A new report by France terre d’asile dispels many myths around the situation of migrants and refugees in Calais, in northern France. The report highlights that, contrary to the portrayal of these people as irregular migrants, many of them are likely to be in need of international protection, coming from countries such as Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Syria. France terre d’asile analyses the reasons why these refugees and migrants see no other option but to attempt the dangerous crossing of the Channel to the UK, namely that many speak English, have family members or community ties in the UK but also that rumours circulate that it’s easier to find work in the UK which is a primary concern in order to repay smuggling debts.
Furthermore, migrants are aware that, in principle, asylum seekers in the UK have access to accommodation while their claim is being assessed whereas, in France, it can take four months for an asylum claim to be registered during which no accommodation is available and the average length of the asylum procedure is 18 months during which there is no guarantee of having accommodation. The ubiquitous presence of smugglers in Calais spreading rumours and misinformation about the UK as a type of ‘el dorado’ in comparison to a chaotic asylum system in France, as well as the lack of reliable information available for the migrants reinforces the belief among many migrants that travelling on to the UK is the only way to secure their future.
The report also highlights, that contrary to the typical image of single male migrants which is often portrayed in the media, the migrants include young women (circa 14% of the migrant population), some of whom have children with them or are pregnant and many unaccompanied children (10 -15% of the migrants). These children regularly fall victim of abuse, psychological violence or even trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The desperate situation of the migrants, whereby people live in makeshift camps that are frequently dismantled leads to a frustration and violence among the migrants themselves and the local population in Calais. This week, altercations broke out among national groups of migrants leading the police to intervene with tear gas. France terre d’asile also notes the rise of extreme-right groups terrorising migrants in their already precarious dwellings, sometimes with Molotov cocktails. The offices of Secours catholique where the migrants could go to get a shower has been burned twice in the space of a fortnight in September this year.
France Terre d’Asile urges that reliable and widespread social, legal and psychological assistance, including accommodation for the most vulnerable be provided, that those with international protection needs be able to access the asylum procedure, that accommodation be guaranteed for all asylum seekers in France and that migrants are not detained when camps are dismantled and when enforcing returns.
The UK is encouraged to apply the Dublin Regulation’s discretionary clauses in order to examine the asylum application of people with family or cultural links with the UK and to examine requests for family reunification from migrants in France. The report underlines that the failure of European states to offer equivalent conditions for exercising the right of asylum and integration perspectives inevitably leads to secondary movements within Europe. The study points out that many migrants stranded in Calais are returned to Italy and they often return to Calais a few weeks or months later, entering a cycle of costly trips.
This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 24 October 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.