How failure after failure let down refugees in the Calais ‘Jungle’
(CNN) — French authorities have begun the process of demolishing the migrant camp known as the Calais Jungle, and it is clear that the final few hours of this center are going to be just as big a disgrace as its previous existence.
I visited the Jungle earlier this month, just after President François Hollande had said that the camp would be closed down.
In light of this announcement, you might have expected that there would be official information points for the migrants, telling them about the alternative accommodation that the French authorities said they would provide, what they needed to do in order to be moved there, and encouraging them to leave straight away.
Yet, the only government representatives I saw were a couple of officials in red jackets, whom migrants could approach for information.
Very few migrants had received — or knew how to get — any information about where they would be moved. Many, rightly, feared that the camp would be demolished before all of the migrants had been moved out.
The consequence of this would be to scatter people across the region, leaving them prey to the dangerous human trafficking gangs that operate in the area. When part of the Jungle was cleared by French authorities earlier this year, it is believed that around 100 children disappeared.
Some politicians in France have stated that the only reason the Jungle exists is because the people there want to come to the UK.
Yet, when I was there I met families with young children who had already claimed asylum in France, but were still waiting, after five months, to be offered accommodation by the authorities in that country. They had been told that there was nowhere else for them to go.
There were also migrants living in Calais who had previously been moved to alternative centers in France, but had found the conditions there so bad that they had decided to return to the Jungle, even though it is little more than a shantytown with only the most basic facilities.
Standing next to people queuing for food and firewood in the Calais Jungle, you had to keep reminding yourself that you were in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
It is a disgrace that rather than picking up refugees when they enter the European Union, the authorities allow them to travel thousands of miles across the continent, often putting their lives in the hands of dangerous criminal gangs.
Furthermore, it is incredible that the French government has allowed the Jungle to grow in size to accommodate 10,000 people, before taking action.
These are people that France hoped would just go away. Instead, they have been allowed to fester in the Jungle. The migrants have then used the Jungle as a base to make desperate, dangerous raids into the Port of Calais, or the Channel Tunnel, and to break into the back of lorries crossing to the UK. Many have lost their lives in the process.
People within the camp say that it is little wonder that many of the migrants want to come to Britain. They associate France with the brutality that the police have used against them and the squalid conditions in which they are required to live. Whereas, their image of British people comes from many voluntary aid workers from the UK they see in the camp every day.
There should have been a concerted effort many months ago to close down the Jungle and process the claims of the people living there. This must never be allowed to happen again.