Fears unofficial refugee camps could expand amid Calais Jungle demolition

Many of the smaller settlements do not have running water, toilets or medical facilities

Harriet Agerholm
Saturday 22 October 2016 19:35 BST
More than half of those living in the camp said they would stay in Calais or sleep on the streets once the camp was torn down
More than half of those living in the camp said they would stay in Calais or sleep on the streets once the camp was torn down (Getty)

Unofficial refugee camps will swell rapidly in the aftermath of the razing of the Calais Jungle camp, British aid volunteers have warned.

Bulldozers are set to roll into the shanty town on Monday and French authorities claim some 6,500 Jungle residents will be relocated to centres around the country.

But Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley told The Independent the plan was a “knee jerk reaction” by the French government that would not help solve the crisis instead refugees would return to the area to live in other camps with even worse conditions.

Many of the makeshift settlements in the area do not have running water, toilets or medical facilities, according to Ms Mosely.

“The idea of dispersing these refugees has been tried before," she said, referring to when the camp was partially dismantled in February. They said that was going to be a deterrent, but of course it wasn’t.

Within months of the camp's demolition, the number of refugees in Calais had grown to far exceed what it was before.

“The same thing’s going to happen again, Ms Mosely said, and it’s going to hurt a lot of people.

She added that refugees would always return to the area because the majority of those in Calais had strong connections to the UK.

The French government was not addressing the fundamental reason why they came, instead it’s a short-term fix so they seem to be doing something, she said.

“This camp was set up because there was a number of small camps the idea was this was going to make it easier. We're going round in circles and never achieving anything.”

The majority of Calais residents surveyed by the Refugee Rights Data Project said they do not want to stay in a French accommodation centre.

For many, this was because they did not want to stay in France in the long-term and because they did not trust the French authorities following their negative experiences of them in the Calais camp.

According to the project, more than half of those living in the camp have said when it is demolished they will stay in Calais or sleep on the streets.

Nearly 70 per cent of children said they would do so a discovery that has prompted alarm among charity workers.

Yet Ms Mosely sleeping rough was not her worst fear for the Calais refugees. What scares me even more is that they [the French authorities] say they are going to deport people if they don't get on the buses. It’s very militant. These people came from really dangerous places. That scares me.

She also fears for those who end up in the refugee centres across France. Following the partial dismantlement of the Jungle in February, serious failings were reported at some of the centres to which migrants were sent: some did not provide food, according to Ms Mosely.

And she does not have faith this relocation scheme will be any better.

“It has been done in secret and we don’t know much about these smaller centres. This plan has been put together very quickly,” she said.

The French government has not provided any support to the residents in Calais for the past year, many of whom are traumatised and have complex needs, she claimed.

MP calls for child refugees from Calais to have teeth checked to verify age

Even when the refugees are in one place, simple things, such as providing refugees with clean underwear, are difficult logistically.

“For the last year we have been the only people giving them support. We had to learn how to do this,” she said.

“What are the chances that they [the French government] are going to be providing toiletries and essential medical care and legal assistance and underwear at a hundred different centres – are they seriously going to do that?”

She added that hostilities in French towns had further marred the prospects of the plan working. “Can you imagine a small group of refugees going to a town where everyone hates them?” she asked.

In the UK too, there has been animosity toward those who have arrived, with widespread scepticism about the ages of the unaccompanied minors.

According to Human Rights Watch, about 300 to 400 of the unaccompanied minors in Calais would qualify to enter the UK under European asylum regulations, based on family ties. But by the end of Friday, only a few dozen children had arrived in the UK.

Lily Caprani, Unicef UK’s deputy executive director, said in a statement: “Once the demolition starts there are no second chances. If it results in a single child going missing, or forces them into the hands of smugglers and traffickers, then we will have failed them.

“The authorities must prove they have learnt the lessons from last time and keep every child safe throughout this process.

“During the last demolition, which saw people scattered by tear gas and rubber bullets, more than 100 children went missing because it began before their safety was guaranteed.

We’ve seen the Home Secretary achieve real progress by bringing some of the vulnerable children to the UK, but there are hundreds more in Calais still waiting to reach safety

“The UK has made a commitment to bring these children here, and the demolition doesn’t change that. This is not the end of the story and it’s essential that the UK and French authorities continue to work together to ensure the long-term welfare of every child.”

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