It has been hard for those of us who care to miss any news about what has happened to the Calais camp. I’m going to focus mainly on the treatment that minors received during the demolitions which have been taking place in Calais since Monday 24; and also briefly outline the overall treatment received by all camp residents.
On Friday September 2nd news came that the camp would be demolished by the French Authorities. The knowledge that refugees had of this came from charities working on the ground who had worked to verify details with the prefecture. The reason for this was simple: with approaching elections in France, and the threat from the far-right Front National, the government was determined to show itself tough on refugees, and on the Calais camp in particular.
The decision soon solidified and a date was scheduled for Monday October 24th. No one knew how this would happen, hence as the coming days neared there was a sense of confusion and fear in the camp.
Those that had a right to be in UK under the Dubs amendment, knew little about what process would be followed and many minors were too scared to register or approach the CRS for advice (who in their right mind would approach the CRS?) . Volunteers were the people who were there for support and guidance, including giving legal advice detailing what their rights were should they be detained. Nor at any point were there any Gov appointed translators present and no support other than that which was provided by the charities on the ground, this has been a feature of the camp in the last year….it has been sustained by the solidarity of largely British volunteers and the resilience of the refugees themselves.
It was expected, given the treatment that refugees have been receiving in the camp (regular tear gassing, assaults from CRS), that the process of demolition would be brutal, disorganized and dehumanising. It was, and in fact it was worse than anyone expected. At no point did the French or British authorities act with any concern towards the wellbeing of refugees.
Over the course of the demolitions, many human rights were violated, including the following:
- Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which stipulates that everyone has a right to “respect for his private and family life, [and] his home.”
- The Children Act 1989 which should ensure children are safeguarded and their welfare is promoted.
- Article 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 which is the right not to be tortured or treated in an inhumane way.
- The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 which should offer multiple protections to children, and of which both France and the UK are signatories.
Tuesday 25th. The demolitions began in tradition to the treatment that refugees have been receiving in the camp until then.
At 5am people were lured out of the camp, including children, with the promise of reunification with their families in the UK. Up to 3,000 people were processed within two hours; this allowed little more than 20 seconds per person. Among the things that were decided in this short time was whether a refugee claiming to be a minor was telling the truth or not.
A little after 9am, registration closed and refugees were told to go back to the camp and return the next day. Some minors were housed temporarily in the containers, which had been emptied of the previous residents in the early hours of that day.
After the processing refugees were given a bracelet each, denoting the status they had been given and indicating to the authorities in which coach they would get on. Thirteen out of the approximately 1,000 children were brought to the UK under the Dubs amendment that day. When the children arrived, the UK public was exposed to a hate campaign by the media and scare mongering news stating that these children were in fact adults, not real refugees and that teeth testing should be put in place. I personally recognised some of the children which newspapers negligently published pictures of and it was heart wrenching to think that they would be met with the hostility that the media had been fueling against them.
At this point the dismantling had already begun to take place and this was followed by serious fires during the night and devastating explosions in the camp caused by gas cylinders. Some people also burned their own shelters to prevent them being brutally destroyed, it was what little control they had over their own lives. These events worsened what was already a traumatic situation.
On October 26th the same process followed and at approximately 12.15pm, the authorities started to turn children away from the registration, stating that the containers were full. The containers were themselves now at this point completely trashed and unsanitary with overflowing urinals, and chaos reigned alongside police violence. This meant that many children were now left further traumatised and homeless. These vulnerable young people should have been offered safety and child protection, not forced to witness more destruction. The camp should NOT have been demolished before proper plans were put in place for the unaccompanied minors.
Here we might pause to consider whether the states (France and Britain) that have deliberately exposed children to the conditions I’ve described are breaching a number of human rights conventions. (In fact, lawyers for the children’s defense are actively pursuing this issue right now.)
– A number of minors not yet registered for the container camp slept under a bridge on the Jungle’s perimeter that night. (26th)
– Children housed in the containers were surrounded by the camp and affected by smoke from fires, as well as having to witness the destruction and violence around them.
