P&J Centre Message to UK & France: Protect Unaccompanied Children

Photo: Lauren Rooney

Photo: Lauren Rooney

On Tuesday 18 October we held a vigil calling for the UK to fulfil its pledge to welcome thousands of unaccompanied refugee children to the UK, especially from Calais and for France to insure protection of the children in the Calais camp. We collected about 80 signatures on letters to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd and to the French Minister of the Interior and and delivered these to the Scotland Office and the French Consul the following day.

We welcome the subsequent arrival of the first Calais children including those who are entitled to asylum here who have family in the UK and those vulnerable children without family here admitted in keeping with the Dubs amendment.

But we continue to call on the UK to honour its pledge to take in thousands of such children from across Europe and on France not to proceed with demolition of the Calais camp until all the children there have been provided with safe decent shelter.

Photo: Lauren Rooney

Photo: Lauren Rooney

After welcoming the fact that a few of these children have at last been brought to the UK the letter to Amber Rudd went on: “We are keenly aware that hundreds of others are being left behind.  These children have already undergone unimaginable hardships in fleeing mostly from war as well as natural disasters, and extreme poverty.”

Aware that 129 children went missing from Calais when the French government demolished sections of the camp earlier this month, that at least three children have died attempting to enter the UK and that the children are caught in a struggle between France and the UK over responsibility for this crisis we urged the Home Secretary to press Interior Minister Cazeneuve to delay demolition until all of the more than 1,100 unaccompanied refugee children in Calais have been appropriately accommodated.


Photo: Lauren Rooney

In writing to the Interior Minister of France we urged him to insure that all children remaining in the camp are provided with appropriate shelter and that appropriate accommodation is found for all the refugees and migrants currently living there before action is taken to demolish the camp.

We stressed that we were “particularly concerned that these children who are among the most vulnerable in the camp not be further traumatised by the imminent demolition.”

Finally we appealed to the Ministers’ “sense of humanity” saying “Please open your heart to these most vulnerable people who only seek shelter and a place to live in peace and dignity.”

save-calais-children-and-tableThe full text off the letter to Amber Rudd can be found here and to Bernard Cazeneuve can be found here.

Our banner will be hung on the railings of St Johns Church on Princes St – where it will be highly visible – for the next couple of weeks as a reminder to Edinburgh of the ongoing crisis of these refugee children.


Our vigil for Calais unaccompanied refugee children was reported in Common Space this week.

delivering-letter-to-home-secretaryThe vigil follows a meeting we organised as part of the Edinburgh World Justice Festival with 6 speakers including refugees and activists from local organisations doing refugee support. A full report on that meeting can be found here.

The Peace and Justice Centre’s briefing on “Towards Adressing the Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children” was sent to Theresa May as Home Secretary and relevant MPs, MSPs, civil servants and civil society actors and is available here.

Readers can write to Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP and French Interior Minister Bernad Cazeneuve using  the model letters and contact details here.


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Human Rights Torn Down In Calais ‘Jungle’ Dismantling

News has spread this morning of continued attempts by French police to dismantle what has become known as the Calais ‘Jungle’. The camp is home to hundreds of dwellings for some 3500 refugees currently inhabiting the region. The operation began on early Monday morning when a demolition team arrived with diggers. Residents were warned they had a mere hour to relocate before their shelters would be destroyed. The Guardian has reported police had fired teargas at approximately 150 people and activists who began resisting the process and that at least three of the shelters had been set on fire.

The proposed alternative from the French Government is a biometric security protected compound with room for only 1500 refugees. Supposed security measures include the scanning of hand prints upon entry into and exit from, the compound. Such measures raise fears among the refugee population that the French government may be attempting to force refugees to claim asylum within French borders. Many of the refugees hope to make a home in the UK, shedding light on the fact that Calais remains the joint responsibility of both the French and UK governments.

Irrespective of motive, the actions taken by the French police on behalf of the government appear to be a disproportionately harsh response to what is already an incredibly delicate situation. Many volunteer groups have spoken out about the inappropriateness of the proposed solution, rightfully suggesting that this will do little to solve the root cause of this issue. Certainly, taking away the little autonomy that these displaced people have left is of grave concern from a human rights perspective. Accordingly, the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre would like to publicly deplore the action taken by the French government and welcome the response of humanitarian and other such groups in working towards a peaceful solution to the current situation. As previously argued in the November edition of Peace and Justice News, the UK should work towards a considerable increase in refugee intake. Any meaningful action taken by either the French or the UK government should involve a dignified and respectful dialogue with all parties, such that the global community can be rest assured that the human rights of disenfranchised groups are being sufficiently protected. Undoubtedly, the disruption caused by bulldozers and lines of riot police is a long, long way from the European human rights standards that the rest of the world has attempted to emulate.

By Zoe Cameron and Sarah MacDonald

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Archbishop Atalla Hanna of Jerusalem Arrested – Please Write Letters of Support

Archbishop Atallah Hanna of Jerusalem was arrested on Saturday 27 June whilst taking part in a protest against the illegal seizure of church property just north of Hebron in occupied Palestine.

archbishop-atallah with eurig in edinburghArchbishop Hanna’s visit to Scotland last year was jointly sponsored by the Peace and Justice Centre with Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Church of Scotland and the Iona Community. During his visit the Archbishop spoke of the reality of life under occupation for Palestinians and of the importance of supporting the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

Soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Force arrested the Archbishop during a peaceful protest against the illegal seizure and sale of the Beit al-Baraka hospital which forms part of al-Baraka church north of Hebron.

