9 October 2015

Calais is making the headlines since this summer because of the hundreds of people trying to stow away on lorries or to enter the Eurotunnel in desperate attempts to reach the UK. Tragically, there have been 15 deaths since June. While the number of migrants and refugees in and around Calais has increased in the past months, currently numbering between 4,000 to 5,000 people, the issues at stake are not new.

Calais is a migratory “dead end” within the EU, reflecting the lack of common response and solidarity between EU Member states and 15 years of political failures. Predictably, the focus of the French and British governments has been the repeated destruction of makeshift camps, the evacuating of squats and the reinforcing of security measures and border controls. Following a 2003 bilateral Treaty between France and the UK, UK border controls have been externalised on the French territory. Subsequently, the UK has invested heavily in supporting France build fences to protect the port and tunnel entrances. Recently, fences have been strengthened and razor wire was added.

Earlier this year, Sudanese, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Afghans, Pakistanis, Syrians and others present in Calais have been encouraged by the authorities to settle on a piece of land outside town, the so-called “new Jungle”, near the Jules Ferry “day centre”. The “new Jungle”, comprises of tents and makeshifts constructions is transforming into a permanent slum – even shops and restaurants have opened for the residents. Yet, people live there in appalling conditions, far below any European or refugee camp standard. Epidemic diseases are spreading, heightened by insufficient sanitary equipment. Similarly, the quantity of the food provided and the limited healthcare available negatively affects the “residents” health. Tensions are high. The security situation is critical, as rapes occur, and gunfights take place between the smugglers. The day centre only provides basic services and accommodation for 115 women and children, even though the needs are far greater.

Various NGOs are active in the region, providing food, basic medical care and information. France terre d’asile, in partnership with UNHCR, provides advice about asylum through a joint information office, as well as through mobile teams. Other NGOs also provide legal counselling during the procedures. While people in need of protection in Calais are open to the idea of seeking asylum in France, many are deterred by the delays in obtaining a place in reception centres or emergency schemes as well as by the length of the asylum procedure. Powerful smuggling networks active in the camp also try to convince people to continue their journey to the UK.

On August 31st, French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, announced the opening of a new “humanitarian camp” in 2016, financed by EU funds, that could accommodate up to 1,500 persons in prefabricated buildings. Given the number of people currently present, the places will be insufficient and it risks exacerbating existing tensions between those hosted and those not. In addition, the government only mentioned the provision of accommodation when there is also a dire need for information and counselling.

Unfortunately, current efforts to solve the situation in Calais mostly focus on emergency measures, when a long term plan is necessary. Beyond the need for adequate reception facilities, taking into account vulnerabilities and special needs, legal information and facilitated access to the asylum procedure, France terre d’asile urges the British government to open legal migration channels and facilitate existing ones. This could include, for instance, making use of the discretionary clauses of the Dublin Regulation. The priority should be fighting smuggling networks and protecting migrants from trafficking rather than targeting the migrants themselves. A solution to the situation in Calais can only be a European one, with measures underpinned by a principle of solidarity, aimed at engendering enhanced protection and the prevention of additional hardships for these refugees and migrants.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 9 October 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.