Brits Concerned with Calais Refugee Crisis and Sudden Charity Shutdown

UK, 24 Jul - 20 Aug 2015
Calais Refugee Crisis: Government Under Fire While Immigrants Keep Coming ++ Sudden Charity Shut-down: Kids Company closes its doors. by Bethany Purrington, Robin Dyck
Calais Refugee Crisis: Government Under Fire While Immigrants Keep Coming

Every day commuters and holiday-makers cross the English Channel, the 33 km stretch of water separating France from the UK. A one-way trip by Hovercraft takes about 1 ½ hours. What may seem like a mere stone’s throw for Europeans appears to be an insurmountable barrier for the refugees currently stranded at the French port of Calais, desperate to reach England.

Despite the odds, tens of thousands, many from war-torn countries such as Syria, Somalia and Sudan, have tried to reach the English mainland this year alone. According to Calais Mayor, Natacha Bouchart, immigrants view Britain as an 'El Dorado' promising well paid jobs and high benefits. They live in poor conditions, in makeshift tents and huts, waiting for their opportunity to make a dash for the UK, undetected by French and British authorities. Many have tried to enter the UK illegally by hiding on freight carriers or by walking the channel tunnel. Many have died in the attempt.

Meanwhile, the government has come under domestic pressure to deal with the influx of refugees. On Thursday, Home Secretary Theresa May traveled to France to sign a cooperation deal with her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve. The deal will entail improving security at Calais, containing human trafficking activity and enhancing humanitarian aid for the migrants. Additionally, British police forces will be stationed in Calais. Previous government measures had included erecting extra fencing, observation cameras and infrared detectors and deploying additional search teams. Sources have indicated that these measures have reduced the number of immigration attempts. However, Theresa May has warned that immigration is likely to increase in the future.

Nevertheless, British politicians in general and Prime Minister Cameron especially have come under fire by international organisations, Human Rights groups and the Jewish community. The UN Special Representative for International Migration has accused British politicians of adopting a “xenophobic response” to the refugee crisis. Cameron has also stood in the line of fire as he is said to have used inappropriate language in referring to the migrants: He had spoken of “a swarm of people” coming to Britain.

Dr Lisa Doyle, head of advocacy of the non-profit organisation Refugee Council, said: “It’s extremely disappointing to hear the prime minister using such irresponsible, dehumanising language to describe the desperate men, women and children fleeing for their lives across the Mediterranean Sea.”

Sudden Charity Shut-down: Kids Company closes its doors

In the beginning of August prominent children’s charity Kids Company revealed it was closing due to lack of funds. While this shock announcement left many people concerned about the abandonment of vulnerable children and young people for whom Kids Company had been a true lifeline, it also led to further speculation about the real reasons for the closure, including accusations of financial mismanagement and cases of sexual abuse.

Founded by the charismatic Camila Batmanghelidjh in 1996, Kids Company aimed to support disadvantaged young people by providing an encouraging and caring environment via a drop-in centre in London. Since then, the charity claim to have reached “36,000 across London, Bristol and Liverpool, including the most deprived and at risk whose parents are unable to care for them due to their own practical and emotional challenges”.

Kids Company’s closure has since left many people unsure of where to turn. Two days after the closure was announced, 150 people including both staff and service users marched from the charity’s former centre in Camberwell, London to Downing Street, to remind people of the good work the charity has done over its 9 years and the many young people and families who used its services every day.

Meanwhile, Batmanghelidjh hit out against the allegations facing her charity, both in terms of financial mismanagement and sexual abuse cases. During its years of operation, the charity relied heavily on high profile donors, such as fashion designer Stella McCartney and heiress Jemima Khan, as well as public money. Only last month did the government begin to question the financial sustainability of the charity and said that a £3 million grant would only be paid if certain conditions were met.

Kids Company claims a lack of funding, in part due to the withdrawal of large donations, led to its closure. However, many argued that the charity’s lack of cash reserves and cash flow difficulties have been a problem for some time.

Furthermore, serious concerns were raised after witnesses spoke to the BBC regarding incidents of sexual assault which were mishandled by the charity. Responding to the allegations, Batmanghelidjh stated that “In the last 19 years there have been no child protection rulings that have found us falling short of safeguarding the people in our care”. Nevertheless, the charity is still being investigated by the Met Police's Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command.

While there is no doubt that charities which help the most vulnerable children and young people provide essential services for our communities, the recent accusations against Kids Company have provoked questions about responsibility and accountability. Most importantly, many young people have been left without support, as other charities face the pressure to step forward and provide more services.

Source: DFID - UK Department for International Development | CC BY 2.0

Related topics

Bernard Cazeneuve
Camila Batmanghelidjh
David Cameron
Kids Company
Lisa Doyle
Theresa May

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