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Has the British government turned its back on young refugees now moved away from Calais?

Since the reports Marlborough.News carried from Dr Nick Maurice about his work in the Calais 'Jungle' where thousands of refugees were encamped - most of whom wanted to get to Britain - the camp has been destroyed and the refugees dispersed.  While the reporters who covered the camp's destruction have moved to other stories, the plight of the refugees is getting steadily worse.

There was criticism of the slow process of bringing to Britain those child refugees who had the right to join family here.  Now that many of the children have been dispersed round France, there is more criticism that the British authorities are not living up to their promises to keep these children safe and bring them to Britain.

In a report just published, the charity Help Refugees says that the Home Office is keeping child refugees in the dark about how to move to the UK.  The report cites cases among minors of self-harm and found that some children had run away from centres: "It was clear from our observations that the Home Office was purposefully remaining silent on important issues that directly affected unaccompanied minors."

Dr Maurice gave medical care in the Calais 'Jungle' - during May and again in September - under the auspices of another charity working with the refugees: Care4Calais.  Towards the end of last month, Clare Moseley, one of the founders of Care4Calais, sent us a long report which has very helpful and detailed background on the continuing plight of these refugees.

On 28 October 2016 the last refugees were bussed out of the Calais 'Jungle' to more than 160 government run reception centres (CAOs) situated all over France.  The following week what remained of the Jungle camp was bulldozed flat.  

These moves, and the events running up to them, dispersed up to 10,000 people who had been living in the camp at the end of August 2016, but they did not address the underlying reasons why refugees congregate in northern France and why they have done so for a number of years.

There are primarily two reasons why refugees arrive in Calais and the surrounding area.  Firstly, an anomaly in the UK asylum system:  if you want to claim UK asylum you have to physically be in the UK.  However there is no legal way to gain entry, so you must enter illegally in order to make a legal claim.  Refugees gather at points close to the UK border to attempt illegal entry to the UK.

Secondly, the 'Dublin' system of determining which EU member is responsible for processing a refugee's asylum claim states that the claim should usually be made in the first EU state that the refugee enters.

Refugees in France who have been fingerprinted in Italy or Greece therefore risk being sent back to those countries that are already heavily overburdened by the refugee crisis and struggling to cope.  However, there is a six month time limit and in recent months we have seen refugees staying in Calais in order to 'break' the Dublin fingerprint limit.

New arrivals

One of the biggest gaps in the French authorities' plan for the end of the Calais camp is the total lack of provision for new arrivals post 28 October.  And, of course, refugees have continued to arrive.  The Minister of the Interior has said that the French authorities are considering this.

Two options are available: either maintaining a reception centre in Calais - at the risk of creating another 'Jungle'.  Or to maintain reception centres in all the major French cities in order to 'intercept' the exiles in transit.

Numbers have increased significantly in Paris and Dunkirk.  And evacuation similar to that in Calais took place in Paris on 4 November transferring 3,800 refugees to CAOs.  However, hundreds of people continue to sleep in the streets of Paris. An official centre was opened on 10 November that has only 400 places where refugees can stay temporarily before being transferred to centres elsewhere.

The camp in Dunkirk, which had previously shrunk to around 500 people, has now increased to 1,300 refugees.

Detention Centres

We understand that 200 refugees have been sent to detention centres, that the Calais detention centre has had to grow by 20 more places, and that numbers are up at the Lille and Paris detention centres. We heard that three Sudanese men had been presented to the Sudanese Embassy for deportation back to the Sudan.  

At the detention centres there are reports of refugees having their possessions confiscated and they tell us they are provided with minimal food, blankets and toiletries, and have little or no access to interpreters or information.

This amounts to the criminalisation of being a refugee, which is fundamentally wrong.  Refugees are people with a right to international protection - they are not criminals. Driving refugees underground, arresting and detaining them in these conditions is morally unacceptable.

The CAOs

The CAOs are intended as a temporary solution only.  We were originally told that refugees would have a four week period in the CAOs so they could decide whether to claim asylum in France or to leave the country. We understand that in some instances this stay may be extended.

Care4Calais has received feedback from refugees in over 100 CAOs and has visited 13 CAOs.  They vary greatly in nature and standards - from apartments for families with modern appliances to disused school buildings containing makeshift beds with only two toilets and showers for 50 people.

In over 50 per cent of cases refugees report being reasonably comfortable.  Some of the most worrying reports include racist protests - sometimes violent - against the centres, delayed or withheld access to medical care, and lack of access to interpreters - commonly reported across CAOs.

We visited one centre where minors were housed in a homeless shelter for French adults and we were told alcohol and drug abuse took place there.

The unaccompanied minors, who left Calais with a promise that their cases would be processed, have generally been deserted and there has been a lack of communication from UK Home Office officials.

PRAHDAs

The long-term proposed solution is the Reception and Accommodation Programme for Asylum Seekers (P{RAHDAs).  These (overdue) centres will provide accommodation for people claiming asylum in France, but also for those awaiting transfer to another country under the Dublin procedure and, if necessary, persons under house arrest.

In addition they will house those under what the French authorities describe as 'preparation for exit from the system of refugees and rejected persons'.  This suggests that PRAHDAs are likely to be secure and custodial and illustrates the extreme stance the French government is now taking towards refugees.

The UK's responsibility



Any sustainable, long-term solution ton the refugee problem in northern France requires recognition of the underlying reasons why refugees arrive there.  Many have close family or community ties to the UK, have served alongside the British army in Afghanistan, have lived in the UK previously or even have ties going back to colonial times.

To date the UK has refused to take any responsibility for these people who are now in desperate need through no fault of their own.

There is no morally acceptable reason why the UK should not do its fair share to help out in what has now become one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time.

In addition to providing a fair share of places, we must also create safe passage for genuine refugees and establish a means whereby those in genuine need of UK asylum can be safely processed without the need for them to risk their lives attempting to enter the UK illegally.

The Home Office has issued guidance on unaccompanied minors that places a number of harmful restrictions on the transfer of minors over the age of 12 to the UK, and backtracks on previous commitments made by the government and codified in Lord Dubs' amendment.

We are extremely disappointed to see the government falling short of its commitments to help refugees - yet again.  The Home Office guidance shows a failure to ensure that the UK's vow to take in 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees is fulfilled - and more widely, a refusal by the government to take responsibility for the pledges we have made to alleviate the plight of refugees.

Until the government recognises the vital role it must play to achieve a longer term solution, the situation only looks to worsen with vulnerable people again left at risk.

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  • Town-Hall-2011-05-03 08-
  • IMG 8472
  • Silbury-Sunset---10-06-08-----07
  • IMG 9097
  • Marlborough-2013-04-18 St Peters