Press Release: Amber Rudd & Bernard Cazeneuve Meeting
UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd and French Interior Minister Mr Bernard Cazeneuve met in London on Monday 10 October to discuss the crisis in Calais and the fast approaching demolition of the camp in Calais – their joint statement can be found here.
Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said in response to this meeting:
“While we welcome the commitment expressed by Ms Rudd to work with French authorities to quickly transfer children from Calais to the UK, we remain concerned for the safety and well-being of camp residents including but not limited to vulnerable unaccompanied minors.
“The speed at which the demolitions have been proposed is a cause for deep concern, and we do not believe the necessary steps to safeguard children and provide the necessary resources for the 9,000 residents to be safely removed from the camp have been taken.
“We are urging the government to take responsibility for this crisis and to recognise that demolitions should not take place until viable long-term solutions are in place and all refugees have been suitably rehoused.”
Care4Calais highlights below some of the major issues with these recent developments, and faced by refugees in Calais more generally.
Key problems facing the successful transfer of vulnerable children
The UK has a legal obligation, outlined in the Dublin agreement, to transfer refugee children residing in other EU countries who have family ties in the Britain. While many organisations, including Citizens UK, have estimated that over 300 children have a legal right to come to the UK only 20 have so far been processed.
Clearly, this process has been extremely slow, with French and British authorities failing to work effectively together to ensure those children with the right to claim asylum in the UK are processed quickly and effectively.
In this most recent meeting, Amber Rudd committed to working with Bernard Cazeneuve to speed up this process and is relying on a census currently being carries out by French authorities, which they say will help quickly identify children eligible for transfer. However, some key concerns, as highlighted by a number of MPs in parliamentary questions this week, remain.
Relying on this census, conducted in an extremely short time, and an out-of-date list of children last compiled in August, to determine which children are eligible for transfer fails to address a number of issues raised by many on the ground:
- Statistics show there was a 51% increase in unaccompanied minors from August to September alone, meaning there will inevitably be a discrepancy between the real numbers and those on the list Amber Rudd is referring to
- Many vulnerable children fear French officials due to previous bad experiences and are therefore unlikely to engage with the census being conducted by French officials in the camp
- Children, understandably, lack knowledge of their rights and are scared to hand over information about themselves
- Many unaccompanied children remain attached to adult members of the camp who they have come to adopt as family whilst residing there. They will be extremely reluctant to leave them
- With the demolitions starting as early as next week it is an extremely short amount of time to safely and effectively process children for transfer – leaving them vulnerable to criminal groups. 129 children went missing during the February demolitions; we can’t let this happen again
- There is little information on how children will be safeguarded in the intervening time – in particular during the imminent demolition
Wider difficulties posed by demolitions
Whilst we welcome the attention and resources that are currently being directed to vulnerable and unaccompanied minors in the camp, the underlying problem, and a key reason behind the difficulties in ensuring children are safe, is the unreasonable speed with which demolitions are taking place.
The demolitions appear to be in direct response to political pressure caused by upcoming French elections. The speed at which this is being enacted calls into question whether the logistical steps necessary to safeguard children and create the transport, catering facilities, adequate lodging and clothing needed for the 9,000 people living in the camp could be ready at such short notice. It is even harder to be sure that translators in all languages and medical and legal facilities will be in place.
We strongly believe the French proposals to disperse refugees across Welcome Centres in France do not constitute a long-term solution to the crisis and that demolitions should not go ahead unless these solutions are in place.
Key concerns around the demolitions:
- The Welcome Centres (CAOs) 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, due to things such as family ties, and will refuse to claim asylum elsewhere.
- Many refugees are likely to return to Calais, and others will continue to arrive as we saw previously – demolitions are therefore highly unlikely to provide a long-term sustainable solution to the crisis.
- 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.
- There is little evidence that the new centres will be ready to accept so many people in the short timescale proposed. The buses that have been coming to collect people have been taking less than 50 people per week as this is all the places that have so far been available.
- There have been reports of various disturbances and protests in the areas where CAO centres are located. Many French residents are not happy with the plans to relocate the refugees and so being sited in small numbers in areas where they are unwelcome is likely to be an isolating experience for them, and expose them to the danger of racist attacks.
- Demolitions are highly traumatic for the vulnerable refugees experiencing them, people who have already suffered intolerable conflict and oppression in their countries of origin and perilous journeys to reach Calais.
- 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, putting vulnerable people and children at risk.
- 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.
Jacques Toubon, former French minister of justice and the head of the French government’s human rights watchdog came out against the proposed demolitions, saying:
“The destruction of all the camps and facilities could begin on October 17…..the sheltering of unaccompanied minors is still not operational… [I am] very concerned about the fate of all exiles living in Calais.”
We are keen to ensure that, alongside the tremendously important campaign to secure the unaccompanied children, it is not forgotten that all refugees are by definition vulnerable and worthy of protection. We have started a petition calling for Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, to take action – which you can sign here.
For more information, or to interview a volunteer or a refugee, please contact Sarah Sawrey, Care4Calais, on +44 (0) 7765 110438, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Care4Calais is both a French and UK registered charity and is set up to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees in Calais and the North of France.