On Monday morning this week the French authorities started to clear the south side of the camp of temporary shelters, known as the Calais Jungle. People living in the camp are being encouraged to take up accommodation from the French authorities, and priority is being given to children and women. France is also offering refugees the chance to claim asylum in other centres around their country.This has to be the right approach. We cannot stand by and allow people to live in squalor in camps at Calais and Dunkirk, where they are often vulnerable to approaches from dangerous criminal gangs and people smugglers. It is better for the refugees to take up the opportunity to have their asylum claim processed in France, which is a safe country.
These camps should not exist, refugees should be identified as the enter the European Union and have their claims processed then, rather than being allowed to move between member states before requesting asylum. The Calais Jungle camp is not only a danger to the safety and wellbeing of the refugees, but also to the large numbers to people who seek to legitimately gain access to the Port of Calais and Channel Tunnel everyday. Last week I met with the Chief Executive of the Road Hauliers Association who stated that whilst security at the perimeters of the Port and Tunnel has improved, lorry drivers still face the constant threat of refugees from the camps trying to hide themselves on their vehicles so that they can try to smuggle themselves into the UK. This action damages the lorries and their loads, and is also dangerous for the refugees as well. We have seen too many incidents in the past year where would be asylum seekers have lost their lives trying to enter the country. I hope that the action this week by the French authorities marks a new proactive commitment to end the disgrace of the Calais Jungle.
A few weeks ago wrote in this column that I wanted Southeastern trains to restore the peak time high speed rail service, just before 7am, from Folkestone Central into St Pancras. Whilst the impact of the closure for repairs of the Folkestone to Dover line has caused disruptions to services across the whole network in Kent, we have lost too many of our direct services, causing considerable overcrowding on the trains that remain. I am pleased that Southeastern have confirmed that this service will now be restored from 29th March. We need to ensure that the trains available meet the passenger demand, and this should also include additional direct services back to Folkestone from London during the evening peak.
I also recently visited the Folkestone Churches Winter Shelter, which has once again provided a welcome hot meal and overnight accommodation for homeless people in the town during the winter months. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the running of the shelter for their hard work, which is so greatly appreciated. You can find out more at their website www.wintershelter.org.uk