In Calais, the beginning of the year is placed under the sign of uncertainty. While more than 2,000 exiled people – including 300 non-minors – are accompanied to the Franco-British border, associations fear having to reduce the sails. At issue: the withdrawal of funding from the British fund choose love, created in 2015. In early January, the organization justified its decision in an email sent to Slate: “Choose Love has faced significant challenges since the start of the pandemic. This led to a review of our organizational strategy and tough decisions had to be made.”
In total, seven associations are involved: Calais Food Collective, Collective Aid, Human Rights Observers, Refugee Info Bus, Woodyard, Refugee Women’s center, Project Play. If the announcement was made official last November –via an Instagram post published by Choose Love–, the British organization dropped the bomb to the beneficiaries in the summer of 2021: “We did not publicly announce the news at the time to ensure that we can continue fundraising for these seven partners until the very end of 2021,” she assures.
Most associations see the tap cut off in January 2022. Only two, in charge of unaccompanied minors –ECPAT and safe passage–, are spared by this sudden withdrawal. “Choose Love told us the board had changed. The big donors have decided to change the orientations of the organization to turn towards ecology., report François Guennoc, vice-president of migrant hostel. This association received a large part of the money from Choose Love which it redistributed to other entities present in Calais.
For François Guennoc, the justification given by Choose Love is hard to swallow, especially since the British organization has maintained its aid to refugees in Greece: “I think they have been under pressure – from the British authorities – to stop providing aid to Calais. We don’t have certainties, but that’s what we believe.
This pillar of the Calais associative world is not the only one to be strangled by this choice: “We didn’t really expect it, everything was going well. Last February, tensions began to emerge, but there was no indication that the funding would stop,” supports Sirine Merzoug, coordinator within project game, an NGO 40% funded by Choose Love. In the field, she leads play sessions with exiled children in Dunkirk and Calais.
“We managed to collect 10,000 euros for Christmas, that will allow us to survive for two months. It is very likely that we will be forced to eliminate our position of advocacy officer,” deplores Sirine Merzoug. As well as money, the UK charity provided administrative support: “Their coordinators guided and steered us on matters related to child protection.”
Faced with this unexpected departure, the seven associations – in which more than 700,000 euros per year from the British fund were absorbed – launched an appeal for donations through Call of Calais, in order to raise money to help migrants. Thanks to this platform, 43,000 euros were accounted for. Still far from the target set at 120,000 euros by March 2022.
Maintain humanitarian aid
Some associative projects found themselves in the red, like human rights monitors (HRO). The budget of this observation and data collection body depended 70% on Choose Love – ie 59,000 euros per year. The initiative has been entirely taken over by the Auberge des Migrants, whose challenge will be to maintain its activity.
“Choose Love financially supported the legal position. This is important work since it allows us to conduct litigation, thanks to being able to go before a judge, in particular to report the illegality of daily eviction procedures”, explains Nancya, a volunteer at HRO. For the moment, additional funds make it possible to finance this position until September, but “the sustainability of the project is improved at risk”, laments the young woman Under these conditions, it is impossible for associations to project themselves into the future. “To improve our organization, we also wanted to create new positions. It now seems compromised., take back the volunteer.
Housed in the Auberge des Migrants warehouse, the Calais Food Collective (CFC) meanwhile keeps its eyes on stocks. The funds that Choose Love attributed to it were cut last summer, the association must now make up for a loss of 60,000 euros annually. On site, the handful of volunteers donate ingredients to allow people to cook. They also provide pots and pans. “Our policy is that everyone should be able to cook for themselves,” says Louis Woodhead, a volunteer.
The situation is all the more alarming when one considers the growing number of prefectural decrees which become illegal food distributions in Calais by associations not mandated by the State. “Immediately after Choose Love funding ended, we were forced to reduce our presence in certain living spaces. In August, we distributed 10,100 meals compared to more than 16,000 the previous month”, explains the volunteer from the UK.
This fall, the CFC has recovered, providing more than 33,000 meals in November. “The withdrawal of Choose Love puts the whole associative life of Calais in danger”, resume Louis, specifying that there are “urgent needs” in the field. the association Refugee Information Bus, which offers a phone charging service as well as a free internet connection, has a similar message.
“Exiles need information on how to ask for help. There is also a lot of police violence here: officers steal tents and sometimes there are phones inside. We also give cables and chargers, otherwise the phone alone is useless”, insists volunteer Álvaro Lucas. In addition to this mission, the association informs the refugees and distributes them an arrival guide, where the essentials are listed: access to the hospital, water, etc. An activity that could be sacrificed if Refugee Info Bus could not find the 2,800 monthly copies distributed by Choose Love.
“Their withdrawal could impact our translation activity, because we have to pay our network of translators to whom we pay compensation. It’s about helping them and supporting them financially», sighs Álvaro Lucas. In other words, the association fears having to amputate its activity, by concentrating only on its service related to phone charging. Overall, the associations’ activities should be maintained this year, but the future remains uncertain. “We would like the government to find a solution. However, when we look at the political statements and the presidential candidates, we do not expect a policy in this direction”, deplores François Guennoc.
It is to compensate for the inaction of the State that the associations are mobilizing, taking advantage of greater media visibility than before. “This year, we have enriched the media echo of the shipwreck in the English Channel – causing 27 deaths – which provided many media. On a talk from Calais. The worst for donations is when people forget,” he concluded.