A double plea. First, to the media – please get to Calais by Sunday morning latest and cover the situation I am about to describe. Second, to any well-heeled French people with land and property to spare, please consider providing it to stop hundreds of vulnerable unaccompanied children falling prey to people traffickers already hovering like vultures as what passes for these children’s homes are about to be bulldozed into oblivion.
Calais has somewhat disappeared from the headlines, and unless there is massive disruption to the return of half-term ski travellers, it would likely stay that way. It doesn’t mean the refugee camps and the inhumane conditions have gone however.
But on Sunday, what little hope these camps offer is about to be removed when, by order of the local prefecture, the south side of the so-called Jungle is to be bulldozed, and its residents evicted. Where they are all meant to go, nobody seems to know.
It is easy to understand why the locals feel they have drawn the shortest of very short straws in having these refugee problems right on their doorsteps, and why local politicians and officials feel they have to act. But this is a problem which is too big for a local authority which is why, as has happened before, the EU, the French and UK governments, must surely step in. Given the scale of the refugee crisis, and the convulsions they are bringing to European politics, a few thousand in Calais, and a few hundred kids, may seem small by comparison. But neither we nor France can truly claim to be civilised countries if we turn our eyes away from what is happening.
As David Cameron stumbles through his EU renegotiation, and tries to appease his Eurosceptics, he could do worse than make the case for Europe by visiting Calais and making clear this is a problem that cannot be solved by one country alone, but can be solved by the kind of collaboration and confrontation of big problems for which the EU was made.
Accurate data on just how many people are in the various refugee camps close to Calais and Dunkirk is not easy to find. The official statement signalling Sunday’s action suggests it will affect one thousand people. Those who are working on the ground, trying to offer some kind of support and advice to the refugees, say that is well short of the reality. Whatever the total, they believe there are four hundred children without an accompanying adult who risk having no shelter at all from Sunday. The youngest is two. Many are between six and nine, many more between twelve and sixteen. Easy pickings for the traffickers just waiting for the camp to be shut down.
In their way stand the charities, volunteers and helpers who have been doing their best to bring some kind of order to the place, and some kind of process that might give the children a better future. More than 200 of the 400 plus unaccompanied children have the right to claim asylum in the UK under family reunification. Others do not, but they are still surely entitled to safety and security until their longer term fate is resolved.
As many as ten thousand child refugees have disappeared in Europe in recent months. It is incredible that there has not been more of a fuss about it. That there hasn’t suggests we are becoming immune to the suffering of children. The lawyers from Citizens UK helping to process the claims of children who hope to come to the UK fear that in the chaos of closure of the camp, these children will lose contact with the volunteers who have been looking after them, and lose forever the chance of being reunited with family in the UK.
In an ideal world, the Calais authorities would be subject to such public and political pressure that they would reverse their decision. Short of that, the volunteers at the camp are appealing for temporary accommodation for a few weeks for the unaccompanied children. There has been some pretty amazing fundraising going on and they have the funds to be able to transport the children further afield if need be. They just need either privately owned land, where they could erect marquee tents to house, feed and shelter the children till their claims are heard, or a Church, a derelict warehouse, an old school, anything that allows them to keep the kids and the volunteers (who are essentially acting as guardians) together.
They reckon they will need three or four weeks of shelter, but are willing to take anything that is offered for as long as it can be. And they are willing to pay rent, and have the capacity to move the children to different areas, so though one site would be perfect, if it requires multiple sites, that is fine.
This is a long shot I know, but anyone who thinks they can help can find out how, and find out more about what it happening, here.