to cellar. The cellar is full of rubbish.

Jayne’s cellar steps (John Grayson)

 

Sam is Jayne’s lively four-year old son. “Sam is ill all the time,” Jayne tells me. “It is because of the dirty house.” Sam has already fallen down the steep bedroom stairs — when the handrail came away from the wall.

Debbie, a volunteer social worker, tells me: “I first came across Jayne and her family in a refugee hotel in Dunquerque. We spent months persuading the British authorities that the family had relatives in the UK and was entitled to claim asylum here.”

Through an interpreter Jayne, in tears, says: “Travelling from Turkey my husband and my other daughter went missing, I don’t know where they are.

“When I arrived I was given £90 for each of us, that was in August. I have received nothing for nearly three months. Friends and my relatives around Sheffield give me food, and support us. G4S promise to get me a payment and I am waiting for the post every day.”

A typical G4S house

In late October I inspect the house — typical of dozens of G4S houses I have seen in Yorkshire over the past few years — rundown, dirty and neglected. Debbie has already protested about Jayne’s dangerous cooker and the National Grid man has capped off the gas pipe.

“He told me G4S should be ashamed to put the family in with that cooker, he said that there had been a serious house gas explosion in the recent past in the area.”

Jayne gave me a letter confirming that a dangerous gas appliance notice had been served on G4S.

 

I walk around to the back of the house, where Sam might play. There’s a blocked drain, a broken-down fence and a passage leading directly on to the street with the door missing.

Debbie had told me that Jayne was desperate about Sam’s safety. “Her fifteen-year-old, Marie, cannot understand why she has to keep security gates shut for Sam.” Both children have learning difficulties. Jayne tells me she must carry Sam around on her back up and down stairs.

Jayne carries Sam down the stairs (John Grayson)

 

As I am leaving Jayne answers to a knock on the door — it is a G4S delivery of table, chairs and a new cooker — Debbie’s protests have worked.

The house is still dangerous for Sam and I have written to G4S warning them that they must provide safe accommodation now or risk a legal challenge to safeguard the human rights of Sam and Marie.

Legal action may be the only way to make Sam safe. On 7 November the Red Cross wrote to Paul Bilbao, head of Asylum Support Contracts and Compliance at the Home Office in Leeds giving details of my inspection of Jayne’s house and a further Red Cross visit detailing dangers to Sam and his sister, and the urgent need for the family to be moved. On 10 November a reply came from Lee-Anne Prince, the Home Office specialist for ‘safeguarding children’ in asylum housing in Yorkshire.

She wrote: “I have spoken to G4S and we are intending to visit the property in the next few weeks after which I will come back to you.”

Breaches of contract

According to its Home Office contract G4S must supply accommodation that is safe, habitable, fit for purpose, and correctly equipped and furnished, and G4S must “provide accommodation for disabled persons that is fit for purpose…in compliance with relevant law.”

Jayne’s furniture and a safe cooker should have been in the house before G4S moved the family in — one more breach of the COMPASS asylum housing contract requirements.

Working alongside asylum seekers over the past five years I have uncovered hundreds of such breaches.

This past year other campaigners, local councils and groups of asylum tenants and refugees have sent written evidence about asylum housing, just like Jayne’s, to the Home Affairs Committee’s (HAC) Inquiry into asylum housing.

Jayne’s cellar-head ‘larder’ (John Grayson)

 

The Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) interviewed 76 asylum-housing tenants, and told the committee that asylum seekers reported unsanitary conditions, dampness and cold, electrical and heating faults. One person told the researchers that the heating timer was set to turn off from Friday to Monday, and therefore there would be no heating in the house over the weekend. Another said they were left without heating for weeks on end.

The Welsh Refugee Coalition evidence states: “Housing is a major problem for many asylum seekers …the housing provided was often inadequate, degrading, shameful and unhygienic.”

Bradford City of Sanctuary investigated twenty-five cases and reported that:

“fifteen directly referred to the cleanliness of the housing, which includes dusty carpets, mice infested kitchens, water leaking from walls, poor odours and mite damage. A number…did not have fully functioning central heating and boilers”.

Bradford City Council had responded to complaints from asylum housing tenants.

“The Council’s housing standards team inspected a number of HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) properties…and found that within each property similar deficiencies were repeatedly present such as; rodent infestations, damp, failure to meet…standards in terms of fire safety, external yards/gardens were overgrown.”

Jessica: blood and mice

Reading the evidence, I’m reminded of a G4S house in Leicester I visited recently. There I listen to Jessica, who arrived from the Middle East in July.

She was allocated a room in a filthy G4S house. The mattress of her bed was stained with blood.

After protests from the Red Cross she was moved to another house in Leicester…this time infested with mice.

“I am terrified of the mice in my bedroom,” she tells me. “I cannot sleep.” Jessica shows me the mouse-traps and poison she has bought for her room.

Jessica attempts rodent control (John Grayson)

 

Two other women in the house, young asylum seekers from Africa, tell me of other problems. Dawn said:

“This house was without heating and hot water for nearly a month, we were boiling kettles to have a bath. The G4S man said that we should not switch the boiler off because it will not come back on…we live with a noisy boiler in this overheated kitchen now.”

Buckets for hand-washing clothes (John Grayson)

 

Dawn had been in the house for two years. “Our washing machine kept leaking and was never repaired properly — then G4S left us without a washing machine for six months — they told us to wash our clothes by hand.” Dawn pointed to the buckets they had bought to do the washing.

Ken – two years with rats

Rodents are a common feature in G4S housing. In Sheffield I talked with Ken, who showed me a window in his kitchen. “My wife had nightmares when she saw the rats out there so we put tape on the window,” he said. Ken arrived from the Middle East two years ago with his wife and twenty-year-old daughter.

Ken’s kitchen window (John Grayson)

 

“We saw the house and said we would not live there, the G4S man said that there were plenty of English people living under bridges and that we could join them if we refused the house.”

Ken and his family have complained about the rats on at least six occasions over the past two years. The G4S notice in the house says the pest control staff came in mid-September but Ken tells me the rats are still about.

And that’s not all.

Ken told me: “Young people came every night throwing stones at the house and calling racist names.” The police were called, but still G4S would not move the family to safe accommodation.

Asylum seekers in Northern Ireland reported racist treatment from their landlords — the property company Orchard & Shipman, subcontractors to Serco. The Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers expressed alarm that “derogatory and racist behaviour” was common among Orchard & Shipman staff.

The Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) reported to the Home Affairs Committee that a majority of asylum seekers said staff behaviour “made them feel like ‘animals’ and that they were ‘subhuman’. Others reported that they felt ‘bullied’.”

What next for asylum housing?

Campaigners for better conditions for asylum seekers in accommodation provided by the Home Office contractors G4S, Serco and Clearel (Clearsprings) have had some success. Scottish Refugee Council’s work  alongside asylum housing tenants in Glasgow has resulted in Serco dropping Orchard & Shipman from the contracts in Scotland. In the North East rumours circulate that G4S is planning to drop its sole contractor there, Jomast Developments, the company that achieved front page coverage in The Times for painting asylum seekers’ doors red.

While the Home Affairs Committee prepares its report on these matters, the Home Office continues to negotiate with G4S, Serco and Clearel (Clearsprings) to extend the contract for two more years until 2019.

Since the contractors came on board in June 2012, there have been four significant inquiries, featuring asylum housing in Parliament, the Children’s’ Society Parliamentary panel in 2013, a Home Affairs Committee inquiry in 2013, a Public Accounts Committee inquiry in 2014 and the current Home Affairs Committee inquiry.

In 2016 G4S was fined £5.6m for the standard of the housing it provided in 2013/14. Despite all that, regardless of persistently negative media coverage and asylum tenants’ tenacious resistance and solidarity campaigning, still, G4S, Serco and Clearel hold the contract. Indeed, the Home Office is currently negotiating a contract extension with its ‘commercial partners’.

In any normal commercial setting a contractor producing such shoddy work might quickly find themselves off the job.

Why does the government tolerate this? Is it because substandard accommodation is exactly what the government wants for asylum seekers? This is one of the questions I’ll put to the Home Office today in Leeds at their ‘consultation’ on future asylum housing contracts.

 


 

Note: Jayne, Sam, Marie, Jessica, Dawn and Ken are pseudonyms.

