Tom Brake writes: My trip to the Calais Jungle


I visited the Calais Jungle a week ago, where around 4,000 people live in terribly squalid conditions. My trip was organised by staff from Lib Dem HQ, who had collected donations so we were able to distribute water, food and sanitary products.

It was a shocking experience to see the dreadful conditions people are living in. The Jungle is worse than a shanty town, with very few facilities.

There was no sign of water being provided and the people we met clutched gratefully the bottles we had transported.  Shoes, clothes and dry foods were also in demand. Portable toilets are provided by aid organisations while the local authorities seem to turn a blind eye to the conditions in the camp, simply wishing it would go away. I was told the French authorities don’t provide any help apart from a Centre where mobile phones can be charged and a hot meal is available. If someone is badly injured the local hospital bandages them up.

I was also dismayed to hear that people who die in the camp are buried inside the camp. If true, this is both inhumane – no relative is likely to find out about the death of their loved one – and a health hazard. I was told three people had died the night before I arrived.

Winter is now fast approaching and one can only imagine the hardship and the awful conditions that await these refugees and would-be economic migrants.

The camp is made up of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. There are also economic migrants from Africa, India and Pakistan. I spoke to a range of people, each of a different background, each with a different story. They included a Fine Art student from Syria, refugees from Iraq, a child from Pakistan, and many others who have lost everything due to ISIS, the Syrian Civil War, or were fleeing poverty in their homelands.

I saw lots of teenage boys and men and very few women, with men outnumbering women 20 to 1. But mothers with babies are living in the camp too and it concerns me greatly that children are being brought up in this environment.

It is very hard to comprehend the conditions people are living in without seeing it first hand and I am very disappointed that so few politicians have visited the camp. This makes me incredibly proud to be following in the footsteps of my friend and our leader, Tim Farron, who was the first party leader to visit The Jungle in the summer.

My visit to Calais confirmed that a crisis as difficult as this one can only be resolved by working with other EU countries.

That is why I am extremely disappointed by our Government’s approach. As Tim said at conference, it is one of ‘‘careful calibration of what it will take to manage that story, the minimum effort for the maximum headlines’’. The Government should negotiate an EU relocation scheme which acknowledges the UK’s contribution to date and then accept more people.

I am proud to say that over the last few months, I have been overwhelmed by positive letters and comments from constituents and from people I have spoken to in Parliament and at conference. It is clear that many in the UK agree with our position.

They realise people are seeking to get to the UK out of sheer desperation or because of a burning desire to be re-united with family here. Not because of our benefits system.

To try and ensure our visit to Calais has a lasting legacy, I am writing to the authorities in Calais to discuss the burial of the deceased, rubbish collection, sanitation and clean water supply in the camps.

I will also be writing to the French Government to demand they provide healthcare, both medical and dental, for those in the camp.

There is no easy solution to this refugee and migrant crisis, but it will need to be a liberal, compassionate and fair one.  Only the Liberal Democrats will be advocating this.

The thumbnail photo featured at the top of our home page for this article is of two young Syrian refugees by Syria Freedom Freedom House Flickr CCL

* Tom Brake was the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington from 1997 to 2019.

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  • suzanne fletcher 12th Oct '15 - 4:04pm

    So proud that Tom Brake has not just been to see for himself what is happening, and taken times needed there, but done a good report back AND is taking action on some of the things that need attending to NOW, such as the burials and sanitation issues, as well as calling for the longer term permanent solutions needed.
    thank you.

  • I am torn between being proud of the number of LibDems getting involved in this one and ashamed that it is needed.

    Would it really do the UK harm to let these people in? If they have the energy to try this hard, they have the energy to contribute to the UK.

    I fear that treating them this badly will build up resentment, and risks doing the UK real harm in the long term. And in the short term we are complicit in inhumane behaviour…

  • David Wallace, I would imagine because they probably all speak English and not French. That s what happens when you have the world’s common language.

  • Shaun Cunningham 12th Oct '15 - 5:44pm

    Good evening

    Here we go again, emotional outburst again.

