Seeking Sanctuary

‘Each human life is precious in the eyes of God’¬†:¬†http://seekingsanctuary.weebly.com/

Seeking Sanctuary –¬†promoting awareness of migrants near our shores and providing humanitarian assistance to migrants in Calais.

Welcome to the website of’Seeking Sanctuary’.¬†We are a small Kent based organisation promoting awareness of the plight of migrants and asylum seekers on our doorstep in Calais and beyond. We provide humanitarian assistance for the migrants currently stranded in Calais.

‘Each human life is precious – and as many parts of the world fall into chaos we must redouble our efforts to ensure that the needs and rights of vulnerable human beings¬† from war torn countries who need sanctuary ¬†are valued and respected. Our partners in Calais much appreciate the concern evident from our side of the Channel.’

Ben Bano, ‘Seeking Sanctuary”We must all learn to live together like brothers; otherwise we will die together like idiots’¬†(sign outside the home of Adam, a resident in the ‘jungle’)

Ben and Marie-Claude Bano with the latest consignment of goods at the ‘Secours Catholique’ warehouse in Calais. Our thanks to the parishioners of Ashford, Aylesham and Deal for their generosity.

As of August 2015, ten Churches in London and the South East and other groups were involved in making collections to be taken to the ‘Secours Catholique’ warehouse in Calais.

You can find comments from visitors to this site here.

How can I help ?

There are¬†¬†currently¬†¬†about ¬†3000 migrants, including women and children. Many¬† live in squalid conditions in what is known as ‘The Jungle’, even though some basic necessities such as showers have now been provided. Seeking Sanctuary works with Secours Catholique to provide basic necessities.To date we have with the help of various organisations ¬†facilitated the delivery of a number of carloads and vanloads of goods.¬†¬†Faith Communities and other organisations from across Kent and South London have taken collections and our thanks to all those involved. If your organisation would¬†¬†would like to help, here are some of the items which are very useful:

  • Jeans (size 32 and 34 waist)
  • Trainers – currently no 1 priority
  • Waterproof and Puffer Jackets
  • Blankets
  • Toiletries –¬† for both men and women
  • Games
  • Cooking Utensils
  • Plates, cutlery, etc

If it is difficult for you to get items to our collection points in Kent, you may find items available at bargain prices in on-line clearance sales and auctions – and these can usually be delivered to us, rather than to your home. (Postal address available upon request.)

Please where possible sort the goods into durable black sacks which are labelled.¬† All goods are taken to the ‘Secours Catholique’ warehouse where there are¬† weekly distributions to the migrants. Please contact us before starting your collection as we need to ensure that there is sufficient transport capacity. There are also issues to consider if you are thinking of delivering delivering direct to the jungle – please contact us for further advaice.

Latest – 20th September 2015: we have now reached our capacity for the foreseeable future ¬†–¬† as the Secours Catholique warehouse is currently¬†operating at full capacity. Volunteers are having difficulty in sorting¬†he donations from the UK and the rest of Europe. ¬†A replacement warehouse will be opening shortly. In the meantime please check with us before planning any further collections if you would like us to arrange transport

Please note that we are currently unable to collect individual donations  of items but these can be brought to our collection point in East Kent Рdetails on request.

Also we do not accept individual donations of money but Caritas Social Action Network is accepting donations which is being passed to ‘Secours Catholique’ for their relief work in Calais. Visit¬†www.csan.org.uk¬†– and click on ‘make a donation’ at the bottom of the home page; write ‘for Calais’ in the Comment box on the giving page.

(Those wishing to pray for the migrants and their plight will find resources here.)

SEE BELOW for our latest updates and news – –¬† –

Latest News:¬†Peter Sutherland, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Refugees, visited Calais in September and was horrified by the squalor and chaos. Phil Kerton was among those who accompanied Peter and you can read his detailed report¬†here.

Barbara Kentish provides an account of the Day of Solidarity wth Refugees which took place in Calais on September 19th: Day trip to Calais (Refugee Camp) September 19th 2015

Under the flyover of the road leading from the exit of the Channel port were a huddle of lightweight tents, the portable kind you might put up on a beach or carry on a walking trip. These the latest arrivals at the Jungle, the shanty town housing 3000+ refugees hoping to cross to England. I had arrived for a Welcome to Refugees rally, where there would be an agreement of solidarity signed between English and French bishops to support and welcome these unwanted guests of Calais town.

On this vast scrubland site, about 4 or 5 km out of Calais town centre, the first impression was of enthusiasm for the rally, with a large ‚ÄėEmmaus‚Äô van pumping out energetic music, and hundreds of people, mostly men, assembling to walk to the rally site at the gates of the port. The second impression was the dirt. There is no rubbish collection on this site. Visitors like us came with placards of support, cameras, and a quest to see what was going on. Jo Siedlecka of Independent Catholic News (whose story from the journey is at¬†www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=28350) and I were guests of Ben Bano, who runs a small charity, Seeking Sanctuary, from his home in Kent, which sends clothing and bedding to Calais on a regular basis. He in turn was expecting Archbishop Peter Smith who would meet his French counterpart Mgr Jean-Paul Jaeger, bishop of Arras, and the Anglican bishop of Dover, Trevor Wilmott. We tagged along behind the clerical group, picking our way through puddles, mud and old clothing, to the precarious Eritrean church built by an inhabitant, and now the venue for a bible class with women and children. After the muddy ground outside, the clean or even new rugs inside spoke volumes. Here there was dignity and an oasis in the chaos. We took shoes off and sought permission to take pictures.

