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Demolitions Are Fast Approaching, But We Are No Closer To Reaching A Long-Term Solution In Calais

With the planned demolitions beginning as early as mid-October now is the time to act. The UK must play its part to ensure sustainable and long-term solutions are in place for refugees, and that this humanitarian crisis does not worsen.
Yves Herman / Reuters

French President Francois Hollande has vowed that he will be taking action to completely demolish the camp that is providing shelter to over 9,000 refugees in Calais.

The alternative offered by the French Government - to disperse refugees in "Welcome Centres" across France - is an ineffective means by which to address this humanitarian crisis.

With the planned demolitions beginning as early as mid-October now is the time to act. The UK must play its part to ensure sustainable and long-term solutions are in place for refugees, and that this humanitarian crisis does not worsen.

Why demolitions do not work

Demolishing the camp will not solve the problem. This can be seen most clearly by the fact that after much of the camp was destroyed in February, it has continued to grow and is now bigger than ever.

From our experience working on the ground, we know that demolitions do not serve to deter refugees from arriving at Calais but instead will likely deepen the crisis by destroying valuable and life-saving infrastructure and increasing the likelihood of life-threatening and illegal attempts to enter the UK.

The proposed demolitions and the alternative offered by the French Government do nothing to address the key reasons refugees are settling in Calais and therefore cannot be proffered in substitute of a long-term solution. There are some key points to note that both the UK and French governments are currently failing to address:

  • The Welcome Centres proposed as an alternative by the French Government will only process asylum claims for France. Many refugees have strong reasons for wanting to get the UK and will refuse to claim asylum elsewhere. Many will therefore return to Calais, and others will continue to arrive to achieve this as we saw previously
  • In February this year over 50% of the camp was demolished and yet six months later the camp is bigger than ever before. This is clear evidence that demolitions do not act as a deterrent
  • There have been reports of serious failings at Welcome Centres and the dispersal of refugees around France will make monitoring of this, and delivery of aid, extremely difficult if not impossible
  • Demolitions have previously led to an increase in people living in the smaller camps along the northern coast of France. If the Calais camp is closed it is likely that these camps, which have no running water, toilets or medical facilities will grow
  • Destroying the infrastructure currently in place and built with the help of volunteers and support from the UK public, will achieve nothing more than making living conditions much more inhumane and play directly into the hands of people smugglers

The UK's role

So far the UK has failed to take on responsibility for the worsening situation in Calais.

While positive action was taken to provide support to child refugees, with a commitment by the government in May to take thousands of unaccompanied child refugees from across Europe, it recently admitted that not a single one of these children has been accepted.

It also put in place an agreement designed to reunite child refugees with families living in the UK, but since then only 20 have been re-settled, with charities bearing the brunt of the expense to achieve this.

A large number of refugees in Calais are determined to reach the UK, many of whom have already withstood the dire conditions in the camp for months to fulfill this goal. Any sustainable long term solution requires recognition of the underlying reasons that refugees travel to Calais - many have close family or community ties to the UK. It is estimated for example that more than 400 unaccompanied children inside the camp are eligible to come to Britain and over a third of camp residents have family in the UK.

It is highly unlikely that the proposed demolition will deter refugees from attempting to reach the UK or that they will accept the offer of seeking asylum elsewhere.

Rather than putting resources into building a what is largely agreed to be an ineffective wall, the government should consider supporting refugees by providing access to information on how the asylum process works and make efforts to establish a means whereby those in genuine need of UK asylum can be safely processed without the need for them to risk their lives by attempting to enter the UK illegally. This would benefit the hauliers, the police and border forces as well as the refugees.

Until the UK government recognises the vital role it must play to achieve a longer term solution, the situation only looks to worsen.

We are urging the government to take responsibility for this crisis and have started a petition calling for Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, to take action - which you can sign here.

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