    Wish people would stop and look at the facts. Many sitting in the camps surrounding Calais are not refugees but economic migrants. There is a difference is there not? Are we really saying anyone and everyone who wishes to travel to the UK should be allowed in.

    Are you sure all those who took time out and delivered aid to the camp that their efforts was not a fruitless exercise?

    I am speaking out yet again because I am brassed off being criticised by people who clearly have good intentions but fail to recognise the facts.

    I welcome genuine refugees and yes, has a country we should play our part in offering genuine refugees a place of safety, but to extend this to everyone who sees the UK being their land of dreams cannot be right.

    Posting for another reason to show others, the wider public, not everyone in our proud party is being overcome by narrow mind emotion.

    This nation is playing their part. Here in Hampshire the Council are already have approximately 100 young children from the camps bordering Syria in their care with plans to take more. This nation is spending over £1 Billion in supporting refugees within Turkey, Lebanon and neighbouring states.

    Be proud of what this country is doing, yes, we can do more, but to suggest the answer is, come on in, is shortsightedness…… my opinion.

  • @Janet

    Surely if they’ve been given asylum and benefits in France then they’re no longer in danger and if they want to come to the UK they should therefore just go through the normal application for a visa process? Why choose to camp at a tunnel if you’ve been given state aid and asylum? Are they not then economic migrants who don’t want to go through the usual legal channels because the UK will almost certainly reject their applications?

    Something about this doesn’t seem right.

  • The government seems t have washed its hands of the Calais problem – focusing instead on refugees in Lebanon. But, as Tom has reported, this is a running sore, almost within sight of Dover. It calls, does it not, for combined Anglo-French investigation, so that the actuality of it can be established. By which I mean: how many are asylum seekers and how many are more like economic migrants? That means careful interviewing. It cannot be just up to lone-ranger visitors like Tim Farron and Tom Brake, Revd Richard Fraser and Songs of Praise.

  • In the meantime, whatever the government says and the Mail/Express headlines say young illegals are still leaving Calais and arriving daily in the UK, by whatever means. This whole issue is caught up in the Euro Ref debate and campaign, any sign of weakness by the government and they face the wrath of the anti Europe brigade. My personal exeperience says that in general conversations with people there is much more sympathy for the immigrants position than the papers would have us believe.
    By the way how are we voting on the governments austerity package? This is a chance to break from the coalition past.

  • Tom you are a London MP how about taking a walk around Westminster one night and seeing the homeless people of UK that are sleeping on the streets and who are forced to use food banks, you are a UK MP voted in by UK citizens to help them so unless you start helping them then don’t be surprised if you lose your seat at the next general election.

  • suzanne fletcher 13th Oct '15 - 8:57pm

    just some thoughts (and even facts!) on some of the points.
    Those in Calais have not arrrived in France straight from war torn countries, they have usually been through a number of others, and not claimed asylum there either, there are not the facilities to do so, and the French, last time I heard, are taking claims very slowly indeed. This is why a joint European approach is needed to look at new ways of dealing with this crisis that is both efficient and humanitarian. and the UK needs to be part of that.
    Tom does say in his article that there are some economic migrants there. that does not mean they are out and out sinners, they are not living as they are in Calais and prepared to literally risk life and limb if not driven to it. The UK has done its share of economically migrating over the years too !
    People are managing to escape Calais and arrive here. I’ve met some. There is no way I could not have compassion for these people, and those I have met are very keen to contribute to our society, to learn good English, to play their part.
    I have also heard from local people who have taken aid to Calais, in properlly organised ways. I have heard what they have come back with, seen their pictures, seen their videos. I don’t need to read the Daily Mail for their version, reality is enough.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Oct '15 - 9:17pm

    Shaun Cunningham 12th Oct ’15 – 5:44pm “genuine refugees” again.!
    Suppose you were outside your country of nationality or origin, but in a country affected by World War 2. Suppose you had a well founded fear of persecution for a reason covered by the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees in respect of events happening in Europe before 1951. Are you a ‘genuine refugee’ or not?
    Can you give reasons to grant asylum that will be accepted by a senior officer or to refuse that will be accepted by an Immigration Judge?
    Please do not rely only on the Daily Mail or the Mail on Sunday.

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