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Sat, 25 May 2024

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Treatment of Calais refugees ‘may breach the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child’

3 min read

Andy Slaughter MP calls for support of Calais refugees, criticising the Government for contributing "nothing but the money to build a razor-wire fence between the camp and the Eurotunnel entrance."

I visited the ‘jungle’ refugee camp just before Christmas.  Rain alternated with sunshine, the weather was mild for December though a strong wind created a chill and battered the tents where most live.  And everywhere there was mud. 

The jungle, an old landfill site, sprawls out from under a motorway bridge just outside Calais, home to some 6,000 people at present.  It is flanked by two chemical plants pumping out noxious-looking clouds. Because the French Government regards this as a border control not a humanitarian issue, it would not provide shelter, sanitation and healthcare nor allow the UN or major charities like Oxfam to do so.

This falls to smaller charities like Hands International, who have vaccinated 40% of residents against this year’s ‘flu strain, Medecins sans Frontieres and L’auberge des migrants, which supplies both clothes and wooden shelters.

MSF took the French Government to court and won.  Now the state is putting in heated tents for families and better sanitation and water supply but for only 1,500 people. 

It is difficult to describe either the appalling conditions in the camp or the positive spirit among the people who live there.  Seeing both together is an incredible experience. There are several hundred children without parents and over 200 families.  Most are from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan or Kurdistan.  All seem to be fleeing persecution, but without a proper asylum process it is difficult to tell.

But there is a church, a library, language classes, restaurants and shops in shacks and huts.  There is the Good Chance Theatre and just outside the camp is the warehouse where donations of everything from clothes and toiletries to tents and sleeping bags are taken.  Often people spontaneously drive over from the UK with a carload.

This is not a situation that should occur anywhere, let alone 30 miles from the UK.  And it should be resolved by the French and other European governments, including our own.  The treatment of refugees in the jungle may breach the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and fails to comply with the Dublin Convention on the treatment of asylum seekers.

Many of the refugees would like to come to the UK, but that is because for many their nearest relatives are here.  For families and children with such links we should provide an opportunity to apply for asylum without risking their lives stowing in lorries or jumping on trains. 

Some would like to apply for asylum in France, others in Germany or other EU countries.  Some may turn out to be economic migrants and not fleeing persecution.  But at the moment no one is going anywhere.  As winter proper approaches, pregnant women and unaccompanied children are living in intolerable conditions. 

This is not in truth a refugee camp, so much does it lack the basics of life.  It is a stain on the French state, but it is not a problem of which we can wash our hands.  The majority of the volunteers and donors are from the UK.  That is to our country’s credit.  Our Government has contributed nothing but the money to build a razor-wire fence between the camp and the Eurotunnel entrance. This is to their shame.

For up to date information on the situation in Calais and what supplies are needed here. Or donate to Hands international or one of the other charities working in the camp.

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Read the most recent article written by Andy Slaughter MP - How we can tackle the rise of temporary accommodation

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