20 June 2021

Press release - British Red Cross and French Red Cross call for compassion, tolerance and greater international collaboration | British Red Cross

Today, the British and the French Red Cross have united to call for increased understanding and compassion for refugees - and to highlight the desperate journeys often made by those seeking safety in the UK. 

The two Red Cross Societies, which both provide extensive support to refugees and asylum seekers, say that far too little is understood about the perilous, desperate journeys that women, children and families endure after being forced to flee their country of origin. 

While Channel crossings have dominated headlines, the charities say that a wider perspective is needed of the types of journey refugees and those seeking asylum are forced to make.

Field interviews  carried out by the French Red Cross of more than 80 people living in makeshift camps around the Calais and Dunkirk regions revealed that, on average, it had been more than four years (49 months) since individuals were first forced to leave their homes.

The research found nearly all people living in the camps had fled countries recognised as being in the grip of conflict., 
The individuals interviewed reported living in the camps for between two and six months, saying that during that time they struggled to meet their basic needs, including food, sanitation, clean water and shelter.

The call comes as the UK government proposes changes to the asylum system that the British Red Cross says will effectively create a two-tier system, whereby someone’s case and the support they receive is judged on how they entered the country, rather than their need for protection. 

In March 2021, the UK Government announced plans to make widespread changes to the UK asylum system, including introducing reception centres and temporary protection visas for people who have claimed asylum after travelling through countries such as France. 

The British Red Cross worries these changes will make life even more difficult for vulnerable people who need protection to seek refuge in the UK, and won’t solve the problems they’re designed to address. Instead, the organisations say more safe routes for people to seek asylum in the UK are needed. 

Together, the British and French Red Cross are calling for Governments to work together to ensure people can access protection and have their humanitarian needs met, no matter what journey they have taken.

Max*, a young refugee in the UK supported by the British Red Cross, was forced to flee Sudan after violence escalated there in 2014. He was living in a town in Darfur when his family were forced to flee to a nearby refugee camp. 

Fearing for his life, Max’s father sent him to the neighbouring country of Chad. Max didn’t understand what was happening or where he was going, “I found someone and went in this person’s car. I asked people, ‘where is this place?’ and they said: ‘Chad’.” 

From there, Max took another car to Libya before travelling to Italy. He explains, “In Italy, sometimes the police find you and you have to put your finger in a computer and then they say they don’t have a house for you. Organisations like Red Cross and the UN, they give people some food and somewhere to sleep.” 

Max, just a teenager, was scared and was desperate to find somewhere safe he could stay, after having no luck on his journey so far. He decided to move on to France, “I walked for three days from 11pm to 5am. I slept all day then in the night walked again.” 

It was a long and lonely journey to make it to the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais. He explains, “I was just by myself. You stay one or two days without eating anything. You’re scared for yourself. I stayed in Calais like eight months, but then the government from France said Calais is finished.” 

Fortunately for young Max, he had several uncles who were already living in the UK, which meant he could join them under the Dublin III Regulation, an EU law determining the relocation of people seeking asylum across Europe. Since Brexit, the UK is no longer apart of the Dublin III Regulation, so this vital route for people like Max to be reunited with their family has been lost. 

Max was questioned by officials in Calais about why he wanted to go to the UK through this mechanism, he explained, “I just want to stay with my family. There’s no one who can help me – I don’t have family in France, I can’t go back to Sudan.” 
Alongside working on international cooperation to support people seeking asylum in Europe, the both the French Red Cross and the British Red Cross are also asking for more humanitarian assistance for people who have been displaced and are living in makeshift camps. The organisations say this must include the provision of psychosocial support, access to health care, access to information, clothing and facilities to make phone calls. 

Mike Adamson, Chief Executive of British Red Cross: “People seeking asylum have been through some of the worst horrors imaginable, and their search for safety is often long and arduous. Many people spend years internally displaced in their own country, before making journeys to other places to seek safety. Even then, people are often forced to keep moving on due to violence, overcrowded refugee camps or being unable to access asylum systems.   
“If Global Britain is truly to be a force for good, we need to lead by example. That means making changes to our own asylum system towards a compassionate approach to people seeking refuge here, and looking outside our borders for opportunities for lasting change. At a time when 1% of the world’s population have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety and protection, real solutions can only be based on co-operation between countries.   
“We have major concerns with the Government’s current proposal, which would see the creation of an unfair two-tier system, whereby someone’s case and the support they receive is judged on how they entered the country, rather than the dangers they face." 

Jean-Christophe Combe, Executive director, French Red Cross: “We are united with our British Red Cross counterparts through our common principle of humanity. No one should be forced to undertake dangerous journeys or have their asylum case judged on how they entered the country.


Notes to editors: 

*Not his real name.

About the British Red Cross

The British Red Cross is the largest provider of support to refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK. Last year, the charity worked with around 30,000 people at all stages of the asylum process.

For over 150 years, the British Red Cross has helped people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them recover and move on with their lives. www.redcross.org.uk

About polling: 

Research conducted by the French Red Cross in June 2020. The methodology was a face-to-face survey, French Red Cross volunteers and interpreters approached 86 migrants living in informal settlements in Calasis and Grande-Synthe to take part, 75 agreed to be interviewed.