Migrant children leave France’s ‘Jungle’ camp for UK

A first group of unaccompanied migrant children left the Calais "Jungle" camp for Britain on Saturday, days after a French minister said the UK had a "moral duty" to take them in.

Migrant children leave France's 'Jungle' camp for UK
Migrants at the Calais "Jungle" protesting on October 13. Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP
The Calais prefecture confirmed that around two dozen unaccompanied minors were bound for a new life in Britain, where they had family members, although it added that there was no “no deal for a larger-scale plan” evacuation of children.
“Five Syrian minors and one Afghan minor have just been transferred to the United Kingdom. From Monday, around 10 more minors will follow, then on Tuesday, about 10 more,” a spokesman told AFP.
The children have been living in squalid conditions in the Calais encampment where charities estimate up to 10,000 migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have settled in the hope of reaching Britain. The camp faces demolition.
The departure comes after French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Monday said he was asking “Britain to assume its moral duty” by accepting unaccompanied children with family in the UK.
The British Red Cross has said 178 unaccompanied children in the camp have already been identified as having the right to claim asylum in Britain due to their family links.
In a statement to parliament Monday, Home Secretary Amber Rudd insisted that Britain was ready to cooperate with France on the issue but that an agreement had not yet been reached.
She added: “The primary responsibility (for the children involved)… lies with the French authorities. The UK government has no authority in France.”
However, she said Britain was keen to bring as many eligible children over to Britain before the “Jungle” site was dismantled, adding that London would move within “days, a week at most”.
Saturday also saw the start of construction on a new wall designed to block migrant access to the Calais port, a magnet for would-be stowaways who target UK-bound lorries.
The first four-metre (13-feet) high concrete panels in the so-called “anti-intrusion” wall were moved into place, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
When complete, the wall will stretch for around a kilometre (0.6 miles) and add to some 30 kilometres of existing wire fences along the road leading to the port.
“Work is being undertaken on schedule and should be finished by the year's end,” said the Calais prefecture spokesman of the 2.7 million euros ($3 million) structure, which Britain has agreed to finance.
The “Jungle” has become a symbol of the Europe's biggest migrant crisis since the World War II and a major source of Anglo-French tensions, leading President Francois Hollande to demand that the site be demolished before the end of 2016.
The French government has yet to give an official date for dismantling the camp. Initial indications that it might happen as early as this Tuesday, however, proved premature and the plan has been put back at least a week, sources indicated.
Meanwhile work has been stepped up on the creation of reception centres across France to house as many as 9,000 people from Calais. In a further development Saturday, 50 lawyers arrived at the camp to provide the migrants with advice so they could fill in forms and be “aware of and assert their rights”, Flor Tercero, head of an association of lawyers for foreigners' rights, told AFP.
“We are well aware that the 'Jungle' is a place where living conditions are undignified and inhuman and that cannot go on,” Tercero said.
Away from Calais, a French fishing boat earlier Saturday came to the aid of four migrants who ran into difficulties in the English Channel as they made for England in a makeshift vessel, local authorities said. The fishing boat rescued the group, all four of whom were suffering from hypothermia, and handed them over to police.


French police cause misery for migrants in Calais

French police are inflicting misery on migrants in the northern port of Calais, routinely tearing down their tents and forcing them to wander the streets as part of a deterrence policy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published on Thursday.

French police cause misery for migrants in Calais
A migrant camp is evacuated by police forces in Calais in February 2019. Photo: Philippe HUGUEN / AFP.

The 75-page report documents methods used by authorities to prevent the emergence of another major migrant settlement in Calais, five years after the demolition of the sprawling “Jungle” camp which housed up to 10,000 people at its peak.

Calais has for years been a rallying point for migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa trying to sneak across the English Channel to Britain.

Faced with growing public anti-migrant sentiment, President Emmanuel Macron’s government has waged a campaign to prevent new camps emerging.

Police tactics include systematically tearing down migrants’ tents in the woods, on wasteland or under bridges, regularly confiscating their belongings and harassing NGOs trying to provide them with aid, according to New York-based HRW.

“The authorities carry out these abusive practices with the primary purposes of forcing people to move elsewhere, without resolving their
migration status or lack of housing, or of deterring new arrivals,” it said in the report entitled “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France”.

‘Harass and abuse’

NGOs estimate the number of migrants currently living around Calais at between 1,500 and 2,000, including numerous families. Local authorities estimate that only 500 remain in the area.

Last week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered the eviction of a camp housing 400 migrants near a hospital in Calais, which was presented as a danger to the hospital’s patients and staff.

On that occasion the migrants were taken to temporary shelters but often they are left to wander the streets.

“When the police arrive, we have five minutes to get out of the tent before they destroy everything,” a Kurdish woman from Iraq told HRW.

The interior ministry did not respond to AFP’s request for comment on the report.

The government argues that the camps are havens for people smugglers, who command extortionate fees to help migrants cross to Britain, either in a small boat crossing the Channel in the dead of night or stowed away on a truck crossing by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel.

NGOs argue that the tactics do nothing more than make migrants already difficult lives even more miserable.

The report quoted the Calais-based Human Rights Observers group as saying that in some cases cleaning crews cut migrants’ tents while people are still inside, in order to force them out.

“If the aim is to discourage migrants from gathering in northern France, these policies are a manifest failure and result in serious harm,” Benedicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch, said.

French authorities “need a new approach to help people, not repeatedly harass and abuse them,” she added.

A total of 15,400 people attempted to cross the Channel in the first eight months of this year, a increase of 50 percent over the figure for the whole of 2020, according to French coast guard statistics.

“Exiles aren’t travelling to northern France because they’ve heard they can camp in the woods or stay under a bridge…They come because that’s where the border is,” Charlotte Kwantes, national coordinator of the Utopia 56 charity was quoted in the report as saying.