Thousands of displaced people in Calais could be left without basic support due to the decision by a celebrity-backed charity to withdraw funding from the region, voluntary groups on the ground have warned.
Charities have said they are “worried for people’s lives” after Choose Love announced that the financial support it has been providing to them since 2015 would stop – a move they have said may force them to close.
Around 2,000 people including 300 unaccompanied children, are currently sleeping rough in Calais and Dunkirk, according to recent estimates.
These individuals are frequently evicted from makeshift camps by French police – who have been seen destroying shelters and confiscating belongings – and sleep in woodlands, car parks or warehouses.
Choose Love, which was founded during the peak refugee crisis in 2015, and has been backed celebrities including actors Olivia Colman and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, informed seven charities in northern France in June of last year that their funding would stop at the end of the year.
They said this was due to “significant challenges” since the pandemic began, including its fundraising streams, which has meant that “difficult decisions” have had to be made.
Louis Woodhead, facilitator with Calais Food Collective in Calais, one of the groups affected by the funding cut, said the charity was now facing huge obstacles to delivering services in Calais, and warned that the loss of funding “could not come at a worse time” given the “increasingly hardline approach” being taken by both the UK and French authorities.
“People here are already exposed to police brutality, human rights abuses and have no safe way to claim asylum in the UK. It is already a humanitarian crisis and if we’re forced to cut services the situation is only going to get worse,” he added.
It comes after video footage posted on social media by Human Rights Observers, a voluntary monitoring group in northern France, which has also lost funding from Choose Love, showed French police officers aggressively evicting displaced people from a makeshift camp in Calais.
An accompanying caption states: “During the eviction from a place of life, exiles were chased and gassed by CRS [French riot police], at least 30 tents and five tarpaulins were seized. Our observers were violently pushed.”
Meanwhile, the UK Home Office last year announced controversial plans as part of its new immigration bill to penalise – and potentially criminalise – people who arrive on British shores via small boat from northern France.
In November, 27 people, including a number of young children, drowned while trying to reach the UK via small boat in the Channel – the deadliest crossing on record.
A Home Office spokesperson dubbed the crossings “illegal and unnecessary” and said that people already in France “can, and should, claim asylum there”.
James Alster, operations manager for Collective Aid in Calais, said: “Displaced people here face persistent police harassment and most are constantly on the move, sleeping when they can in woodlands, car parks or warehouses.
“With the police destroying shelters and confiscating belongings, charities provide the bare essentials to keep people protected from the cold. Without these services, thousands of people will be facing below freezing temperatures with little but a raincoat to keep them warm if they’re lucky. We’re worried for people’s lives.”
The seven charities that have lost funding from Choose Love formed a collective in December 2021 called the Calais Appeal. The group has already raised £30,000, but the charities say they need to raise £100,000 by March 2022 as a first step to maintaining services.
A spokesperson for Choose Love said: “In June of last year, we very reluctantly informed seven partner organisations in northern France that from 1 January 2022 our funding in northern France would focus solely on two partners who support unaccompanied children in the region.
“Grant agreements were not only honoured but extended on a month by month basis, for six months until the end of the year because we wanted to do everything we could to ensure teams on the ground could prepare as best they could for winter.”
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