French priest on hunger strike for Calais migrants

French priest enters third week of hunger strike for Calais migrants
2 min read
25 October, 2021
Strikers enter their third week without food to demand the end of eviction campaigns during the winter months.
Migrants pitched their tents near the former 'Jungle' camp site, near the northern French port city of Calais [AFP/Getty]

An elderly Catholic priest was among three activists to enter their third week of a hunger strike on Monday to protest the "unbearable harassment" faced by migrants and refugees in Calais.

They called on authorities to grant migrants trêve hivernale - a French truce that forbids landlords from evicting tenants during the winter months.

Among the three hungerstrikers is Jesuit Father Philippe Demeestère, aged 72,  a prominent member of the religious and charity landscape of Calais. He is accompanied by activists Anaïs Vogel (35) and Ludovic Holbein (38), both members of a local association supporting migrants.

The three activists entered hunger strike on October 11 from the St-Pierre Church in Calais, where they have remained since.

In a petition, they demand an end to the dismantling of camps by the police during the winter period, and to the confiscation of tents and belongings.

"The objective of this policy is to give them nowhere to rest," Demeestère told French international radio RFI. "They are worn down physically and mentally, something which is intolerable to see in France."

French police regularly dismantle informal camps, during which tents and personal belongings are confiscated. According to the authorities, this is to avoid a repeat of the situation in 2015, when around 10,000 people lived in a camp in the coastal city known as "the Jungle".

Local charities supporting migrants estimate there were 850 evictions since the start of the year.

They have long protested the brutality of these operations, which deprive camp dwellers of sleep and reduces their access to basic services like food and showers, since they are forced to move constantly and worry about leaving their tents unattended.

The three strikers also request an authorisation for charities to distribute aid unhindered.

"There is no room for discussion when someone is freezing to death, in the rain, has no access to food or anything else," a volunteer in one of these charities told Catholic news site ICN.

An estimated 1,500 people live in makeshift camps around the city of Calais, where they await the opportunity to cross the English Channel to the UK

The priest aims to continue his hunger strike until 2 November, the day after the winter eviction rule comes into effect.