What would you do if you were the Mayor of Calais?

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Inside the Jungle in Calais

I was part of a Local Government Association delegation last week to the ‘jungle’ in Calais.

The ‘camp’ is essentially a shanty town with tents and shacks (including ‘restaurants’) built from scrap materials. It is set in sand dunes next to an industrial estate and alongside one of the key roads heading towards the Channel Tunnel. Its occupants are mainly male and there are over 800 residents classed as children – including many teenagers. The bulk are Afghan, fleeing Taliban conscription and in places combat zones. There are some Syrians as well as Eritreans and Somalis.

The authorities are clearly hostile to the camp: residents feel that the inhabitants are responsible for nuisance and crime. The response to this in March was partial demolition –which meant that 127 children simply disappeared. Meanwhile the CRS (the riot police in other circumstances) harass the inhabitants – confiscating phones, destroying SIM cards – and using plastic bullets, which can cause life-changing injuries.

The camp does not officially exist. Nevertheless, provision has been made for some inhabitants to go into adjacent freight containers – adapted to provide a form of accommodation, aimed at women with younger children, because of the dangers posed by people traffickers in the main camp.

The EU Dublin III agreement means that children should be reunited with their families, but the numbers who do so are still a trickle – we briefly met four getting on a train bound for St Pancras. The charitable sector has provided lists of children who qualify but there is clearly a lack of will by both UK and French governments. The ‘Dubs amendment’, which gained parliamentary assent earlier in the year and which should allow 3,000 unaccompanied children to enter the UK over and above Dublin III, seems so far not to have caused any extra children to enter the UK.

Even when children are verified as being eligible, with an identified family to go to, they still have so little trust in the system that they try and find a lorry to climb into to make it across the Channel. This may seem perverse: but their nightmares are more often about the behaviour of the CRS than about the now distant Taliban.

Get into the Mayor’s shoes. Your residents don’t want a large and growing migrant/refugee camp next to their town. If you unblock the system then children get across the Channel – but more will follow. If you demolish the camp altogether, then the problem is landed on central government.

But this can lose sight of humanity.

One eight year old I met had managed to get from Afghanistan, to Iran, to Turkey and thence across Europe. Fortunately he had his cousin to look after him. His cousin is nine years old.

Local government must say to central government: ‘We are talking about children here. Set aside bureaucratic barriers, talk to each other and so do your duty to the children of a troubled world.’

* Chris White is a member of the Liberal Democrat Voice Editorial Team, a Liberal Democrat Councillor from St Albans and Deputy Leader of the LGA Liberal Democrat Group.

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16 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Aug '16 - 6:00pm

    Chris, very good comments by you , but why is the mayor of Calais not able to demolish the camp safe n the knowledge that everybody there is now in the proper provision ie central government scheme to decide status ?!

    There is , today , far too much pass the parcel and pass the buck ! FDR would have sorted this out with something proactive , as a mayor , or in his case , a Governor , or President ,but his kind of let us do something properly , approach , is missing in cases where actually , it is not that difficult, not when you look at it properly.

    If the law deems it the central government must decide whether they are refugees , fine then, ok. Do it . If the local mayor has the power to clear the area , fine , that makes sense , if the problem has been decided. The migrants do not have the right to be in Europe unless with a legal status . They are human beings . But they therefore cannot be non persons just because they choose not to claim asylum , and the authorities are useless !

    We can help with hampers and support , very good that is too, but when people disappear , especially when France is supposedly vigilant on terrorism , I worry , as should all who care , and want real solutions.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Aug '16 - 6:22pm

    The mayor wants the border back in England, the president of France is fine with it being in France because the UK gives them money for it. They often tell the UK to implement ID cards to make it less attractive for illegal migrants, but the real draw is probably the English language and job prospects.

    Perhaps we should offer a 10 year switching policy with the border: 10 years in the UK, then 10 years in France, etc.

    Others want to close Schengen, but that just pushes the problem onto Italy. Other European countries have talked about doing something similar to Greece. We need to help the Italians and the Greeks more with the migrant crisis, but the solution can’t just be let everyone in.

  • the mayor of calais should ensure that his town, and country, meets its legal and moral obligations to genuine refugees in full. since france is clearly a safe country, that means providing for them within its territory. the only thing causing tne squalid jungle is that some refugees would prefer to be in the uk. am not sure that international obligations require that wish to be met in these circumstances.

  • The UK border should be in the UK – up to ferry and tunnel firms to take full responsibility to only allow people through that are entitled to enter UK (just as airlines have to do).

