Priest leads hunger strike for fair treatment of migrants in Calais

Father Philippe Demeestère and two activists started fasting after death of young migrant run over by lorry

A French priest and two activists have completed three weeks of a hunger strike prompted by the death of a young migrant killed in the French coastal town of Calais after he tried to climb on board a lorry bound for Britain.

Father Philippe Demeestère, 72, started the strike in protest at the treatment of migrants in and around Calais, whose makeshift camps are routinely broken up by police and their tents confiscated, human rights groups say.

Calais – about 50 kilometres from the southern English port of Dover – is a mustering point for migrants seeking to make the final crossing into the UK, which is seen as attractive often because of family links and perceived financial reasons.

Britain and France have spent millions on policing the borders, which has included increasing security at lorry stops. It has prompted migrants to embark on riskier ventures, including travelling in small boats and jumping on to lorries, which resulted in the deaths of two young men within a month.

Yasser, 16, from Sudan on September 28, and Mohammed last week became the third and fourth people this year killed in a similar manner after falling from lorries, said rights group Utopia 56, which works with migrants in Calais. The tragedies are among about 300 border-related deaths in and around the English Channel since 1999.

Father Philippe and the two activists, Anais Vogel and Ludovic Holbein, are calling for an end to evictions from makeshift camps during the winter, an end to the confiscation of tents and personal effects, and increased distribution of aid to migrants.

Rights groups say up to 2,000 people living in desperate conditions in northern France now face hardship as winter approaches.

Migrants are commonly seen living rough in fields around Calais after fleeing thousands of miles to escape war, torture and economic woes.

Some spend months living there trying to cross to the UK every day, risking their lives trying to board lorries or getting into dinghies bound for the English coastline.

"The people that we meet every day here all have one thing in common: they're just trying to find safety," said Matt Cowling, a volunteer with aid group Care4Calais.

Updated: November 1st 2021, 4:25 PM