Ensuring Hastings offers a place of sanctuary

Local people are being encouraged to extend a hand of friendship and to welcome refugees fleeing Northern France.

Between 6.30am and midday on Sunday four boats containing 72 refugees landed on local beaches. They were all brought to Hastings to be medically assessed before being transferred to immigration officials. 

Tony Eastaugh, Home Office Director for Crime & Enforcement, said: “Those facilitating these illegal crossings and the criminals behind this trade are breaking the law. 

“If someone facilitates an illegal crossing, we will enforce the law and seek to return those with no right to be in the UK.

“We are working around the clock each day with the NCA and French law enforcement agencies to arrest and dismantle organised crime gangs in France. 

“On a daily basis there are extra police patrols on French beaches, drones, specialist vehicles and detection equipment to stop small boats leaving European shores.”

Meanwhile in Hastings a spokesman for The Refugee Buddy Project, Hastings Supports Refugees and Hastings Community of Sanctuary says the organisations are relieved to hear that the people seeking refuge who arrived by boat on the local beaches did so safely and without any severe injuries.

“The excellent work of the RNLI from Hastings and Rye Bay, alongside HM Coastguard, has ensured that these vulnerable arrivals have made it ashore safely and we thank them for that,” the spokesman said.

Councillor Paul Barnett, who represents Hollington on Hastings Borough Council is also the local point of contact for the charity Care4Calais, he visited Northern France recently and explained the situation to Hastings In Focus: “Two things strike you in Calais; the dedication and energy of the volunteers who come from all over the UK to spend a week or two there, and the gentle humility of the refugees who are increasingly being harassed and humiliated by French authorities.

“Now that France is in a military lockdown, life is unbearable in the camps along the coast and it isn’t surprising that increasing numbers are desperate enough to attempt sea crossings.

“I was at the beach when one of the rescues took place. It wasn’t possible to see much or find out how many refugees made it safely ashore, but let’s make sure that Hastings is generous to the idea of them finding sanctuary here.”

“We cannot abandon already vulnerable people to the mercy of a Global Pandemic,”

“As a Community of Sanctuary, Hastings is committed to ensuring that everyone who seeks refuge in the town and across the UK are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. We have a growing network of over 200 volunteers in the local area who welcome refugees, and Hastings is leading the way in showing how local people can offer empathy and solidarity with people who are suffering across the World,” the spokesman for the three groups told Hastings In Focus.

Mr Barnett says: “Those who settle here bring new experiences, skills and culture to enrich this special town.”

The Refugee Buddy Project, Hastings Supports Refugees and Hastings Community of Sanctuary say they have been ‘very concerned’ to hear reports of increasingly hostile rhetoric online about refugees arriving in Hastings.

“At this time of great uncertainty both here and across the world, we encourage everyone in the local community to extend empathy to these arrivals. We are creating a fact sheet with answers to frequently asked questions about the people who make this dangerous journey, which we will release in the coming days. We urge everyone to read and share it to resist the spread of inaccurate information,” the groups say.

Refugees coming ashore on at Hastings on Sunday.

And they report that the situation in Northern France is worsening every day with the few volunteers left on the ground doing their best to support the homeless population with dwindling supplies.

“The Government promise of housing for those living on the streets has yet to appear, and the lack of basic sanitation and the ability to self-isolate makes the likelihood of the virus hitting the camps very high. This all takes place against a backdrop of years of Police hostility.

“Those seeking refuge are putting their lives at considerable risk by making the crossing. Despite the current ‘lock- down’ environment, the English Channel remains one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The situation they are facing in Northern France is desperate; if it weren’t, people would not be risking their lives to make the crossing.

“We cannot abandon already vulnerable people to the mercy of a Global Pandemic,” the spokesman for The Refugee Buddy Project, Hastings Supports Refugees and Hastings Community of Sanctuary said yesterday.

“We call on the UK and French Governments to provide places of safety for those seeking refuge in Calais and Dunkirk. This means long-term housing, places people can isolate, places where people do not live in fear of catching COVID-19 and where people can get the food, clothing and any medical attention they require,” the spokesman said.

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