The main concern remained that the children, the most vulnerable people in the ‘Jungle’, were sleeping without protection from the state. This concern was never reflected in how the authorities approached the situation.
All organisations CALLED FOR THE BRITISH AND FRENCH AUTHORITIES TO URGENTLY FIND SOMEWHERE SAFE TO PLACE THESE CHILDREN.
On October 27th – Registration closed at 1pm and hundreds of children were sent back into a burning Jungle. That night the children slept on the cold ground in front of the containers they were supposed to be housed in. Another forty slept in the ‘école laique’, the school which had been a sanctuary in the camp for over a year, with volunteers who watched over them, when no one else would. They were not given accommodation because they hadn’t been registered. Sadly the school was demolished the following day.
That night, large fires continued to burn through a large number of restaurants, shops, shelters and tents inside the camp, as well as volunteer-run projects such as the Women and Children’s Bus, Baloo’s Youth Centre and the Hummingbird Safe Space.
Charities continued to tirelessly plead with the French and British authorities, to grant these incredibly vulnerable children protection as a matter of urgency.
October 28th – CHILDREN IN CALAIS WERE BEING ARRESTED
In the morning of Friday 28th, at least 100 children were waiting in the minors’ line to be processed at the registration centre. The centre was closed, and no officials present. Many of these were eligible under the Dubs amendment and under the Dublin III family reunification process. The children were told to go back to the container camp and Jungle.
Police then began arresting and forcibly removing some of these children because they did not have wristbands, giving them no explanation or translators. They were taken to the PAF ‘Police Anti Frontier’ & told they were a criminal threat. They were later released and were forced to sleep rough.
All charities continued to desperately alert MPs that the home office must do more on the ground to protect these children.
29th October · At noon, Fabienne Buccio, regional prefect, told the Associated Press that ‘operations to clear the camp had been completed’. However, numerous NGOs and our own volunteers report that this is untrue.
Meanwhile no press or filming was being allowed in the camp. Sadly, and to everyone’s desperation, the media began reporting that the clearance of the camp had been successful, when in fact this was far from the truth.
Saturday 30th . To the horror of all the volunteers watching and in the midst of all the chaos, all the media left the camp, and it was reported later that night by the BBC that the camp was cleared and that no refugees were left; this was completely untrue.
The next day, people were again lined up for processing and a similar procedure followed, but this time when the minors were sent back to the camp, they cried – they did not want to go back as most of it by now had been destroyed.
And so this process continued for another five grueling days and nights.
If we believed that refugees were like ourselves, this treatment of human beings would not have been tolerated.
[On the afternoon of 21st March 2016 the “Dubs Amendment” was passed in the House of Lords, to allow 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children to come to the UK from Europe. The UNHCR estimates that there are 24,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe and Dubs calculates that 3,000 would be the UK’s fair share to take.
The battle for human rights for these people should not have been fought by small independent charities, but by the institutions that we have in place as a society. The suffering and distress that refugees were put under during this demolition, was unnecessary and could have been avoided had there been a proper disaster relief strategy in place by the British and French Government. Their actions were disgusting and unacceptable.
The last year has shown us beyond doubt that offering sanctuary to refugees fleeing wars, that often our government has played a part in initiating, will never happen if left to the benevolence of governments in Europe.just this week hundreds more refugees have drowned off the coast of Libya…..this year has now seen the highest deaths in the Med on record. The only way we can win justice for refugees is from below, organising among the overwhelming majority who want more done for refugees, building this movement can transform Britain into a place that welcomes refugees and puts an end to the kind of barbarism we saw in the destruction of the camp over the last couple of weeks.
We would like to thank all that donated during these critical last days of the camp, your donations helped to provide provisions to the most vulnerable. We will continue our work to support refugees in France and here and in UK. This the end of an era but by no means the end of this crisis.