Grande Synthe and Calais: July eyewitness report and appeal for support

Grande Synthe and Calais, July 2016

As Caroline and I prepare for our latest trip, the news from Calais is pretty dire – few volunteers are at the warehouse and cold food distribution has had to be suspended because of a lack of funds, donations and people. Fortunately Sheffield Donations for Refugees have raised a tidy sum, and we receive donations and help from people through Unite, family and friends, for which we are very grateful. We bulk buy lots of food, as this seems to be the greatest need at the moment and once again Nico’s car is thoroughly rammed with donations.

Driving to and around Calais has become second nature now, we get to the warehouse in good time and unload. We arrange to meet with other volunteers next morning to go to the Medecins Sans Frontieres camp in Grande Synthe near Dunkirk. We’re glad to go there again, when we last visited in March the camp had only been set up a couple of weeks, and it will be good to see how things have progressed.

The Refugee Information Bus is on site, which gives advice and legal support to refugees in camp. We’ve brought them ten copies of the Right to Remain toolkit which have just been published, and stop for a chat. Unfortunately many refugees don’t want to hear the facts about how hard it will be for them if they make it to the UK and the intricacies of the asylum system, it’s a tough message to get across.

To save costs we’re staying on a campsite this time. Somehow we make ourselves understood to the campsite owner, despite our abysmal French, and soon we are putting our tent up in a gale. We decide to eat there tonight, even though the menu consists of two steak dishes and Caroline is vegetarian. The campsite owner offers to make up a salad for her, which turns out to be quite disgusting, then over-charges a scandalous amount for the meal. Definitely need to brush up on expressions of outrage in French if we’re coming here again.

Next morning we pack up the car with the items for distribution in Grande Synthe. Camp security is now organised by central rather than local government, and it’s a change for the worse. Previously the security was unobtrusive, but these guys seem to have modelled themselves on nightclub bouncers. They allow our vehicle in as it has boxes and bags for distribution but are refusing entry to other cars. One woman is there to collect furniture from the women and children’s centre to be moved elsewhere but they won’t let her on to get them, much to her frustration.

Our first job is the 12 o’clock men’s distribution, giving out items including socks, t-shirts and toiletries. The intention is to make it feel like a shopping experience with an element of choice, and there is much deliberation over sock selection. Two volunteers are outside advising what items are available, keeping an eye out for queue jumping, scuffles etc. But we’re not expecting any trouble, because we don’t have any shoes. Fights have broken out over shoes more than once – hardly surprising when people are walking around in sandals or in trainers with the backs broken down.

DistributionHuman rightsBarbers

There are more than enough of us so I go and help the woman who needs to shift stuff off site, but as soon as I get in the car a refugee approaches to ask when I am going back to the UK. I explain it will be on Monday, and he asks if I could take some things over for him. I’m not entirely clear what and why he wants to move things, but take his phone number and agree to visit his shelter later to discuss.

The women and children’s centre has really come on since our last visit in March, it’s now screened off from view. It has an electricity supply, enabling people to charge mobile phones and use other equipment; and a row of wood-burning stoves so that the women can come and cook meals. The volunteers there are having a meeting, discussing what activities would be appealing for the women – there is so little for people to do here. Suggestions include massage, weaving and sewing sessions, though these are all dependent on having volunteers with the right skills and equipment. A boy of about 12 with very good English is translating the ideas to some of the women to get their approval.

Women's centre

The meeting over, as we put the chairs and table that need to go off site into the car, the refugee who wants me to take stuff to the UK comes by again, and turns out to be the father of the boy doing the translating; I am also introduced to his mother and younger siblings. In the car park we transfer the furniture to another vehicle, and then the over-officious security refuse to let the car back on site, although they can plainly see it is still loaded with items for the 3 pm distribution. I have to go and get the lead volunteer, but even then they refuse entry – there is no rhyme or reason to the rules, which appear to have changed since this morning. Eventually they let us on but tell us we must be off site again in three minutes.  But they have no real interest in enforcing this, so we take our time unloading for the afternoon distribution.

We go for lunch, which is surprisingly tasty considering it consists only of rice and chickpeas, then Caroline and I go to visit the refugee family.  We are warmly welcomed to their shelter, and given tea and biscuits while they explain the situation. The father has already lived and worked in the UK and has permission to stay, but can’t meet the financial requirement to get visas for his family.  Clearly there is a cunning plan to get the family over, but whatever it is it won’t allow them to carry much luggage. We agree to take a large bag of the family’s clothes and shoes and a pushchair with us to drop off with their friend in England, then head off for the 3 pm distribution, which goes smoothly.

Loaded up with the family’s gear, we go back to the warehouse. We’re not that hungry but grab a bit of lentil curry anyway in case we don’t get another chance, because we’re definitely not eating at the campsite again. We do decide to have one drink there before heading out to another bar though, which also proves to be a mistake – when the campsite owner pours us two glasses of white wine, Caroline is appalled to see a dead bluebottle float to the top of one. The replacements he is forced to provide are warm and we make a mental note not to drink here again either.

At the other bar there is a hog roast, so Caroline is doomed to salad again, even the crudites are secreting bits of ham and fish. We manage a stilted conversation with some French holidaymakers, though it’s not until the end of the evening that one of them asks why we are there. He’s not very impressed when we explain what we are doing, though as guests we are appeasing – we understand that it is a difficult situation for French people in Calais as well, and it is a UK problem. He complains that the refugees get everything for free – clothes and food – which is partly true, but we explain that the clothes are old and the food is limited. Regardless it has been a pleasant enough evening and we decide to return there for the Euro 16 final the following evening.

We get to the warehouse early on Sunday – possibly a mistake as we are then lumbered with all the washing up from the previous day. I bump into one of the volunteers from the Calais women and children’s bus on our May trip, it’s her day off today and she needs another volunteer there, so our plans for the day are sorted.

At the bus the first thing we notice – they’re hard to avoid – are the dead rats littering the place, which look quite fresh except where they’ve been run over. At first we are concerned that there is some new disease around causing them to die, but later we are told that blocks of rat poison have been placed around the camp, so more likely they have eaten the poison and died on the way back to their nest in a sandy pit opposite the bus. Trying to ignore them, we put the day’s items for distribution on to the bus. It has been moved out a bit from the fence to the container area, to create a play area complete with a garden, shed, caravan and gazebo.

Today is cinema day and children start to arrive to watch Space Jam, while women come to collect the limited items we have – mainly baby wipes and nappies – and to sit down and chat for a while. Some of the women I met on my last visit, there has been little change for them in the meanwhile. An air conditioning unit and solar panels to power it have been provided, but no-one has had the time or knowledge to get them working, so as an interim measure the bus windows upstairs have been lined with reflective material and it’s more bearable in the heat.

Through her work Caroline has learnt a few words of Farsi and Arabic which she uses to good effect in communicating with the women. As lunchtime approaches I get a message asking if I could give a lift to a volunteer who needs to work out a money transfer with a refugee he is helping so I go back to the warehouse, and catch an impromptu drumming performance by a very young volunteer on a drum kit that was randomly donated the previous day.

Drumming

Aidan on drums

While I’m gone lunch arrives on the bus, provided by the warehouse kitchen, which, for the first time I’m aware of, turns out to be a meat dish. Caroline’s on the salad again.

The money transfer mission ends up aborted and I go back out to the bus. The baby wipes have run out, a woman who needs some is angry because there are never any left when she comes to get some. We calm her down by telling her to come back in an hour and I go to get more from the warehouse. As I leave I’m waylaid by two Ethiopian women – could I take them to the train station? It’s not on the way but I know from experience it will take them an hour to walk there so I agree. They are getting the train to one of the other French camps – they’ve been there before, and come back to the Jungle, but are now returning. There seems to be quite a lot of camp hopping going on and we’re not sure why – sometimes to visit other family members, or perhaps just to relieve the boredom.

I’ve been in and out of camp all day but each time the CRS insist on seeing my vehicle pass and driving licence and looking in the back of the car before waving me in reluctantly. Back on the bus, the woman gets her wipes and advice to come earlier in the future. A man comes to the bus door to say that his wife has just given birth, she needs clothes for the baby. We don’t have any here, and again he starts to get angry, but we make a note of his name and promise to bring what she needs the next day. Life here is a continual cycle of frustration and waiting.

Of course we are fortunate enough to be able to leave, and at the end of the day we decide to go into Calais to the Family Pub, catch the end of the Wimbledon final and get an early meal that doesn’t consist of salad. Then it’s back to the campsite and out to the bar for the football, which is of course full of folk with French flags painted on their faces singing the Marseillaise. The guy from the previous night asks us if we have been to the Jungle today – were the refugees aggressive, because they always seem to be aggressive when the French news cameras are there? We tell him about our day and show him the pictures we have taken – the sight of those dead rats perhaps gives him a bit of a different perspective, and his aunt who is with him thinks we are doing a good thing. The mood is more downbeat however once France lose the match and we make a quick exit at the end.

