Feature: Written by Khalid Jamal Mohamed.
French authorities are curently in the process of dismantling the country’s largest refugee camp, known as the ‘Jungle’. But with the destruction of the campsite, questions remain over what will happen to the thousands of refugees seeking asylum.
On Monday 24th October, the French Government began the long awaited process of dismantling the refugee camps in Calais, Northern France. As expected, or rather what should have been anticipated, resistance from the camps’ residents has since led to clashes with authorities and outbreaks of fires erupting across the campsite.
Since deciding to completely demolish the campsite, French officials have given indication that the process will entail providing the estimated 7,000 refugees with accommodation by relocating them to other parts across the country. After a number of attempts to try to clear the Calais “Jungle”, the Government hopes this will be the final step in clearing the camp.
With an forthcoming presidential election next April in France, French President Francoise Hollande has faced mounting public pressure to dismantle the camp and relocate the inhabitants. Conservative opponents have accused the Socialist president of mismanaging a problem, arguing it is ultimately a dilemma for the British to tackle. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has welcomed the plans to demolish the Calais migrant camp, criticising “appalling” living conditions, poor security and a lack of basic services.
French authorities have made it clear that they have detailed plans for moving refugees out of the “Jungle” camp. The original measures to move the refugees out of the camp have gone astray, as outbreaks and clashes have broken out. Authorities wanted this process to be quick and straightforward operation, with the police, NGOs and local politicians aware of the plans weeks in advance. A fleet of 150 buses were hired, taking the camp residents over the next few days to different locations points across France, bearing refugees to new ‘Centres d’Accueil et Orientation‘ or ‘Welcome and Orientation Centres‘ (CAOs).
In the past, many refugees living in the camp have been offered accommodation across France and travelled to centres on a voluntary process. However, the option to travel on the buses this time is a compulsory act, with officials stating that they must board the buses and stay on them, or face being sent to “administrative centres” – the first step to possible deportation.
The overall goal? Authorities hope that now the first week has passed, and an estimated 4,000 people have reportedly been relocated, and North Calais can now return to its natural state.
An unsuccessful “clearance”
Since the clearance, charities working in Calais have claimed that 1,500 children and minors have either been abandoned or placed in shipping containers next to the demolished camp, with inadequate food and water supplies and no information about their situations or future.
An emailed summary of the situation from the Refugee Community Kitchen, the charity providing food and water for the children in the migrant camps, detailed: “There are no official organisations or charities or government bodies acting there. Only a large police and security presence.”
Dorothy Sang, spokeswoman for Save the Children, has explained: “Yet again these children have been put in a dangerous position. Once again, the authorities have walked away and left the charities to look after them.”
However, even more shocking allegations have been thrown at both the UK and France for breaching human rights as children have been forced to sleep in makeshift conditions for several nights. According to sources, teenagers were lured away with the promise to be transported to reception centres where they would be assessed for asylum and reunification with their families in the UK. But when buses did not arrive after an hour, police forces emerged with tear gas, shields and taser guns to force the teenagers and children into a side street where they would spend the night.
Following on from this revelation, the British Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, spoke to her French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, on Thursday afternoon – telling him that the children who remained in Calais had to be properly protected.
Children’s commissioners for England and France have both called on the French government to identify, register and house the estimated 1,500 lone asylum-seeking children who are living in dire conditions.
However, this was expected before the dismantling process began. With both French and English officials arguing and raising concerns for the children at Calais, one has to wonder why measures were not sought out earlier. Preventive action was always an option and should have been pursued. It appears the French authorities were more concerned with notifying the NGOs and charities of the closure of the camp rather than the wellbeing of its residents.
British Home Secretary Rudd declared last week her officials had interviewed 800 children who claim to have family in the UK. While working with French authorities to transfer the lone children, Britain has accepted almost 200 children. But with many more children and families left confused and alone after the closure of the registration offices, there is no clear indication as to what will happen to the remaining unaccompanied minors.