Everyone aims to live as best they can in a lawless situation. They carry huge containers of water in shopping trolleys to their tents, wash at the stand-pipes in full view of the motorway, set up little ‚Äėvillage‚Äô shops, and devise compounds of their own nationalities. There is some tension and one man was killed recently, but police presence could only be described as ‚Äėlight‚Äô: I saw one lone officer, looking down on proceedings from the motorway above. Later at the rally, police had blocked off a few hundred metres from through traffic, but made no attempt to come near the small crowd. Passing through town on the way to the rally my friend and I took a wrong turn and came into the town centre which was calm and empty. Calais keeps the whole issue at a distance and if possible out of sight. How can we British criticise that? We keep it, with razor fencing, on the other side of the Channel.

Still in the camp we looked for the centre supposed to house women and children, but were misinformed, and saw the outside of the government-funded building, Centre Jules Ferry, where services such as showers (queue early), meals (one a day) and medical advice are offered. But the other 99% of the camp was open to the four winds. Shelters were constructed from ‚Äėbache‚Äô, the kind of sheeting builders use to cover skips, timber frames, and nails. But in between these ambitious structures there were dozens of ordinary little light camping tents, some in a sort of compound formation with wind -breaks around them and a ‚Äėconcierge‚Äô on a chair keeping guard.

Men were in the vast majority, and some greeted us in French or English, and even struck up a conversation when we admitted to coming from that Eldorado, England. One, perhaps a third of my age even proposed marriage so as to get there. Safer than jumping on a train I suppose.

Secours Catholique, Secours Islamique and Auberge des Migrants were some of the agencies visible by their jacket markings, and vans bringing supplies from Birmingham and Lancashire had many Muslim volunteers: people of good will from both sides of the Channel were doing what they could in a totally disorganised situation. With no sanitation, drainage, electricity (one pylon goes to the government centre) , or social service infrastructure (education, medical services, policing), the camp worked amazingly well.

Jo and I walked most of the way into town along a hot and dusty industrial road, and joined the rally outside the port gates. One French radio journalist asked me, ‚ÄúWhat do you think of the fencing your government has put up? Twice the height of the French one!‚ÄĚ I could only express embarrassment, as we watched some of the refugees pressing themselves against the fence to get a better look at the traffic moving in and out of the port ‚Äď a sunny afternoon in Fortress Europe.

The bishops met and signed a¬†solidarity agreement¬†for the churches on both sides of the Channel. A Welcome to Migrants van sold drinks and young men painted slogans and flags on a wall reminiscent of the much bigger wall in Israel-Palestine. One, reading ‚ÄėWe Need a Solution‚Äô seemed to sum it all up. The UK has just spent ¬£7 million on super-fencing: it could have spent some instead on toilets and water in the Jungle, emergency shelters and more lighting.

We visited at the end of summer, on a sunny afternoon, having asked Ben Bano, ‚ÄėWhat is needed?‚Äô More than clothes, food or blankets, what is currently lacking is overall good organisation and distribution systems. The NGOs admit they are not coping. A bigger player, such as the Red Cross, UNHCR or Medecins Sans Frontieres needs to address matters before winter sets in. And our government needs to play its part.

Barbara Kentish, September 2015.

Ben Bano writes:

Recently¬†we had a good opportunity to tour the ‘jungle’ which now stretches over 18 hectares. Various NGOs have been working hard to ensure that there are a minimum of latrines and showers although the conditions are squalid when rain arrives. The various NGOs and in particular ‘Secours Catholique’ ¬†have also worked to ensure that the tents and shacks are a little more resilient. A basic school in now in operation for Sudanese children and there is even a small shop and a restaurant – but those collect the stock often have to trek 8 kilometers with a shopping trolley.¬† French lessons are being provided by volunteers in a makeshift school room for those who have decided to apply for asylum in France.

‘Medecins du Monde’ are providing medical facilities.The Centre “Jules Ferry’ houses a limited number of women and children but some still have to live out in the jungle. Even though conditions are squalid, many are trying their best to be self sufficient and to ¬†live with a degree of dignity in the circumstances in which they find themselves.

We would like to thank the numerous groups,¬† faith communities ¬†and individuals who have been in touch with us.The messages of support we have received help us to keep our activities going in the face of rhetoric which describes migrants as a ‘swarm’ and as ‘marauders’.

(Those wishing to pray for the migrants and their plight will find resources here.)

Terrible injuries are sustained as migrants tackle the security fences paid for by the UK government. The hands of this 18 year old girl will need specialist treatment after her unsuccessful attempt.

Planning permission has been sought…