Last Friday I visited the Calais Jungle migrant camp, along with Jo Strickland, a Folkestone based businesswoman who has also, over the past year, worked there as a volunteer. The camp is currently home to around 10,000 migrants, although no-one knows the exact number for certain. They have journeyed from across the world, from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and East Africa. Some have seen members of their family killed in front of them in the war against ISIL. Others fled the certain death that awaited them for refusing to fight with extremist forces in their country. Before addressing the challenges that the existence of the camp has created, I will share my general impression of the 3 to 4 hours I spent there. In a camp of that size, there will be good people and bad people, those with a just case for asylum, and those who do not have. There is also real community, acts of great charity and humanity, and many volunteer aid workers, who have risked everything for many months to try and help the people there, many of whom are women and young children.
The very existence of the camp is a disgrace. Walking around it, you have to remind yourself that you are still in Europe, and not on the edge of a warzone. The French authorities have allowed it to develop, and the police stand at its perimeter observing the comings and goings. The large investment that has been made in high security fencing to protect the Channel Tunnel and Port of Calais has made it much harder for the migrants to board the trains and ferries heading to Britain. However, many will still try on a nightly basis to break into lorries before they reach the security of the check-in areas. President Hollande of France has said that the camp will be closed down by the end of this year, however people in Calais believe that it could be even sooner, perhaps by the end of October. If that is true, it is clear no concerted effort has yet been made to find alternative places for the migrants, or to ensure that their asylum claims have been processed.
Some people ask, why the migrants in the camp don’t claim asylum in France, instead of trying to get to the UK. The truth is that many do. I met families with young children who had successfully claimed asylum in France many months ago, but were still living in the Jungle as they were told by the French authorities that there was nowhere else for them to go. Also, the conditions at alternative migrant camps in France are so bad, that many make their way back to the Calais Jungle in preference.
My concern is that the demolition of the Calais Jungle camp this year will not solve the problem, but instead just disperse it across the region, making the situation worse for everyone. France must make sure that the migrants have their claims processed and that there is alternative accommodation available for them, rather than just overseeing the brutal destruction of the camp, and the scattering of the thousands of people still there. The UK government should also make sure that it processes in time the claims of around 300 unaccompanied children in the Jungle who are trying to join family members in our country, and for whom it has already been established that they have a legal right to asylum in the UK.