Last week the French government began the long-expected demolition of the migrant camp universally known as ‘the jungle’.
Conditions in the camp were appalling. With little or no official help the people living in the camp were reliant on assistance from charities. The ground was waterlogged when it rained and make-shift shacks were all that stood between the inhabitants and the elements outside.
So the ending of these conditions might be a good thing then. Well, it’s not.
For all the appalling problems the inhabitants faced – being preyed upon by the criminal gangs of people-smugglers for example – they at least had somewhere to be. Unaccompanied child refugees, overwhelmingly from the hell that is the Syrian conflict, could be kept half an eye on, even receive rudimentary schooling. With the camp’s demolition all that is gone. Children with nowhere to go, and no-one to turn to are being turned away and forced, presumably, to sleep rough. No-one actually knows.
The inhabitants of the camp have been demonised as people who are desperate to get to the UK at any cost. The insinuation, or outright accusation, has frequently been levelled that they are trying to do so because Britain is a soft-touch when it comes to state benefits and this acts as a kind of a magnet for the desperate.
Hopefully it should be clear that this is utterly false. The size of the Calais encampment is dwarfed by the overall scale of the refugee crisis which has been developing these past years. around 60,000,000 people have been displaced as a result of several ongoing conflicts – Syria being chief amongst them. By September of this year alone the International Organization for Migration said that 351,314 people have crossed the Mediterranean. The numbers trying to reach the UK is small, on any reckoning.
The jungle is a result of policy failure by European states, which could easily have been avoided. Some people are so determined to make it to the UK because they have family settled here already and are trying to unite with them. Having lost everything in the crucible of war, clinging on to family is very understandably the only motivation to keep going that some refugees have. And yet the doors to them are barred.
Consider this, from a House of Lords select committee report on the crisis:
“collectively, Member States [of the EU] are fundamentally failing to comply with their obligations under EU and international law to receive and protect children.”
Our government’s actions have cynically contributed to breaking up the most vulnerable families that are currently alive. There isn’t an excuse for this, and the relevant ministers have known full well what they are doing. They just don’t think there would be a political price to pay.
For a final insight into the real-life consequences of the camp’s destruction here is a stream of tweets send by @HelpRefugeesUK:
@HelpRefugeesUK We are sad to report that both the women and children’s bus and Balo children’s centre have burned down. It seems no one is injured. [October 25th 2016]
@HelpRefugeesUK It is unacceptable children were not placed in safe accommodation before the demolition. Forced to witness the destruction of yet another home. [October 25th]
@HelpRefugeesUK Many women and children in Calais camp despite fires. They must be offered safe accommodation immediately [4pm October 26th]
@HelpRefugeesUK Children refused entry to the safety of the container camp and forced to sleep outside. This is not the protection promised. #dubsnow [21.43pm 26 October]
@HelpRefugeesUK Many #children & #minors waiting outside the registration warehouse in #calais this morning. The warehouse is closed & no officials on site. [07.33am 27 October]