The Calais ‘Jungle’ One Year On

Today marks one year since the makeshift refugee camp in Calais known as the ‘Jungle’ was demolished.

Three weeks after becoming leader I got to visit the Jungle for myself, and the experience was both eye-opening and heart-breaking. The word ‘jungle’ is actually not an appropriate or accurate description of what these desperate people had built for themselves. It was more like a city. It sprawled for miles. Conditions were grim, but it was amazing to see the strength and grit of the people living there, despite the unimaginable situation they had found themselves in.

But on 24th October 2016 the French authorities began their full-scale demolition of the jungle, which in total took three days and was backed by an estimated £36 million of UK money. One of the reasons they chose that date was because of French law that was due to come into force on the 1st November making it an offence to make anyone homeless. Faced with outcry from voters in the run-up to an election, the demolition was a clear attempt by the French authorities to clear the decks and to do something which many of us would consider wrong and morally reprehensible.

Rather than the UK Government signalling their outrage and offering to help by rehousing the population, they were joint partners in this cruel action. As compensation, or to deflect criticism, the Home Office transferred 750 children to Britain to begin to rebuild their lives. To put this into context, 1900 children who were living in the camps were registered, many more won’t have been.

One year on, and despite falling from the news agenda, the refugee crisis has by no means abated, and the situation in Calais is arguably far worse now for the unaccompanied children and refugees who continue to arrive there. They face brutal action by police including beatings, pepper spray, and even the removal of their shelter and bedding. Harsh winter conditions are setting in and life will become even more miserable and unbearable for the hundreds of children who are currently scared and alone on the continent.

And with Brexit negotiations underway, our participation in family reunification rules under the Dublin III have been thrown into doubt.

Just because this is happening across the Channel does not mean we can wash our hands clean of any responsibility.

As we have always known, this Government seems intent on doing as little as possible. I, with colleagues from all parties both in the Commons and the Lords, secured a commitment from Government to transfer unaccompanied refugee children from Europe to the UK, but after taking only 480 children the Government shut down the scheme. This was despite local authorities saying they had additional capacity. This attitude reveals their callousness and should act as a call to arms to all those who care to redouble their efforts to ensure that the Government can’t simply brush this under the rug.

So I have once again joined forces with colleagues from all sides of the House of Commons to call for urgent discussions on the practical recommendations to continue and improve access to safe and legal options for vulnerable children to come to the UK as an alternative to dangerous and illegal routes they are currently exposed to. Whilst Brexit dominates the agenda in Westminster there are children who are in desperate need. We refuse to forget them.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Refugees and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.
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6 Comments

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Oct '17 - 4:48pm

    Well done, Tim, still leader in this major humanitarian effort which needs reviving. Tell us how we can help.

  • Well done Tim. Hope all your family had a good holiday as you all deserved. Really pleased you are helping the children who have travelled far under extreme, adverse natural and human conditions. We can still do more from here and so can our friends in France. Best wishes to the web of supporters everywhere.

  • suzanne Fletcher 24th Oct '17 - 10:22pm

    Thank you Tim for continuing to speak out and up for those kids. Work with who you can, where you can, and shout out if you need help from us members

  • Martin Walker 25th Oct '17 - 8:00am

    Well done and thank you Tim for continuing to shine a light on this issue. Echoing the comments above, it would be really interesting and useful (perhaps in a future article) to read how we can best help.

  • Katerina Porter 25th Oct '17 - 4:00pm

    So glad Tim has brought it all up again. The extremes that Theresa May is prepared to go to when it is a question of refugees is shoc,king. And what about the Dubs Amendment ,
    which presumably has some legal standing?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 26th Oct '17 - 8:26am

    Tim, thank you for this article. Please continue to campaign on this issue, to ensure that the public, and Parliament, do not forget the plight of refugee children. And please continue to remind the party that this is the sort of issue that we, as a party, should be focusing on. And while it is right to prioritise helping unaccompanied children, please let us not forget that adult refugees matter too.

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