Refugee aid in northern France at risk as Choose Love ends funding

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Refugee aid in northern France at risk as Choose Love ends funding

Celebrity-backed funder pulls support from seven frontline charities helping migrants as winter approaches

Last modified on Wed 3 Nov 2021 04.06 EDT

Seven charities working to provide food, water, blankets and other essential aid to refugees in northern France have warned that they might have to stop their work because celebrity-backed funder Choose Love is ending its financial support.

The charities provide a lifeline to refugees who are hoping to seek sanctuary in the UK, often attempting Channel crossings by small boats. The deteriorating weather as winter approaches makes living conditions for the estimated 2,000 migrants in Calais, who are destitute and often forced to sleep outside, more precarious.

In a statement the charities said: “We may no longer be able to continue our work after December. If we were to leave Calais there would be dangerous gaps left in the provision of basic warmth, shelter and food.”

Choose Love has raised GBP35m, works in 22 countries to support refugees and has supported 300 projects.

It is backed by celebrities from the worlds of music, fashion and acting including Chris Martin and Coldplay, Harry Styles, Dua Lipa, Olivia Colman and Stella McCartney.

The charities affected include Calais Food Collective, Refugee Info Bus and Refugee Women’s Centre. Between them, the seven aid groups provide food people can cook themselves, prepared meals, water, firewood, dry clothing and footwear, blankets, tarpaulins, phone charging points and information services.

Choose Love started in the summer of 2015 in response to the worsening situation for refugees in Europe, when a group of volunteers planned to take a van full of donations and raise GBP1,000 for refugees in Calais. It became almost overnight the largest aid operation in northern France.

In a statement issued on Instagram on Tuesday 2 November Choose Love announced that they would no longer be funding many of the smaller NGOs working on the frontline with refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. They will, however, continue to support two charities working with unaccompanied minors in the area – Safe Passage and ECPAT.

Choose Love said: “This year we find ourselves in a place where we have had to make some difficult decisions and we have news which we are delivering with heavy hearts.” It said it had initiated a strategic review and that many factors, including the pandemic, were behind the decision to withdraw funds.

The seven charities which will no longer receive funds from Choose Love say that between them they are losing hundreds of thousands of pounds and that for some of them their entire income will be affected.

A spokesperson for Refugee Info Bus said: “Funding from Choose Love supported our vital services and filled a major gap left by governments and large NGOs. Their withdrawal is a serious blow which will have real consequences in Calais. A working phone is a lifeline here. Our teams are established and accepted within the communities in Calais but the funding situation poses a real risk. Last week Info Bus helped more than 500 people charge their phones and access the internet. The dire humanitarian situation in Calais continues and with the harsh winter approaching we are urgently seeking alternative funds.”

A spokesperson for Calais Food Collective said: “We will be greatly affected by the withdrawal of support from Choose Love. It is vitally important that our essential services are not scaled back – a permanent water supply for those who have no other water source, food and cooking equipment are invaluable to those in a state of near permanent precarity.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. It is dangerous to encourage these Channel crossings, which are illegal, unnecessary and facilitated by violent criminal gangs profiting from misery. We are working with the French to stop boats leaving their beaches and crack down on the criminals driving these crossings.”

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