By Linda Bordoni
Father Philippe Demeestère and human rights activists Anaïs Vogel and Ludovic Holbein are meeting with a French government envoy on Wednesday to discuss the situation of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Calais during the upcoming winter months.
The three have been on hunger strike in the Catholic church of Saint-Pierre in Calais for the last two weeks demanding a halt to the dismantling of migrant camps during the cold season.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called for care, attention, and protection for migrants as they undertake perilous journeys and are often subjected to inhumane treatment in their quest for better lives. He made the last such appeal on Sunday, asking the international community to keep its promises and find long-term solutions to safeguard the lives and dignity of vulnerable people on the move.
Didier Leschi, Director General of the French Office for Immigration and Integration, said his meeting with the three on hunger strike is "a mission of contact and mediation" in order to "put in place the conditions for a constructive end to the crisis for all."
Leschi, in line with government policies, authorized the dismantling of migrant camps in Calais five years ago. He is also due to meet with human rights associations.
Calais, on the English Channel, is a departure point for those trying to enter Great Britain. Migrants have increasingly been braving the dangerous waters in small vessels. Thousands have been rescued and an unknown number have drowned. According to government figures, asylum applications fell sharply as transport routes were closed during the pandemic. This has given rise to a surge in illegal migration across Europe with people-smugglers organizing waves of departures from French beaches.
The strikers, Father Demeestère, Vogel, and Holbein, have denounced "an escalation of physical and psychological violence" in recent weeks.
Speaking to French reporters, they said they decided to take action after the tragic death of Yasser, a young migrant run over by a truck in Calais on 10 October: "We felt helpless. We wanted to do more than letters, petitions, demonstrations."