North West MEP Assaulted by French Police at Calais Camp
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- Published: Tuesday, 05 January 2016 15:33
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MANCHESTER STAND UP TO RACISM
NORTH WEST MEP CALLS ON UK GOVERNMENT TO LET CALAIS CAMP REFUGEES INTO BRITAIN
Press Release - for immediate release
Thursday 17th December 2015.
PEOPLE AT THE “JUNGLE” BEING “LEFT TO ROT” IN ASBESTOS STREWN WASTELAND OF SHELTERS, TENTS AND OVERFLOWING CHEMICAL TOILETS
JULIE WARD MEP ASSAULTED BY FRENCH POLICE AS DELEGATION TRIES TO LEAVE CAMP
A North West Stand Up to Racism delegation, which visited the Calais “Jungle” this week, has denounced the inhuman and unhygienic conditions at the camp - and is demanding that the UK government admits the refugees to Britain immediately.
North West MEP Julie Ward, along with Bury councillor Tamoor Tariq, a senior member of Manchester's largest mosque, a Syrian refugee and other delegates, joined a national Stand Up to Racism group delivering supplies to the camp. They met some of the 6,000 refugees who have made the long and dangerous journey from conflict torn countries in Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent.
At the camp, delegates also liaised with refugee networks from France and Germany in their bid to work together to apply political pressure to resolve Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War 2.
French riot police attempted to stop the UK delegates from leaving the Jungle after their visit and, when Julie Ward tried to show them her diplomatic passport, she was manhandled and pushed back into the camp. Eventually, the delegation found their way through the camp and back to their vehicles.
The MEP was the first to sign a petition at a meeting of 250 at The Dome inside the camp. Julie said:
“We stood squashed onto an improvised stage to address the crowd. We told the refugees we had come to show solidarity with them and that we wanted to find ways to give them a political platform so they could be more empowered to speak up for themselves.
“We read out a pledge to redouble our efforts to push the UK government to allow the camp refugees to enter Britain where they would find a welcome from the millions of people who want their country to make a compassionate response to the growing crisis in Calais.”
She talked to unaccompanied children living at the camp and found that people were desperate to share their stories. “An Iraqi man with three children told me he had been a professor. He showed me his scarred wrists where he had made multiple attempts to commit suicide. It was heart-breaking to leave, knowing I would be going back to a warm bath and comfy bed while dispossessed people would be sleeping in squalid, cramped, damp and cold conditions.”
Amaf Usif, Refugee Support Co-ordinator for Manchester-based Syrian organisation Rethink Rebuild, said:
“I have met many people who came to the UK through Calais and they told me a lot of scary and devastating stories but it was a totally different experience when I went there and saw with my own eyes what these people are struggling through.
“They are facing significant physical, psychological and emotional hardship and they are right in the heart of Europe. They should be helped and taken care of, not ignored and left to their destiny.”
Sarah Davies, senior lecturer in midwifery at the University of Salford, went to Calais on behalf of the UCU and the Royal College of Midwives. She was impressed by the organisation at the distribution centre and the dedication and efficiency of the volunteers.
But she was shocked by the “squalid, degrading and unsanitary conditions” people were being forced to endure at the Jungle. “I saw a vast number of people penned in behind huge fences topped with razor wire, overseen by stony-faced police wielding batons.”
With other delegates, she walked around the camp through a sea of mud, some of it contaminated with sewage, finding out that illnesses such as scabies, diarrhoea, chest infections and TB are going untreated. Sarah talked to many different people including several young boys aged around 10 – one of whom said his dad was living in Manchester.
She heard stories of mothers and pregnant women at the camp. “I was told how the police are tear-gassing the camp at night putting the safety of mothers and babies in jeopardy.”
Nick Wigmore, a North West NUT official and member of the union's national executive, said: “The fact that thousands of people continue to survive in such a place is miraculous.
“But that the severe overcrowding, lack of food, water and adequate shelter is accepted by countries, including France and the UK, is an absolute scandal.
“Despite everything, the refugees continue to forge a community which is positive and capable of organising both politically and socially. It is time to start listening to and engage with those collective voices and ensure that they are heard in schools and communities across the UK and across borders.”
And Shujatt Hussain, Treasurer of the UKIM Madina Masjid and Community Centre in Manchester, added: “The only way forward is to demand that the UK government allows these refugees entry into the country.”
A spokesperson for the Manchester-based Human Rights organisation RAPAR said: “There are no short cuts to the solution here - only a single step: Everyone in the camp comes to Britain and we, together, take it from there. The obscene conditions in which people in the camp are forced to live means that every hour of every day that this does not happen is a direct, brutal and complete violation of the babies, children, teenagers, mothers and fathers who are trapped there by the British and French Governments.”
London Labour councillor Michelline Ngongo, a former refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had backed the delegation and she would be reporting to him.
“Their situation reminds me of how trapped I felt when I first arrived - they have no way back to the homes they once had.”
Michelline added that people at the Calais camp were “trapped in a maze of Government policy, regulations and borders – left to rot in a filthy, unhygienic wasteland of shanty-built shelters, tents and overflowing chemical toilets.” When she visited the camp, she found it strewn with fragments of lethal white asbestos.
Umjum Mirza,an Assistant Branch Secretary for ASLEF, the train drivers' union, said: “This is the 70th anniversary year of Bergen-Belsen. We need to learn the lessons of history and let the refugees into Britain immediately.”
The Declaration Petition can be signed at: here
Video of Julie Ward Labour MEP for NW England reading out text of petition at Calais camp
Manchester delegation to Calais, left to right: L to R - Sarah Davies (RCM and UCU); Amaf Yusif, (Syrian refugee coordinator, Rethink Rebuild), Julie Ward (MEP), Rhetta Moran (RAPAR), Nick Wigmore (NUT NEC), Shujatt Hussain (Treasurer of the UKIM Madina Masjid and Community Centre in Manchester) Aiden Lawler (SWP)
Conditions inside the camp
Julie Ward, MEP, is the first to sign the Declaration Petition. In the picture, the petition is being held by Dr Rhetta Moran of Manchester-based human rights organisation RAPAR
Police tear gas cannisters at foot of Banksy mural