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Aug '16 - 10:59pm

    The problem with the UK border “being in the UK” and the French border “being in France” is what is in between? This is why I think the rotating border is probably best when it comes to sea borders.

    Although at first I agreed with the simple sentiment of “the UK border being in the UK” – on proper consideration it doesn’t really make sense!

  • I guess a lot of us wonder that since these people are illegally in France then why is it our problem? Why is France not deporting them?

  • These are actual people, you know. How would you feel if it was an 8 or 9 year old living in your street that found themselves in this awful situation? These people, in desperate situations, are being failed. We should all see this as a humanitarian crisis – all authorities should be working together to alleviate suffering and not pass the buck.

  • John Peters 23rd Aug '16 - 9:25am

    If there are unaccompanied minors they should be taken into care. I would like to know why the French have not taken the unaccompanied minors into care.

    The legitimate asylum seekers should be processed as any other asylum seekers.

    The economic migrants should be processed as any other economic migrants.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Aug '16 - 9:41am

    @David

    “The UK border should be in the UK – up to ferry and tunnel firms to take full responsibility to only allow people through that are entitled to enter UK (just as airlines have to do).”

    But airlines check passengers BEFORE the flight, not after it.

    Also the USA has been checking air passengers from Canada into the USA in Canada certainly at least since the 1980s.

    From a logistics point of view it makes far more sense to do passport checks etc before the ferry or tunnel journey – because those checks are being done while waiting for the ferry/train. Moving the checks to the UK would involve providing extra SECURE waiting areas for vehicles exiting from ferries and trains to allow such checks to be carried out and would impact seriously unloading times.

  • As I see it the main issue is that no one is enforcing Dublin, she should insist they do, I could be wrong but I thought the main principle of Dublin rules were they get given back to the country they came from, they in turn return them until they are in entry country which is safe and asylum is claimed there, so we should in the UK be returning the family’s of the refugee children to calais, they can then once reunited be sent back to Greece or Italy.
    Once the system is returning everyone down stream then hopefully they will see its a waste of time smuggling north.
    We should then help Greece and Italy deport the chancers and help to support them with aid to help in genuine cases.
    The mayor should push this, if her government dont enforce the rules then have police put them on buses and ship them to the nice areas of Paris or to wealthy southern areas, soon someone would then get on with it.
    If they cannot return them then bus them to Mr Junkers street across Schengen zone and get him to house them ALL

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 23rd Aug '16 - 9:57am

    I think this is a really good article by Chris White.

    In my view, one of the things that should happen is that safe areas should be created in and nearer to the places where conflict is creating refugees. It is outrageous that a person escaping danger in Syria has to travel to Western Europe for safety.

    In Bosnia we created safe havens, protected by international troops, in Bosnia and there were very few refugees who left the country. They mostly stayed in the safe havens and when the war was over were in a position to help rebuild their country.

    We should created internationally protected safe haven in Syria or close to it and then there will be much less need or desire for people to travel dangerously across all of Europe to awful camps like the one in Calais.

  • Simon McGrath 23rd Aug '16 - 11:01am

    This is a good article and thought provoking but as far as children why are they not treated like any other children at risk. Caron rightly says ” These are actual people, you know. How would you feel if it was an 8 or 9 year old living in your street that found themselves in this awful situation?” to which the answer surely is that we would expect the local authority to take them into care and make sure they are looked after. Which is what should happen in calais

  • Katerina Porter 24th Aug '16 - 7:29pm

    The UK is deliberately avoiding its responsibility for children- and adults -who have a legal right under International law to be in Britain . It is not putting in the necessary number of staff to process them in Calais, a choice involving much cruelty. It has made undertakings it is not carrying out.
    The other responsibility it/we are avoiding taking in those in countries like Iraq who have worked for us at great personal risk as interpreters etc. and who now are at increased risk unless they can leave their countries. It is also shortsighted. Who will have enough trust in us when we need help of this kind in the future?
    As for setting up safe areas in the danger zones or near by Jordan, population 4 million(?)
    has taken in a million, as has Lebanon (or even more) We do give aid to these countries.
    But is this all because the government is scared of UKIP?

  • John Peters 24th Aug '16 - 9:29pm

    Katerina Porter

    Have you any idea of how many in the Calais camp have a legal right to enter the UK under international law? As a matter of interest which law?

  • Katerina Porter 24th Aug '16 - 10:20pm

    These are those with close family links – in Britain in this case.
    The figure i have seen is between 200 to 300.

    The Dubs amendment was passed for 3000 children to come to Britain. There is little sign of their arrival.

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