Marseillaise

After a poor night’s sleep due to gales battering the tent, we pack up then meet the guy from the Refugee Information Bus and continue our conversation about how to get useful information across to residents of the camp. Perhaps we can get refugees who have settled in Sheffield to come out and advise in appropriate languages; start to link in more effectively with the growing networks for refugee support in the UK. Plenty of food for thought once we are back home.

After an interminable wait for the campsite owner to get over his hangover and return my passport, we drop off a volunteer at the women and children’s bus then spend our last couple of hours at the warehouse making up food parcels, before heading for the ferry and home. On our way we drop off the refugee family’s belongings with their friend and text to say we hope to see them in the UK – we get a text back saying “We hope so too”.

We are still waiting to hear if they have made it. And waiting to find out what the implications of Brexit will be on the camp and border – if the Mayor of Calais has her way, the camp will soon be closed down. Waiting for politicians to stop backstabbing in order to save their careers and put forward some ideas for handling the migration crisis (there are honourable exceptions of course). But at least we don’t have to wait to know whether we will ever see our families again, or have a proper home again. And we have plenty to do, trying to ensure that aid and volunteers keep flowing to Calais, Dunkirk and beyond, and building the networks to support refugees here in the UK.

 

Thanks to Fran for this report and for the pics

You can read accounts of previous solidarity trips to Calais and Grande Synthe camps here

You can donate to Calais and Grande Synthe here

Your support is needed more than ever

The Hostile Environment at Sheffield Home Office

 

How does it feel for people to go into the Sheffield Home Office building knowing they might get detained and deported?

 

The first event we in the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) organised was in 2007: a 3 day, 30 mile march from Sheffield Home Office to Lindholme Immigration Removal Centre near Doncaster to protest against detention. Lindholme is now closed, the Home Office building has moved but we are still here.

The Home Office South Yorkshire asylum reporting centre is now at Vulcan House in Sheffield on the banks of the River Don. Except for temporary holding cells beneath Vulcan House there is no immigration detention centre in South Yorkshire. The nearest is Moreton Hall in Lincolnshire. But for people seeking asylum who are obliged to report to Vulcan House each visit carries with it the threat that they will be detained. And the Home Office are keen to reinforce this fear. “I’m always sick… the week before I go to sign” Pride from Cameroon explained. Mohammed from Sudan couldn’t sleep the night before his reporting day at Vulcan House and packs all his immigration case papers in a rucksack each time he has to go to report.

“Don’t Interfere”

A condition for receiving asylum support is to report at Vulcan House weekly, monthly or every few months. Some people arrange for friends or supporters to accompany them when they report, feeling this provides them with more security or – if detained – an immediate campaign for their release. In the last year Home Office staff have sometimes tried to deny people the right to be accompanied. A retired teacher from Barnsley, who is an experienced volunteer, experienced this when he accompanied a South Asian family on a recent visit to Vulcan House: “As soon as I entered the building I was shouted at to ‘identify’ myself. One of the staff spoke to me as if I was a child. ‘If you’re not their lawyer what are you doing here? Get over there out of the way and don’t interfere.’”

sudanvulcan800

Image – August 2008: South Yorkshire Sudanese community demonstrating outside Vulcan House for the right to work and to be treated respectfully. We soon discovered the newly built glass and steel Home Office HQ and surroundings had excellent acoustics.

The Home Office policy to create a “hostile environment” for ‘illegal’ migrants is being put into practice at Vulcan House. Officials have handed out compulsory questionnaires (in English) to asylum seekers, demanding comprehensive personal and family information from people signing. Questions range from data-trawling: personal details of everyone who lives in the same house as the person reporting, to the apparently casual “how do you spend your time each day?” (designed to question voluntary activities). Then there’s the question “what are your hopes for the future”? Apparently innocent, but in the hands of the Home Office, a tool for entrapment. The question appears designed to push people into the ‘Voluntary’ Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme (VARRP) if anyone gives the (understandable) response of “I hope to see my family/country/home again”.

Going Home to Rotherham

The ‘Choices’ VARRP scheme has been heavily pushed by the Home Office at Vulcan House. Perhaps they’re in training for 2016 when the “Assisted Voluntary Return” programme is run directly by the Home Office. As people report at Vulcan House, they are bombarded with ‘Choices’ promotional material with pictures of smiling refugees who have ‘chosen’ to go back to the countries they fled from. Staff have clearly been instructed to push the scheme aggressively, even rudely, sometimes with unexpected results. I overheard this exchange between Grace, an exiled political activist from Malawi and a member of Vulcan House staff. (Grace is a destitute asylum seeker who has to walk miles each time she has to report to Vulcan House)

Home Office: “Do you want to go home?”
Grace: “Er…yes”
HO: We can help you with travel home, pay for your fare. Do you want us to help you with that?
Grace: Yes that would be good
HO: When do you want to go?
Grace: Today, now

When Grace explained that the bus to Rotherham costs £2.20 the nature of the misunderstanding became clear. She walked back home.

Prepare, Protect, Prevent, Pursue

Representatives from Sheffield asylum rights charities had sought a meeting with Home Office staff from Vulcan House to talk about the intrusive questionnaires, the rude and aggressive selling of the ‘Choices’ scheme and the right to be accompanied when reporting at Vulcan House.

At the meeting in February 2015 hosted by local MP Paul Blomfield, whose Sheffield constituency includes Vulcan House, the representatives were surprised to find that the Home Office had sent along its head of asylum ‘Reporting Centres’ for the Yorkshire and the North East region.

The charity people raised their concerns. The senior officer from the Home Office was apparently in no mood to apologise for her staff or give any ground to “you voluntary organisations”. Instead, she brusquely handed out copies of The Dial (see below) which seeks to criminalise and persecute people seeking safety in the UK.

thedial700

Then she read out a lecture about her exercise of powers under the new Immigration Act of 2014 (checking on addresses and landlords who housed illegal immigrants) and hinting that anyone (not just landlords) giving assistance to “illegal immigrants” in the future might find themselves subject to the law. She also threatened the representatives with the prospect of an order “at present on the Minister’s desk waiting to be signed off” banning volunteer escorts from all Reporting Centres.

“Playing a Game to Scare Us”

The Home Office’s Vulcan House has also been the chosen location for the organised interrogation of 26 Sudanese asylum seekers by Sudanese Embassy officials, described as “re-documentation interviews” in 2011. In testimonies from those people subjected to this – possibly illegal and clearly intimidatory – practice there were reports of threats to the asylum seekers’ families in Sudan and attempted bribery. “The Border Agency are playing a game to scare us” was one man’s assessment of the process and a report titled with this statement was compiled and presented to the Home Office. Despite repeated questioning of the procedure by SYMAAG and Waging Peace the (then) UKBA response was vague and evasive. A reference to our report on this practice in the August 2015 Sudan Country Information Guidance (see 4.1.4) blithely states that attendance at the interviews was “purely voluntary”. What would you do if you feared renewed torture in Sudan and received a Home Office letter stating (in bold) that “Failure to do so” (attend the interview) may affect any outstanding claim you may have with the Home Office”?

Opposition to these interviews sparked the formation of support networks within Sudanese communities in the UK and with campaigners. On other issues, people seeking asylum and asylum rights advocates have worked closely. In 2012 approaches to (then) UKBA at Vulcan House resulted in a commitment from them to ensure all staff wore clearly identifiable numbers, after complaints of rudeness and bad treatment. UKBA added that the new ID would also enable particular staff to be congratulated on their ‘good practice’. While it’s not clear how many official compliments have been received by Vulcan House staff from people forced to report there, asylum seekers are quick (and generous) to point out that some workers there are respectful and efficient.

“Soft detention”

The baffling changes in reporting regulations and the general regime at Vulcan House suggest that many measures are the knee-jerk responses of Vulcan House officials to higher management and ministerial pressure to ‘get tough’ and ‘get results’. For example the questionnaires mentioned above were heavily pushed to people reporting at Vulcan House for a few months with repeated warnings that it was “compulsory” to complete them. After a few months these badly photocopied grey sheets were forgotten and have never been mentioned again. The Home Office at Vulcan House appear to lurch from one fear-inducing scheme to another but with the clear intention of making life hard for people who can’t return home because of the threat of war and persecution.

