Shas Sheehan challenges the government over Calais refugee crisis

Baroness Shas Sheehan is no stranger to the refugee camps in northern France, and especially those in Calais. She has been making visits there for a year now, collecting and taking much needed supplies for those stranded there, and finding out for herself exactly what the facts are, what the problems are, and what needs to be done to remedy them.

As we know little notice has been taken of the forceful and informed pressure put on by her and the many voluntary organisations, and other individuals and groups that are doing sterling work out there. The issues have been constantly raised in the House of Lords by Shas and her colleagues, Lord Roger Roberts and Baroness Sally Hamwee in particular. Receiving only bland assurances, they have kept on pressing the case.

On Friday last week when the news of the imminent demolition of the Calais camp, and great amount of chaos, confusion, and desperation amongst particularly the young people, Shas didn’t stay in Westminster, but made her way straight to Calais.

Whilst there she has made urgent and informed pleas to Amber Rudd and the Home Office with specific requests for urgent help for the situation around the deep concern for welfare of young and other vulnerable people. Working with the many organisations out there she has brought a letter with specific requests for immediate attention, and worked hard to encourage MPs and Peers from all parties and none, as well as a multitude of voluntary organisations to sign the letter, in only a few days, delivered to Amber Rudd.

Names are coming in all the time to add to the letter, but surely Amber Rudd has the message by now. Right across the political spectrum and the voluntary sector, urgent work has to be done, and it has to start right now.

This is the letter produced to Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP – Home Secretary:

Dear Home Secretary,

We, the undersigned, would like to express our deepest concern for the safety and welfare of the unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable people following the announcement of the demolition of The Jungle Camp in Calais that is due to start within the coming weeks.

We welcome the recent commitments from British Home Secretary Amber Rudd and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, and we are encouraged that rigour and urgency has been applied to the Dublin children. However we note that the solutions and resources brought forward so far risk being inadequate in light of our duty to protect the vulnerable, including unaccompanied minors.

We note the heightened levels of tension among people uncertain of their future and the consequent febrile atmosphere in the camp. We will not tolerate a situation whereby demolition of the camp will make them even more vulnerable.

We ask that:

• All unaccompanied minors are removed to a place of safety before demolition begins.

• The removal of children from the camp is carried out in liaison with the charities and associations on the ground in Calais who have the trust of the children.

• Unaccompanied female minors be provided safe, women-only accommodation in line with their particular needs.

• Before demolition starts there should be in place a designated safe area for any remaining minors and vulnerable people.

• All offers of accommodation for remaining minors be investigated fully, for example by the French Red Cross, and best needs assessments of these children be carried out as soon as possible.

• Everyone who wants to go to a French reception centre (CAO), should be accommodated before demolition begins.

• Everyone with family links in Britain must retain their legal right to access their claim to relocate.

• Before demolition starts medical points, staffed with qualified French registered doctors, should be visible on the perimeter of the camp.

• During demolition, associations’ personnel in the camp to be easily identifiable using a coloured jacket.

• Fire extinguishers and fire engines to be on standby on the perimeter of the camp.

During demolition, it is important that independent observers are on the ground in the camp, given the allegations of human rights abuses during the previous demolition.

In the event that the demolition is delayed, it is essential that the UK and French governments deploy suitable personnel to oversee processing of individual cases, and that representations are made to the French government to mandate UNHCR and UNICEF to administer the camp as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,
Signatories: 18 voluntary sector organisations; 2 Bishops; 55 Peers; 60 MPs; 3 MEPs and 2 members of the Irish Parliament.

* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations and author of "Bold as Brass?", the story of Brass Crosby.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Oct '16 - 4:53pm


    This is excellent ! As a regular contributor on such issues I have been just as full of criticism of the French government as ours , if we are to see Stop the War as wrong for only criticising our own , we fall into a trap if we do that too !

    I believe your work , that of Shas , whom I was delighted to meet this Summer at a Remain meeting in Putney , and those involved thus, is truly admirable , and this letter sensible , well done !

    But keep the French authorities in your sights too, they have at local and national level not been Liberal or Democrat friends !

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Oct '16 - 5:45pm

    This is good work but the pictures of the first group of child refugees has damaged the cause. I must admit to feeling a bit misled, I thought small kids were going to be getting brought over. The cut off age should be 16, unless they have family here willing to take them in.

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