British Government policy in Calais is not working. Yes, a great deal of money has been spent on walls and fencing to keep migrants away from lorries. Yes, an extra 1200 police keep the estimated 400 to 500 migrants under close scrutiny and make boarding a lorry much more difficult. But this policy has just forced migrants into the hands of people smugglers. They now pay to board lorries, not in Calais, but in Paris or Brussels. Many of the migrants who remain in Calais are those with no money to pay, and they keep trying their luck, day and night, to stow aboard a lorry bound for the UK.
The authorities in Calais do not want the migrants to be there. They receive no support from the local authority; instead they are harassed by the police to encourage them to move away. Some do move away, perhaps to Paris or somewhere else in France. But no amount of harassment will force these migrants to return to their native land or to give up their desire to come to the UK.
A survey carried out in April asked migrants why they did not want to seek asylum in France: 33 per cent felt unsafe in France, 21 per cent wanted to join family and friends elsewhere and a further 23 per cent were put off by the treatment they had received in France.
Migrants in Calais have no option but to live out doors 24/7. There is no day centre and no shelter from the weather. It is left to Secours Catholique and other voluntary agencies to supply food, clothing and sleeping bags. The police remove any tents that are erected; migrants are moved on during the night and their sleeping bags confiscated. At one stage during the summer the police even tried to stop the aid agencies distributing food.
Among these migrants are unaccompanied minors. It had been hoped that the Dubs Amendment would enable 3000 unaccompanied minors to come to the UK. Only a few hundred have been allowed in. Lord Dubs had said: “The way that unaccompanied refugee children are being treated in Europe is a disgrace.
Governments must take action to ensure their safety." Sadly the treatment of minors in Calais is still a disgrace.
The Dublin III regulation allows those with close family in the UK to enter the UK and have their asylum claim heard here. But the process is slow and cumbersome with migrants given little or no advice from the authorities. It is left to voluntary agencies like Safe Passage to help.
With Bishop Paul McAleenan from Westminster, I meet in the woods a group of Ethiopians and Eritreans: they are very welcoming, handshakes all round. Brother Johannes from the Catholic Workers House is asked for a cross, he gives out rosary beads. These are orthodox Christians and very religious.
As we sit in front of a makeshift camp fire, on a bitter cold morning, I am reminded that the people we label as “migrants”, “refugees” or “asylum seekers” are firstly our fellow human beings who should be treated with dignity. Human dignity demands that those waiting for asylum should be welcomed, given shelter and have their basic needs met.
Those who wish to come to the UK need to have the facility to apply while on continental Europe. Legal means need to be available so that migrants do not have to use illegal means. The numbers in Calais are small compared to the worldwide refugee crisis. The British policy of doing all we can to keep these people out of our country demeans our own humanity and the humanity of those in need.
The memory that I take with me from Calais is of the cold penetrating right through to my bones as I stand on the street talking to migrants. I am delighted to head indoors and feel the heat, but as I do so I pity the migrants whom I leave behind, there is no warm house for them to go to. I also feel guilty knowing that an accident of birth means that I am privileged to live in the country they wish to enter, and I feel shamed that the UK is so unwilling to share that privilege with others.