The 2014 Immigration Act attempts to turn landlords, bank workers and health workers into informers and border guards. The Dial strategy seeks to smear people seeking asylum as somehow linked to “organised crime”, thereby enlisting state and private security forces to spy and enforce when required. State and private data-holding/collecting bodies like the DWP and Experian invisibly back up the effort. Capita were paid to send texts direct to peoples mobile phones, telling them: “You are required to leave the UK as you no longer have right to remain.” Despite that fiasco – many people texted were UK residents, an immigration lawyer in one case – Capita are now paid more public money to tag asylum tenants who have committed no crime. Asylum housing landlord G4S also runs detention, transport, even asylum advice services – a kind of monitoring and enforcement one-stop-shop. There are signs in G4S asylum houses in Sheffield issuing curfews, telling the tenants they must stay in the house overnight. “Soft detention” as John Grayson calls it.

This summer I demonstrated alongside many other people against Yarl’s Wood detention centre, despite its physical remoteness. It was a visceral experience, hearing and seeing the women’s resistance, watching the perimeter fence pulled, rocked, then torn down as the police looked on awkwardly. Later we learned that Serco had tried, pathetically and unsuccessfully, to distract the women with a game of bingo with “cash prizes” while we demonstrated. It was a public relations disaster for Serco and the Home Office and both demonstrators and detainees were emboldened. I’m not suggesting that brick walls, bingo and security guard style immigration detention is finished but that it will be increasingly augmented with means of surveillance, confinement and coercion that are harder to locate, identify and therefore challenge. As an Iraqi Kurdish refugee in Sheffield astutely remarked “They want us to imprison and deport ourselves”.

 

This post was written for Unlocking Detention by Stuart Crosthwaite, Secretary of the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG), with thanks to the refugees and asylum seekers quoted here (some names changed) and to John Grayson whose ‘academic activism’ contributed to this article. This post was published as Justice Gap‘s #Unlocked15 article of the week.

 

If you – or a friend – need support when visiting a Home Office building or help organising support if you are detained or threatened with deportation see the new Right to Remain toolkit

The Right to Remain toolkit is here on You Tube and is available in Arabic, Farsi, French and Spanish

RightoRemain toolkitMaze

Back to Calais, a 2-way aid trip

We had to leave a lot of stuff behind in Sheffield on our November trip to Calais, including 70 food parcels that were lovingly made up by the good people of Pitsmoor. Post-Christmas there have been appeals for more food donations for the camp and we know we have to get back over there. Finally, after a ridiculous battle with the courier company who say they have delivered Stuart’s passport but haven’t, we are no longer sans papiers and ready to go.

This will be a quick weekend trip to deliver aid and drop off a few specific items in the Jungle, such as books in relevant languages donated by Burngreave Library, and ESOL materials collated by a neighbour who teaches English to refugees. Stuart’s friend Emilie, who is French but living in Sheffield, is keen to join us. Bearing in mind the lessons of our last visit, we sort through the many donations we have received, ensuring everything is labelled with contents and sizes and ruthlessly stripping out anything that isn’t priority. I pick up the hire van on Friday afternoon and shift the heavy trays of food parcels for what feels like the umpteenth time, promising myself that someone else can unload them at the other end.

I’m looking forward to going back to the Jungle as our last visit was so inspirational, but there’s a bit of trepidation as well. Since Bumble the camper van was torched at the end of our last trip, volunteers staying at the youth hostel have had their tyres slashed, and some have been assaulted. Racists have attacked refugees near the camp while the police stand by, a couple of Syrians have been stabbed. It seems increasingly likely that the van was burnt out by fascists, so we book ourselves a cheap hotel rather than go back to the hostel.

We set off at 7am on Saturday morning and make good time. Amazing how much difference it makes to be in a spanking new vehicle, and not to have to stop every half hour or so to reapply gaffer tape to the driver’s side window. We make a leisurely stop at the services, and discuss the news we have just learned – Jeremy Corbyn is supposed to be visiting Calais today, at the same time as permission has been given for a refugee demonstration from the camp to the centre of Calais. Our original plan was to drive straight to the warehouse to drop off the aid on Saturday, then spend the day in the Jungle on Sunday before driving back, but when we make it onto Eurotunnel earlier than planned and realise that our hotel is only five minutes walk away from the site of the refugee rally, the decision is made for us.

We park up at the hotel and head off in the general direction of the camp. Tipped off by the sight of police vans, we soon see the demonstration heading towards us.

It’s fantastic, bigger than I expected (the press report 2000, which is perhaps a little conservative). About half and half refugees and supporters from all over Europe. The atmosphere of course has defiance and anger within it, but also all the elements of resilience, pride and positivity that so struck me on our first visit. It’s exhilarating to watch and join in, surprisingly pleasant to have only a hazy idea of what the chants or songs are about, and refreshing to be on a demo where I don’t recognise anyone. There’s music and dancing and sit-downs, culminating in Place D’Armes.

 

In the square there is a small platform where people are making speeches that can’t be heard very well even if you understand the language. We chat to various refugees – whenever we say we are from the UK we get smiles and handshakes and questions for David Cameron. There is a fond illusion amongst many refugees that Cameron is a reasonable man who must surely see that the border is ridiculous, they are good people, why does he not understand? We don’t want to destroy their hope, and make promises to keep fighting for their right to join their families in the UK.

We’re mulling over whether to leave and get to the warehouse before evening when there is a flurry of activity and everyone seems to be heading for the opposite side of the square. Here there is another small platform and more incomprehensible speeches, then the crowd head off again, towards the port. We’re not really sure what’s going on but start to follow. I get briefly distracted by a conversation with an Iraqi guy, and then cannot see Stuart and Emilie, so hang around a bit before catching up with the tail end of this new development. We make our way closer to the port where a ferry is in dock, through two portions of fencing that have clearly been cut down. Ahead I can see people running in a bizarre crisscross towards the ferry, as we get nearer I see they are crossing a tiny bridge.

I ask someone what’s happening? She shrugs French-style, “They are trying to get on the ship.” From the rear this is clearly a doomed enterprise – there’s no way that ship is going to sail even if the refugees manage to board it – but I follow just to see where it will lead. By the time we reach the bridge a couple of CRS (French riot police) vans have turned up, but are still waiting for reinforcements. They actively encourage people to jump the next barrier and head into the port. At that point I’m thinking, if they want us to go forward it can’t be a good thing, and immediately afterwards CRS vans start to arrive in force.

I posted this video on Facebook later that night. On closer inspection it doesn’t show what I thought it did, the CRS telling people to jump the barrier; once the reinforcements arrived they discouraged them; but shortly before they were “come right in” and even helping people over.

 

Reconvening at the hotel with Stuart and Emilie (who were ahead of me it turned out), they explain that once the protesters had got into a relatively enclosed area in the port, the CRS attempted to tear gas everyone. Stuart – who’s been around – had never seen so much tear gas, but it was not very effective in the wind. A group of refugees and No Borders campaigners did make it on to the lower deck of the ferry, but by then the doors to other parts of the ship had been locked so no chance to stow away.

We head to the pub to meet up with other volunteers, old friends and new. The rumour mill is in full force, 300 stormed the ship, the CRS are bent on revenge, all hell could break loose. And more stories about fascist activity – volunteer vehicles have been attacked not only at the youth hostel, but at the warehouse and the hotel where we are staying. It seems the safest place to park a volunteer van is in the Jungle itself.

Sunday morning we’re checking out the news, and of course the Daily Mail have got the full story. According to the Mail, protesters “broke through police lines” to storm the port and the ferry. Except there were no police lines till after the event; although the CRS were out in force on sections of the march, in the square they were few and far between, mainly hanging out by the Charles de Gaulle statue (it got defaced anyway). The sprint to the ferry caught them totally on the hop. The Mayor of Calais is sulking, “We let them protest and see what happens”. Hmm, 50 protesters making it on to the lower deck of the ferry and waving a bit was symbolically significant, but they were hardly posing a threat. However Emilie’s mum tells her the national French news portrayed the CRS in a poor light and Jeremy Corbyn’s sympathetic visit to the camp is also getting good coverage in the British press.

The van is untouched and we set off to the warehouse. It’s changed a lot since our last visit. “The mountain” of clothes donations is no more, the place is looking far more organised and has separate dropping off points for clothes, equipment and food. There are portaloos! The food area has a station for making up food parcels and a kitchen where massive meals of the day are being cooked to go out to the kitchens in the camp. The guy overseeing this area asks tentatively about the content of our food parcels, we assure him they are made up according to the latest specifications and he breathes a sigh of relief that he won’t have to undo them all to take out inappropriate items. As well as the food parcels we’ve brought bulk buys of tinned and fresh food, . I fulfil my promise to myself and have a brew while overseeing the unloading.

