Saturday, 31 October 2009

Misery follows the 'jungle camp' raid

By Jean Lambert

Looking over this desolate landscape, it is hard to believe that just a month ago this was the site of Calais's migrant "jungle" camp. Save for the odd lone shoe or broken radio this area, where trees and bracken once provided refuge, has been cleared and ploughed into a muddy wasteland.

With the media looking on, the resident migrants were dramatically removed by the French authorities last month. Knowing of the impending raid, many had dispersed in advance, some of whom are now living on the streets in Paris. Of those who were detained, some were deported and others were later released. Weeks later, hundreds have returned to Calais, where they are again sleeping rough and surviving on food handouts.

I visited Calais and the Sangatte refugee centre, a facility run by the Red Cross to provide shelter and food, 10 years ago. I was told at the time that it encouraged migrants. Nicolas Sarkozy, then the interior minister of France, demanded its destruction in 2002 and with it, hopefully, the problem.

A decade later and many criticisms of the French authorities made then are still valid. The UNHCR is currently operating on the streets as there is no refugee centre, and while permission has been granted to use a building to process asylum seekers, its provision is a continuing cause for dispute between the authorities involved.

There has been increased and targeted police harassment, with young men saying they have been picked up and held overnight in cells then dropped miles from Calais to find their way back alone.

And it is very difficult for the migrants, a large proportion of whom have travelled overland from Afghanistan, to find information on asylum in any language other than French. When I visited Sangatte with fellow Green MEPs, we tried to remedy this situation by producing a booklet on asylum procedures in six languages. I have heard that this is still in circulation today.

While the French want to deter mass migration to Calais, it's clear that people will continue to pass through it to reach the UK for the foreseeable future. We now need to address the immediate humanitarian situation.

A centre to provide basic amenities – such as showers, drinking water, medical care and overnight shelter – is the most urgent need, since these people are extremely vulnerable. Many are under 18 and therefore legally classified as children. Despite fears, tighter laws on immigration to the UK mean that a camp of a similar size to Sangatte is unlikely to ever rematerialise. A separate office should also be set up where people can find information as well as lodge and follow their asylum claim through the system. One man I met had his papers to prove he was a legitimate refugee, but he was still without accommodation and the stability necessary to pursue language courses or work. Providing these centres could help people like him move on with their lives and would ensure that those under 18 are identified and protected.

Current EU legislation requires that asylum seekers are dealt with in the first safe country they enter, although national asylum standards vary hugely. As well as having connections to the UK, many want to wait until they arrive here to apply because our system functions relatively well.

The EU is trying to address this by upgrading all national systems to the same high standard. This would mean that no matter where someone applies for asylum their claim would be assessed by the same criteria and their reasons for wishing to settle in a certain country could be taken into account, if they are allowed to stay. The proposed European Asylum Support Office is designed to assist this improvement.

Along with colleagues in the European parliament, I have also called for a new status for those who are not eligible for asylum, but who cannot be returned to their country of origin – for instance if that country is in conflict, or indeed if the supposed country of origin won't accept them. Unable to return home or work or claim benefits, they can be left destitute and fall into the hands of gangs and illegal activity. Awarding them a legal status could give them leave to remain temporarily and the chance to earn a basic living.

What is clear is that until the conditions of their countries of origin are improved people will continue to arrive in the EU, in search of security, work, education and a better life. France's tactics for dealing with migrants have failed to solve the problems in Calais; indeed their approach has hindered the process of registering and monitoring people's movements. Now they must ensure that internationally agreed asylum and human rights are upheld, and with developments in European legislation I hope that long-term solutions can be found.


Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails