Louise Mc Gowan from the Peace People has returned home from working in both Calais and Grande-Synthe with the Refugee Women’s Centre from October – February 2021.
Louise says there is little peace for displaced people living in northern France. How can there be peace when you are worried for your own/your family’s safety? How can there be peace when the fear or expectance of police violence hangs overhead every morning? How can there be peace when the only way to get to the place where you might feel safe is via dangerous routes? In the past year, volunteers working in northern France have witnessed a rise in dangerous channel boat crossings, deteriorating living conditions in informal camps and accommodation centres, as well as numerous tragic deaths. These have been accompanied by increasingly hostile border policies and procedures.
As humans, we are all blessed with a huge amount of strength and resilience. We can overcome many challenges and hardships in our lives. People on the move, living in northern France are no different and the feeling of strength here is palpable. Strength in the face of authorities, intent on making life as difficult and miserable as possible.
The French police, with funding from the UK government, regularly evict people from their temporary camps by destroying and confiscating their belongings such as tents, blankets and sleeping bags. In winter this continues with unrelenting fervour and sometimes happens days in row; a cycle of destruction and waste. This is the hostile environment to the power of ten. People should not have to use their strength and resilience every day to face these inhumane and state-mandated actions, especially when many have fled difficult and traumatic circumstances to get here.
When did border enforcement become more important than human life and dignity? These actions do not deter people from attempting to reach the safety they seek. The only purpose they serve is to cause distress, harm and to put people at risk.
Organisations working in northern France can try to fill gaps and meet people’s basic needs but no amount of peace will be reached until systematic change happens. Safe and legal routes to the UK and Ireland should be made available immediately.
The Refugee Women’s Centre provides holistic support for migrant women and families living in informal outdoor settlements in Calais and Dunkirk and in accommodation centres in surrounding areas.
The Refugee Women’s Centre is committed to creating safe spaces for women and children, providing them with the means to live with dignity, and advocating for access to shelter and for other human rights to be met.