Now we have an empty van and almost immediately we are commandeered to fulfil a mercy mission. A group of volunteers have promised a decent mattress to an Iraqi family with four kids, they have a shelter but nothing to sleep on. We squish several mattresses and volunteers into the van. It’s a tough call between Stuart’s navigation skills and the volunteer’s satnav, but Stuart ends up in the back.

20160124_120219

The usual route into the Jungle is blocked off by CRS, there are more police than usual in evidence, so we take a circuitous path in but pull up next to the Ashram kitchen, near to the Iraqi family’s hut. The father turns up with his kids, delighted to get the mattress. We also have a few random items with us to give out, so the kids get a baseball glove and ball and a yoyo.

The Jungle itself has changed. There is now an abundance of the wooden-framed shelters covered with tarpaulin, more of these than tents. While they don’t keep the cold out they are much sturdier and resistant to the elements than tents are (the weather is mild today though, a relief after the horrendous conditions in November). There are more water stations and toilets, new structures such as a kids play area, and clearly defined waste areas. We know a clean-up and sanitation crew have been out this weekend including a minibus from Sheffield, they have been doing a brilliant job.

Stuart is in conversation with some Afghan guys while Emilie and I give another mattress to a refugee, who brings us cups of mint tea as a thank you. We go to to deliver the ESOL materials; there are now two schools, one for adults and one for children. There are regular English classes held in both and a range of other classes for the kids. Solar panels have been installed outside so there is now a power supply, and plans to get computers in.

In the rucksack underneath the ESOL materials is the Soviet hat, complete with hammer and sickle, that was amongst the donations that came from the Barnsley Miners Hall. We offer it to the Afghan guys, who see the funny side! They take turns wearing it for a bit before ripping the badge off (which they donate back to Stuart), and strike up a conversation about communist vs liberal democracy. As one of them astutely sums it up, in communist democracy the government makes the decisions, in liberal democracy the corporations make the decisions.20160124_124738

Emilie and I then go to give books, pens and notepads to Jungle Books, the library. This has also expanded with a new children’s section, and there are plans afoot to get a wifi connection. We are near the scene of my first Jungle experience, having to sort an ambulance for a young Eritrean woman who was struggling to walk. We happen upon her straight away and she greets us with a massive hug. Her leg is completely healed, she is cooking on an open wood fire and invites us to join her. She has moved into a slightly larger hut next door to her old one, and is proud to show it off.

We walk around the camp and come upon the new container section. Until a couple of weeks ago this was the Eritrean section of the camp, but the French government decided to bulldoze the area and put some containers in to house people instead. This prompted a huge refugee and volunteer action, to move the shelters that had been built to a different area of the camp before the bulldozers came in. The “homes” are bleak looking crates stacked on top of one another, and refugees have to check in and out through a biometric systems that requires five fingerprints. The area looks grim, completely unsuitable for families, and not surprisingly, is mostly shunned by the population of the Jungle. The graffiti artists have paid a visit though!

As well as graffiti (including the Banksy by the entrance to the camp) there are other bits of art and installations, many of them very amusing!

This is what continually impresses me about the people in the Jungle – the refusal to be victims or charity cases despite their many hardships, the determination to be recognised for the hard work, humanity and wit of the individuals and collective groups who are forced to live here.

By the container camp we talk with a Kuwaiti guy. He has been in the Jungle for five months, and like every single refugee we have this conversation with, he wants to come to the UK because his family are there. Once again we get broad smiles when we say where we are from, as he associates the UK with compassion and democracy; but his face drops a little when Emilie says she is French. Although there are lots of French volunteers on site who are helping out, his view of the country is inevitably coloured by the actions of the CRS who have regularly invaded the camp with tear gas and rubber bullets, and of the right-wingers who have attacked his friends when they have been into Calais. It feels cruel to explain that things would probably be just as bad if the camp was in the UK and that David Cameron is unlikely to be their salvation. We tell him we campaign in the UK for a new government, which he seems a bit unnerved by. In the home countries of refugees a change of government is usually the result of civil war or a coup. We leave him with the only message of hope we can give – good luck in making it over the border in whatever way he can manage, keep fighting, and we will keep doing our best to support them.

We grab a delicious and enormous meal at an Afghan restaurant then go to see if we can take anything back from the warehouse to the UK in the now empty van. Maybe we could take some of the unsuitable clothes and cash them in for 40p a kilo? But there’s a lorry coming in a few days to take these to Belgium, where they’ll get a better rate. They are more concerned to shift some of the inappropriate food that is constantly donated – stuff in glass jars, when it’s not safe to have glass on site; mountains of pasta, which is unfamiliar to most people in the camp and requires lots of water to cook; the pork products and baked beans. No-one wants to see food wasted, so I suggest taking it back for the food bank in Sheffield.20160124_164257

Three pallets of food are crammed into the van. It’s worth it just to see the expression on the face of the border guard when we tell her we are carrying food to poor people in Sheffield that has been donated by refugees in Calais. Obviously struggling to process this, she uses a torch to take a good look in the back, but finds no Persians lurking in the pasta. It’s a smooth journey home and the following morning all the food is delivered to the Burngreave food bank. There’s so much that the manager will share it around the other food banks in Sheffield. (Editor’s note: The Sheffield Star published a 2-page spread with the title “Supplies for French refugee camps handed back to food banks in city” on Friday 29th January, baffling bigoted contributors to its website)

20160125_104646

The trip has again been a huge learning experience and it feels as if we have been away for much longer than a weekend. It’s heartening to read that Jeremy Corbyn has been arguing for long-term solutions to address the roots of the refugee crisis; for the unaccompanied children in Calais and Dunkirk to be allowed entry; and for more to be done to help those with relatives in the UK to reunite their families. Though as ever, the Ukip-type comments underneath these news articles are depressing – Corbyn is dismissed as “naive”, or it’s a French problem and nothing to do with us.

I cannot fathom the logic of creating a European fortress to keep people out when we are not under attack. Masses of resources are poured into increasing security and obsolete weapons systems, that could be diverted into settling people, making empty homes habitable, using the skills of refugees to develop our infrastructure. It’s not an easy solution – nothing about this situation is easy – but better to turn our energies into tackling the massive inequality that underlies so many problems and building a sustainable future, instead of trying to prop up the existing system that is so obviously, irretrievably broken.

 

by Fran Belbin

 

Thanks to Fran for this great write-up and photos, originally published on her blog, where you can see more pictures and videos of the trip.  And thanks for all of her work organising, loading and driving (including driving back this time).

 

 

Have you been inspired to go to Calais by this? We hope so. If so the information below will be useful. We plan to make regular trips from Sheffield  to Calais, sometimes with one vehicle, perhaps a small convoy. If you want to find out when we plan to go next email dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk, leave a message via this website, follow @SYMAAG on Twitter or have a look at our Facebook page.

 

volunteerCalais

 http://www.calaid.co.uk/

Calaidipedia http://www.calaidipedia.co.uk/

Calais Migrant Solidarity https://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/

l’Auberge des Migrants http://www.laubergedesmigrants.fr/ (French)

Facebook groups:

l’Auberge des Migrants https://www.facebook.com/laubergedesmigrantsinternational (mainly English)

UK – Calais Solidarity https://www.facebook.com/groups/CalaisMigrantSolidarityActionFromUK

There are also lots of specialist groups linked to this group – e.g. for waste management, construction, firewood, food distribution

For Sheffield people:

Sheffield – Calais Solidarity https://www.facebook.com/groups/CalaisMigrantSolidarityActionFromSheffield

Sheffield drivers and passengers group https://www.facebook.com/groups/497004920476240

Fran pictured in the Sheffield Star's piece "Supplies for French refugee camps handed back to food banks in the city" http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/refugees-donate-food-to-sheffield-1-7703570 Picture Dean Atkins

Fran pictured in the Sheffield Star’s piece “Supplies for French refugee camps handed back to food banks in the city” http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/refugees-donate-food-to-sheffield-1-7703570 Picture Dean Atkins

The Immigration Bill: “turning people against people”

Over 70 people came to our January public meeting on the latest Immigration Bill. There was consensus that the real aims of the Bill were

 

  • to create a hostile environment for people seeking asylum
  • to appease and inflame racist stereotypes about people coming to the UK
  • to create precedents for charging for basic services and using techniques of exclusion and repression that could potentially be extended to all of us
  • to “turn people against people”

 

But there was plenty of opposition and discussion of ways to monitor the effects of the Bill and to refuse to implement it. You can read a summary of its main provisions below.