Israeli and international activists joined a delegation from the Presbyterian church to march in protest against the sale of the hospital which provides medical services to Palestinians. As the hospital forms part of the church its sale is illegal under international and canonical law.

Archbishop Hanna is a long term critic of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and is one of the authors of the Kairos document, the call from Palestinian Christians to the world for support in bringing to an end the occupation.

The arrest of Archbishop Hanna is a clear sign of Israel’s continuing contempt for the rights of Palestinians, with land and homes being illegally seized. Access to places of worship is restricted, and the buildings themselves face regular attack by Israeli settlers. The arrest of the Archbishop during a peaceful protest exposes the treatment of Palestinians and cannot be allow to go unchallenged.

We are urging the people of Scotland to protest to their elected representatives over this latest episode and would ask that you send us a message of support which we can relay to the Archbishop. You can also do so directly by contacting him by email.

We would ask that you raise this matter with the UK Foreign Secretary and also with the Israeli Embassy.

The denial of the democratic rights of Palestinians should never be allowed to go unchallenged. In arresting Archbishop Atallah Hanna the Israeli government is acting in defiance of international standards of morality and decency and freedom of expression.

Thanks to Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign for this report.

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Safe Passage for Refugees Fleeing Wars & Persecution

Last year Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation in the Mediterranean saved 100,000 lives. But UK Home Secretary Theresa May argued that the programme encouraged “migrants” to make the perilous journey in overcrowded unseaworthy vessels and EU funding for the programme was cut.. The dramatic increase in people risking their lives this spring however proves her wrong. People make the voyage because they are desperate, not to get to Europe but to get away from the situation they are in.

By withdrawing support for Mare Nostrum the EU was responsible for the sharp increase in deaths at sea. Following the death of 900 refugees in April the EU had to be seen to act. So it tripled funding to the European border agency Frontex, decided for the first time to take military measures to destroy boats that people traffickers might use, and created a new “rapid-return programme” whereby all but 5,000 of an anticipated 200,000 “irregular migrants” who survive the journey will be sent back.

Shoring up Frontex was reported as a “search and rescue” plan. But the Frontex mission remains protecting European borders. It will continue to patrol the coastal waters off Italy and Malta while boats laden with refugees frequently get into trouble further out at sea. Indeed the Head of Frontex insisted its mission could not include search and rescue under maritime law.

Thus there remains a huge gap where more refugees are bound to lose their lives in international waters. And it is unclear how the destruction of traffickers vessels can be achieved. For a start that may require a U.N. mandate in the absence of a viable Libyan government.  Medecins Sans Frontieres said “Focusing on keeping people out by cutting their only existing routes is only going to push people fleeing for their lives to find other routes, potentially even more dangerous.”

Europe must urgently establish an operation, along the lines of Mare Nostrum, with a clear mandate to save lives as the first priority. High Commissioner Guterres wrote “We have an unambiguous legal obligation to protect” those fleeing conflict and persecution. Europe has a clear moral obligation to prevent the inevitable recurrence of these disasters. It must open safe legal routes and provide opportunities for people fleeing conflict and persecution a chance to request asylum where they are so they will be less likely to risk the crossing to Europe. Ultimately what is needed is long-term solutions, alleviating poverty and resolving conflict in the Middle East and Africa. But this will not be accomplished as long as UN Security Council member states, especially Russia, the US and the UK continue to provide weapons to repressive regimes and arm rebel groups.


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Sign the Petition Edinburgh for Conscientious Objectors Memorial

A petition calling on Edinburgh Council to establish a memorial in Edinburgh to Conscientious Objectors and Opponents of War is now open for signature on the City of Edinburgh Council website. Please show your support for all those, past and present, who have refused to participate in or opposed wars by signing the petition here.

The Petition states:

With respect to the life and death choices of all those who have taken part in or supported wars we the undersigned therefore call upon the City of Edinburgh Council to grant the use of a permanent public space within the precincts of Princes St Gardens and to provide material and financial support for a memorial to Conscientious Objectors and those who oppose wars.  We ask that this be facilitated by February 2016 to coincide with the centenary of the passage of the Military Service Act which led to conscription in 1916.

Photo Credit : http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/

Photo Credit : http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/

With the Centenary of the First World War there is a feeling that there should be a memorial in Scotland’s capital city to conscientious objectors and opponents of wars which would henceforth provide a public focus for those who wish to gather  to remember all those, past or present, refusing to participate in or opposing wars.   

Taking this stance meant considerable hardship for those who refused to participate in or support the First World War and their families, that over 300 British “Deserters” were shot, and Conscientious Objectors were subjected to harsh treatment by the military, in prison, and in their communities and 73 First World War conscientious objectors died in or following imprisonment; their courageous stance cleared the way for improved recognition of the right to oppose war and to refuse to take part in wars and helped lay the foundations for the promotion of peaceful means for the resolution of conflicts and for achieving a just peace.  

Please sign the petition here.  And please Share it. We only need 200 signatures, but let’s get 2000!

The campaign for a memorial was initiated by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre and Fellowship of Reconciliation Scotland and is backed by Iona Community,  Edinburgh Stop the War, Edinburgh CND, Scottish WILPF, Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Central Friends Meeting, Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, St Mary’s Cathedral Pax Christi, St Mary’s Cathedral Justice and Peace Group and the Religious Society of Friends Scotland.

There will be a fundraising concert at the Pleasance Cafe on the 20th of June. This evening is being organised by local peace and justice singer songwriter Penny Stone and should be a great evening. Please save the date!

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