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The situation inside the ‘jungle’ of Calais is “chaotic”, admits Paul Sydnor (IAFR). Churches should understand the need to “offer a platform” for reconciliation between Christian and Muslim asylum seekers.
“The last thing anyone wants is to have conflict among the refugees”, says Paul Sydnor, who has a long experience working with refugees in Europe.
Nevertheless, the reality is that these tensions happen. There have been “attacks against Christians” in places like the ‘jungle’ of Calais, the International Association for Refugees European Director confirms.
What can Christians do? Sydnor urges the churches to offer a space of reconciliation.
Watch the video of the interview (recorded 8th February), read transcription below:
Question. What is the situation in Calais?
Answer. The situation in Calais is chaotic. You hear estimates from 3,000-4,000 to as many as 8,000 refugees. The police are outside, trying to provide some protection and order, and to keep the refugees from trying to smuggle themselves into the trucks going to England.
Besides Calais there is another large jungle with a couple thousand refugees in Dunkerke, the conditions there are even worse. In Calais there have been humanitarian groups helping to provide shelters and so on, but in Dunkerke there is less assistance like that.
Q. What are the risks for the people living in these camps? How are the churches trying to help?
A. The camps are not official, refugees just arrived there. France, and Britain particularly, do not want to encourage these camps or provide any kind of housing or help for the refugees.
As a result, inside the camps there is no security among the refugees, except what they can provide for themselves. There are reports of conflict, groups of refugees controlling one or more than one area, stealing things from other groups. There are reports of attacks, Christians have been attacked.
The churches have been going and trying to help in this situation. Particularly when they meet Christians, they are naturally trying to support them. But they bring in gas, food, supplies, to all the refugees in general.
There is small church in Calais, and there are a couple organisations helping that church. And then, there are many volunteers. Together, they are providing assistance. Probably the biggest assistance they brought in is shelter for refugees and gas, they distribute several hundred bottles of gas a month. They do that to the whole camp in general.
The Christians that have been supported by this church have experienced some envy, jealousy, from others.
Q. What can Christians offer in the midst of these tensions among refugees?
A. I think the churches should offer and encourage a way for these groups to come together. To meet each other, to come and discuss ways to work together, to provide the security they need.
We as Christians understand what it is to be secure, we understand what it is to be blessed, and to be a blessing to others. We understand what it is to have peace, it is what we stand for.
We should provide a platform to bring groups together, and ask them, the Muslims and the Christians: “We all want to be secure, this is why you are fleeing, searching peace and security… What do you need to do, what can we do together to create this kind of environment?”
I think this is what everyone ultimately wants, I think this is what the French officials want… The last thing anyone wants is to have conflict among the refugees. When Christians come and sit down with others, and simply hear the stories, and provide a chance to speak about what they have been through, it immediately de-escalates the conflict. It immediately provides a basis for the kind of peace and security that these places need.
The “Refugees in Europe” series of articles is the fruit of a cooperation between Evangelical Focus, the Refugee Highway Partnership in Europe and the EEA Hope for Europe – Refugees group.