 

To get a better picture of what happened at the meeting see this Storify account. Thanks to all who contributed to the meeting and for spreading the news about it – in particular Fran from ASSIST and Marcia for the main photo.

 

The Immigration Bill is not yet law and is still being discussed in the House of Lords. You can track its progress here.

 

 

 

________________________________________________________________________

A new year, a new Immigration Bill, a new attempt to stir up a “hostile environment” for undocumented migrants in the UK. According to Sheffield MP Paul Blomfield:

“To call the suggested measures dangerous would be an understatement. They vilify the exploited and, even worse, strengthen the hand of unscrupulous employers. The steps contained in the Immigration Bill not only risk forcing undocumented workers into exploitative employment relationships—supposedly outlawed by the Modern Slavery Act—but potentially give abusive employers even more weapons with which to threaten employees”
He should know, having sat on the parliamentary scrutiny committee which went through the Immigration Bill line by line in November and December. So, we’re pleased invite to Paul Blomfield MP to introduce a discussion on what the bill is and how we oppose it.
                         ________________________________________________
Thursday 14th January 2016 SYMAAG Public Meeting:
What is the Immigration Bill and how do we fight it?
With speaker Paul Blomfield MP
7-9pm (doors open at 6.30 for tea & biscuits) 
Quaker Meeting House 10 St James’ St, Sheffield S1 2EW
_________________________________________________
Demonstrating against the last Immigration Bill in Sheffield December 2014

Demonstrating against the last Immigration Bill in Sheffield December 2014. Pic by Sam Musarika

What’s in the latest Immigration Bill?
  • A new offence of “Illegal Working” carrying huge penalties for undocumented workers
  • Making landlords responsible for checking immigration status of prospective tenants
  • Creating a new offence: driving a vehicle while not legally resident
  • Making banks responsible for policing accounts of undocumented migrants
  • Extending the “deport first, appeal later” policy
  • Restrictions on asylum support for those with initially rejected asylum claims

 

The results (aims?) of the Immigration Bill if it becomes law are likely to mean:

  • Increased exploitation of undocumented workers as they are driven “underground”
  • Discrimination and racism against prospective tenants who look or sound “foreign”
  • More police stop and search actions targeted against ethnic minorities
  • Excluding part of society from access to banking and related services
  • Deporting people to persecution in their country of origin, denying appeal rights
  • Using destitution as a weapon against undocumented migrants and their children

 

 

Protest against Home Office harassment of Chinatown workers 2014. pic: Harry Stopes

Protest against Home Office harassment of Chinatown workers 2014. pic: Harry Stopes

 

 

What can we do?

The Immigration Bill has already been voted through in Parliament (see how your MP voted here) and is now at committee stage in the House of Lords, where amendments are still possible.
If the Bill does become law, SYMAAG will work with others to create resistance to the Bill being put into practice eg trade union efforts to recruit and work with undocumented workers, monitoring the results of the landlord checks, publicising destitution caused to families due to asylum support cuts, supporting people who try to make “out-of-country” appeals against deportation.
This Immigration Bill, like the last one, aims to create a “Hostile Environment” for undocumented migrants. It also attempts to turn landlords, local authority workers, employers, bank workers, teachers, health workers into border police. We should refuse to play this role and support others when they refuse to.
imm bill demo odette
Millions of people in the UK took action in support of refugees last summer: “Refugees Welcome” was the message and solidarity efforts continue with donations and trips to the Calais migrant camp and Lesvos and demands to give asylum to refugees. But – as the latest Immigration Bill shows – the battle for the rights of migrants, documented or not, doesn’t end when they reach the UK. As Lucy Mayblin of Sheffield University put it, writing about the Immigration Bill, “the boring bits matter too“.
                                                                **********
Find more about the Immigration Bill
with thanks to Banksy, Sam Musarika, Harry Stopes and John Grayson for art and photos

“The refugees simply command respect” – eyewitness report from Calais

 

After reading about others making solidarity trips to the refugee camp in Calais, my friend and fellow Unite Community member Stuart and I decided to do our own visit, taking over a van load of donations and staying to volunteer for a few days.

We had fantastic support from people, raising sponsorship from Unite and lots of individuals, as well as donations of equipment and practical help making food parcels.  We also get lots of excellent advice when researching the trip through various Facebook groups and L’Auberge des Migrants, a French volunteer organisation.

 

Introduction

We have to leave a lot of stuff behind as we are over the weight limit for my camper van, but eventually manage to set off at 6am one November morning with only the most essential donations.  It’s really windy and a dodgy window on the van causes some concern but is resolved by begging gaffer tape off lorry drivers in a lay-by.  We make it onto Eurotunnel only slightly late, the border police search the van when they hear we are volunteering, but only in a cursory way and are not unpleasant.

On arrival we spend an hour or so getting lost in Calais, but finally make it to the warehouse to unload.  It’s getting near knocking off time when we arrive but we get all the donations moved to the relevant part of the warehouse.  A visit to the toilets round the back – Glastonbury long drop style – reveals a few people staying in caravans, so we decide to park up there as well, ready to start work in the morning.

 

Reproduced by kind permission of the cartoonist Kate Evans from http://www.cartoonkate.co.uk/threads-the-calais-cartoon/

Reproduced by kind permission of the cartoonist Kate Evans from http://www.cartoonkate.co.uk/threads-the-calais-cartoon/

Part 1 – The Warehouse

Volunteers meet at the warehouse at 9am, and first order of the day is warm-up exercises and an introduction to how things work around the place.  The more long-standing volunteers are identifiable by orange hi-viz jackets, the rest of us are in yellow, but they are at pains to point out that there is no hierarchy, everyone is welcome to suggest improvements.

The majority of volunteers only stay for a short period, and today most of us are here for the first time.  We soon discover that it doesn’t take long to become a veteran – some orange jacketed people have been here for a grand total of one week.  It’s a good, co-operative atmosphere.  Snacks at break times and lunch are provided, everyone is made to feel welcome.

Inside the warehouse it seems pretty chaotic at first.  Most noticeable is the mountain of unsorted donations.

mountain

The mountain

Many, many donations arrive like this, not sorted or just split into men’s / women’s or similar – all of them end up in this pile.  Someone then has the tedious job of going through them all and separating into men’s trousers, men’s t-shirts, etc; followed by another round of sorting into small, medium and large sizes.  Same goes for shoes, coats…  All this takes up lots of space and time – it’s immediately obvious that loads of volunteer time would be freed up if this stuff was sorted in the UK by people who want to help but aren’t able to come to Calais.

Stuart and I are put on the “lucky bags” team, getting boxes of pre-sorted clothes and bagging them up to contain a jumper, t-shirts, socks, pants, hat, scarf and gloves, to be distributed to refugees in the camp.  At various points I also work on hygiene packs, made up of toothbrushes / toothpaste, razors and shaving foam, soap, shampoo and the like; and welcome packs including a sleeping bag, torch, clothes etc.  Again, all stuff that could be done in the UK freeing up valuable volunteer time.

lucky bags

Lucky bags

Then there are the items that are not fit to be worn, and the ridiculous stuff – the high heels, the dinner suit complete with protective cover, the improbable hats, the wine glasses, the empty unwashed marmalade jars.  Loads and loads of kids’ stuff is donated, far more than can be used by the number of children and babies in the camp.  I spend an hour or so at one point tipping items that have just arrived straight into “cash for clothes” bags – at least then a bit of money is raised, but it seems such a waste that people have filled vans with this stuff and spent money on petrol to bring it over.

On Thursday afternoon I’m trying to tidy up the area near the front of the warehouse that has got overwhelmed with random arrivals.  With a few of us on the case it gets done, and by the end of the day the place is looking a lot better.  It turns out that the fire in camp the week before had created some turmoil in the warehouse, with an urgent need to get donations distributed in camp to people who’ve lost everything in their shelter.  There can be lots of volunteers at weekends but less during the week, so it’s good to be back on top of things in time for the weekend rush.

By Friday I’m a one day veteran, and am able to be a bit more proactive as more and more people arrive, helping them unload and getting the donations to the right area.  I’m a bit embarrassed when one woman catches me “cash for clothesing” the stuff she’s just brought – but she takes it in her stride and understands she needs to focus on different items next time.

I feel like I’ve learnt loads that can be taken back to the UK through the warehouse work, and am pleased to have tried out a variety of jobs so know how it’s done when I get back.  But we’re keen to get down to the Jungle itself now – with all respect to the warehouse team, the people who supported our trip will want to hear about the refugees themselves rather than the volunteers supporting them. We start to frequently remind the orange jackets that we want to go on a distribution trip, and when the call finally comes early on Friday afternoon we drop what we’re doing in the warehouse and leap into action.

 

Reproduced with kind permission from Kate Evans. http://www.cartoonkate.co.uk/threads-the-calais-cartoon/

Reproduced with kind permission from Kate Evans. http://www.cartoonkate.co.uk/threads-the-calais-cartoon/

Part 2 – The Jungle

There are six of us in the distribution team and we’re first given a briefing on how it will work.  The driver will stay in his van, and once the back doors are opened two people stand on each side at the back, flanking the middle person who is giving out the packs to people in the line.  Without people on the flanks the refugees start to all crowd around the back of the van, it can get chaotic and some people start to take more than their fair share, it’s altogether more dignified if everything happens in an orderly way.

We drive quite a way into the camp before selecting a distribution point, so I have a chance to form some first impressions.  There is a main drag strung with lighting; restaurants and shops have been constructed using wooden frames and tarpaulins – some look better stocked than the shops near my home in Sheffield.  Behind and in between these there are a lot of tents but also quite a lot of small shacks, they too have been built using a wooden frame and tarp.  Lots of people are chatting away on mobiles and one guy is polishing his windows.  It’s all far more structured than I’d expected. Maybe it’s the association with those long drop toilets, but I’m actually reminded of Glastonbury – a rain-sodden mudbath of a Glastonbury, as although it’s dry now it’s been periodically lashing it down over the previous 24 hours.

We decide where to distribute and immediately some refugees come up to the van, calling out, “line, line” and getting into a queue.  Hearing this more refugees start to join the queue, we’ve got the back doors open and I’m handing out the lucky bags.  These all look pretty much the same so no-one’s trying to swap or holding out for a different item.  Everyone is good-natured – one boy of maybe 14 keeps trying to come back for another pack but we’ve got his number and turn him away with a smile and a joke.  When the packs run out some people are left disappointed but no-one gets cross.  The line seems to be self-policing and the whole thing takes less than 15 minutes.

Pleased that it’s gone so quickly, the driver suggests we have a look around for half an hour and everyone is up for it.  We go to park the van a little bit away from the Jungle then walk back in.

We visit a building called the information centre, which amongst other things gives out advice on asylum matters in the UK.  This is right up Stuart’s street, and straight away he gets pulled into conversation with the volunteers there about UK asylum law. The others head off to the nearby library, and I pop out shortly after them to make sure I can see where they’re going, the other side of the church.

Just as I’ve spotted them, two teenage boys approach me anxiously; they are trying to call an ambulance for a woman in a nearby shack, but have very little French or English. Her boyfriend has to help her into her trainer so she can hobble out to show me what is wrong, her leg is clearly giving her a lot of pain. I have a long garbled conversation on their phone with the ambulance operator in English, the upshot of which is that we need to get her to one of the entrances and call again with the correct street name.

Stuart has caught up with me by this time and is on the case checking we are doing the right thing, getting the street name and ringing the ambulance again as she makes her way slowly and painfully to the entrance, reluctantly leaning on her boyfriend and me when she needs to. This has all taken some time and we know the others will be worrying so Stuart goes off to explain, they’re coming out later on another distribution and will pick us up in an hour. The ambulance arrives and the Eritrean woman is driven off, her boyfriend having to trudge back into camp.

We go on a bit of a wander, check out the library and chat to the people volunteering there. I consider using the toilets but the couple I look in are as bad as the worst Glasto toilet you ever saw. We are frequently greeted by refugees with smiles and hellos and handshakes, beckoned into restaurants. A young woman asks us if we can get her a suitcase, she wants to leave this place and go to another country but she needs a suitcase. We explain we don’t have one, maybe she could ask when another distribution team comes in and she quickly abandons us, no use to her.

After an hour darkness is edging in so we call the driver. He’s back in camp and explains that they’re in the middle of a jumper distribution, but it’s getting a bit hairy and he wants to call a halt – he’ll pick us up at the entrance. Ten minutes later here’s his van – with several refugees on top of it, a few more clinging to the back and more following behind – “line, line!” He says he’ll pick us up a bit further away from the camp, some of his distribution crew are still in the jungle; Stuart and another volunteer go back to find them while I catch up with the van, now well out of camp, but with 30 or so refugees still around it. Everyone seems good-humoured – they don’t even want jumpers, they want shoes, they want coats, they want a lift to London, to Paris, maybe Italy?  We’re trying to stay jokey and light-hearted but it’s dark now and it all feels a bit intimidating, we’re relieved when the other volunteers finally show up, perform a slightly frantic synchronised leap into the van and scoot off.

Lots of us meet up later in the pub and exchange stories and thoughts, there’s been too much going on today to process it all for now, so it’s good to relax a bit and get to know some other folk. A pint of wine is cheaper than a pint of Stella, this is my kind of place!

calaissheffieldlogo

Next morning my plan is to join the clean-up crew in the Jungle for the day, but after a bit of confusion (not because of the wine surely) the lift I grab is headed for the warehouse not the camp. I immediately volunteer for a distribution going out, now a two day veteran. It’s the van of jumpers from the night before, but now many people are in bed after being up all night trying to jump the trucks, so we can take a bit more time over it, ensuring people get the right size and a bit of choice. It’s blowing a gale and freezing cold with rain coming in.  Some of the refugees are wearing flimsy sandals but we have no shoes with us – one volunteer whips off his own socks to give to a young guy in just a pair of flipflops.

We hand out most of the jumpers then I search out the clean up crew. They’re working in a section where most tents have collapsed and been abandoned; every piece of rubbish that I pick up reveals another three.  It’s now started to piss it down and after half an hour I’m soaked and have made sod all impact.

Muttering vaguely about catching up later, I head off to see if the Eritrean woman from yesterday is back from hospital. Her boyfriend is worried, she’s not come back, he wants to go to the hospital to see her. I spend the next hour toing and froing, finding a medic who offers to drive him but doesn’t know the way, trying to find a map; her French speaking colleague offers to phone the hospital, so I go back to the boyfriend to get her name, but it’s not recognised by the hospital, back to get a date of birth (she’s 17), still not recognised and, defeated, back to the boyfriend to apologise, I cannot find anything out.  He is downcast but thanks me anyway.

I’m fed up at this failure and need to do something practical to keep going. The Ashram cafe has enough people helping out already, but a woman there hands me a bag full of tent pegs and a hammer.  Tents and tarps are flying about all over the place, many beyond repair and having to be abandoned. For the next few hours I’m roaming the camp helping people to fix what’s salvageable.

The weather is still filthy, even the more solidly built structures are affected, the roof is coming off the library, but many people are out working, rescuing tents, getting on with their building projects. I help out various people, too much wind and rain and not enough language in common to get into proper conversations, but plenty of handshakes and smiles and good to feel useful again. A group of Iraqi men are delighted to see a claw hammer, they use it to get the nails out of a pallet to re-use on the shack extension they are building. One of them who has better English turns out to be from Middlesbrough, here visiting family members.

If there is one big thing I take from this visit it is the determination and resourcefulness of the refugees throughout camp, who carry on working despite the weather, making use of whatever resources are to hand, creating order out of mayhem. Before the visit what kept me awake at night was worrying about facing up to the misery and desperation of the refugee crisis, but on the ground I can only admire the grit and ingenuity on display – if I were faced with their circumstances I think I’d be curled up in a ball whining, but they just get on with it, usually with a grin. The pep talks at the warehouse about how to respond to people in the Jungle are by the by once in camp – it’s not about volunteers bestowing dignity, the refugees simply command respect. If Cameron and his ilk only want people entering the UK who will bring skills and work their arses off, you really couldn’t get better than these guys.

Photo by A Gerrard

Photo by A Gerrard

In pub conversations with other volunteers, we reflect that the Jungle may actually be a step up for many  people there – in their home country they may well have been living in shacks or slums and in poverty – at least here they’re not being shot at or bombed. Others have come from better off circumstances, driven by war out of their professional roles and apartments, and of course I’ve only seen a fraction of what’s going on in camp, but just getting this far requires immense perseverance.

One encounter in particular makes my pre-visit white privilege angst seem a tad ridiculous. An Eritrean guy stops me for some pegs, I offer him the hammer but he says he lives too far away, that’s ok so we set off and on the way he explains his wife is pregnant, in between apologising for the distance.

We arrive at one of the little wooden-framed shacks and he sets to work with hammer and pegs to an adjoining tent, insisting I go inside to meet his wife. As he said she is pregnant, so has been afforded an actual mattress and decent blankets. She’s pinned more blankets to the walls and at one end of the narrow strip of floor space has set up a little table, on which are laid out her toiletries and comb (and a candle in a jar – eek). The carpet covering the rest of the floor is a most attractive Bradford City AFC sleeping bag.  I’m afraid my boots will besmirch it but she has a cardboard mat to protect it.  It’s proper cosy. We make some limited small talk, how many months pregnant, how many months in the camp, and she gives me a custard cream. She couldn’t be more gracious and hospitable.

The afternoon wears on, I haven’t planned a lift back anywhere and am a bit wary of it getting dark after the previous evening, so around 4 I decide that’s it for the day, return the hammer and head off. As I’m walking out the best thing happens – the Eritrean boyfriend comes running up, his girlfriend is home, and here she is, she’s had a night at the hospital and been dosed up with antibiotics, she looks loads better and we share a hug. As I leave I’m elated that I got to find out the ending to that little story.

While this high remains throughout the walk back to my van, which I’ve considerably under-estimated and takes an hour, I also get a reminder that the situation isn’t going to go away – 15 minutes out of camp a group of new arrivals stop me to ask for directions to the jungle. New people are arriving all the time, the camp has doubled in size over the last few months.

In the evening we meet volunteers who’ve been out to Dunkirk, where another camp is building up, composed mainly of Kurdish people. There is much less structure there, the stories really are of desperation and misery, of women and children drenched by the rain and not even a tent to shelter in. As in the Jungle there are no aid agencies on the ground, just the likes of us doing our amateur best to help out*.

I can’t pretend to represent the views of any refugees as the conversations I had were short and limited by the language barrier, but I have to make a couple of very obvious political points. Despite my earlier comparisons, the camp is nowhere near the size of Glastonbury. It’s a few thousand people, less than one for each town in the UK. And yes, of course more will come, especially as the bombs keep dropping; so there is absolutely no point playing the numbers game, the boundaries are constantly shifting . Open the borders across Europe and start working together to enable everyone to contribute to our society. I really can’t see any alternative – the current situation means refugees have no choices open to them, so for god’s sake let’s get on with the job of getting people settled and stop with the “not enough room” nonsense and anti-refugee rhetoric.

* Doctors of the World UK provide a clinic in the Calais camp and are amongst the refugee charities being supported by the Guardian’s 2015 Charity Appeal.

Reproduced by kind permission from Kate Evans http://www.cartoonkate.co.uk/threads-the-calais-cartoon/

Reproduced by kind permission from Kate Evans http://www.cartoonkate.co.uk/threads-the-calais-cartoon/

 

Part 3 – An explosive ending

So yes, then the van exploded. We didn’t see it, others did, we’re told it was loud, there was a fireball when the petrol tank blew, the firefighters were heroic; one woman was cowering in a stairwell expecting the shooting to start.

I later realise that the explosion must have taken place at the time we were chatting away in the pub with a guy I’d met earlier at the warehouse, where he’d taken an interest in the van, tightening up a loose light fitting, chastising me for not cleaning it, recommending a website for a replacement window. A guy called Boomer, as it happens.

We just arrive back to the charred remnants.

van 1

Most likely the fire was set by thieves breaking in and burning it down for the fun of it, though we can’t rule out more sinister motives.  But pointless to speculate, as the French police couldn’t be less interested.

 

Epilogue

We’re somewhat shell-shocked the morning after the van getting torched, and upset to find out that there has been a fire at the camp also, destroying 50 shelters. As usual this was probably caused by a candle. We get lots of support from other volunteers and a lift to the ferry; after some delay and form-filling because our passports have been burnt or stolen we’re on the ferry, and my partner has thankfully driven all the way to Dover to collect us on the other side.

Back in Sheffield I’m still processing everything and am distressed to read that the camp fire was in the Eritrean section; someone has posted on Facebook about a pregnant lady who has been made homeless, and I’m not sure if it’s the same lady who welcomed me into her home (have since found out it was a different pregnant lady, but no means of knowing whether the Eritrean people I met were affected by the fire). In this context the loss of the van feels like small beer, although the loss of our passports means we can’t go back to Calais as quickly as we’d like.

And we will definitely be going back. My circumstances won’t allow me to go for as long on each visit, but we can certainly do shorter trips and have the knowledge to make them as useful as possible.

Spreading the word here in the UK is also vital, building solidarity amongst our communities, getting practical advice out to those who visit Calais, and campaigning for political change.

 

 

Have you been inspired to go to Calais by this? We hope so. If so the information below will be useful. We plan to make regular trips from Sheffield  to Calais, sometimes with one vehicle, perhaps a small convoy. If you want to find out when we plan to go next email dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk, leave a message via this website, follow @SYMAAG on Twitter or have a look at our Facebook page.

Volunteering

I’m not going to name all the brilliant volunteers we came across in Calais because I will inevitably forget someone, but what a great group of people, so pleased to have met you all.  Since we came home many are already busy raising more funds and planning to go back, so I hope we will meet again.

This page is really aimed at those who are thinking of going over to volunteer for the first time, with some thoughts on where your time is best placed and some practical tips.

Firstly, do research your trip properly.  There is loads of great advice available on the various Facebook groups dedicated to UK-Calais solidarity (all links on next page) – people there will answer any questions you have.  If you’re taking donations over please please please make sure it’s the right kind of stuff and is properly sorted.

If like me you are a novice at such things, I really recommend working with l’Auberge des Migrants who manage the warehouse.  The warehouse work isn’t particularly glamorous and it can be frustrating to be doing stuff that could be done in the UK, but it’s great for getting an understanding of how donations are used, meeting other people and for getting experienced people alongside you when you visit the Jungle itself.  They know how things work in camp and how to get donations to the people who need them most, as well as the general distributions.

If you have construction skills to offer, l’Auberge also focuses on construction work, building shelters and getting materials into the Jungle so that the refugees can work on their own projects.

If you have other skills, there are other groups doing specific work, e.g. medics, that you should be able to find details of by asking in the Facebook groups .  As a volunteer librarian, one of the things I am going to focus on is getting more books to the library, Jungle Books, especially bilingual dictionaries and ESOL learning materials, and books in the relevant languages (Arabic, Pashto, Amharic, Tigrinya, Farsi, Urdu).

If you don’t have much time and/or feel confident enough to go straight to the Jungle, make sure you are taking the right donations – there is already a huge waste management problem out there so don’t make it worse – and seek advice / think carefully about how you will distribute them.

Other general tips:

  • The youth hostel offers a reduced rate for volunteers after the first night, you need to quote the relevant name which you can get from l’Auberge des Migrants if you volunteer with them.
  • The hostel, warehouse and camp are not particularly close to each other, a few miles between each, so think about how you will get around.
  • I’m usually not bad at finding my way around when driving, but didn’t get my bearings in Calais at all!  Take a satnav if you can!
  • The Family Pub.  It’s a terrible name for a pub, but very welcoming to volunteers, decent mid-priced food and great for meeting other volunteers and sharing experiences at the end of day.
  • Try not to get your van burned down.

 

by Fran Belbin, first published on her blog

 

 

calaisgraff

Links

Calaid http://www.calaid.co.uk/

Calaidipedia http://www.calaidipedia.co.uk/

Calais Migrant Solidarity https://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/

l’Auberge des Migrants http://www.laubergedesmigrants.fr/ (French)

Facebook groups:

l’Auberge des Migrants https://www.facebook.com/laubergedesmigrantsinternational (mainly English)

UK – Calais Solidarity https://www.facebook.com/groups/CalaisMigrantSolidarityActionFromUK

There are also lots of specialist groups linked to this group – e.g. for waste management, construction, firewood, food distribution

For Sheffield people:

Sheffield – Calais Solidarity https://www.facebook.com/groups/CalaisMigrantSolidarityActionFromSheffield

Sheffield drivers and passengers group https://www.facebook.com/groups/497004920476240

 

 

Thanks to Kate Evans (Twitter @cartoonkate) for her kind permission to reproduce some of her cartoon “Threads – the Calais cartoon”. You can see the whole thing in its full beauty here.

Thanks to all those people who made our trip possible.  Unite the Union NE/GEO/1(Sheffield East branch) which donated £1000, Unite Community South Yorkshire and many people who gave money. And time: someone had to fill 300 bags with portions of coriander, salt and turmeric.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are by Fran. And special thanks to her for doing most of the planning, loading and all of the driving to Calais. At least you didn’t have to drive back. RIP Bimble the camper van.