On our doorstep, just two dozen miles from the British coast, is a refugee camp that is being demolished leaving people in the most desperate conditions. There are hundreds of children in these camps, many of whom have a legal right to be in the UK. Due to feet dragging, legal technicalities and lack of political will, their temporary shelters are being demolished and they are being left exposed having to fight not just for their rights, but their very survival.
In the next week or two this camp will be fully demolished. Unless our government acts, unless we act, many of these accompanied children will more than likely just go missing and disappear. This happened before, it is likely to happen again. The thought of the exploitation they will likely face should this happen should be enough to inspire us all into action.
Last week I went with the MEP, Molly Scott Cato, who I work with and visited the camp and met with some of the refugees and volunteers. What I saw was the end result of an uncaring and uninterested government. It was simply awful. A policy to do nothing left vulnerable people with nothing. I saw no government representation, no officials offering support, only volunteers where government agencies should have been.
It is worth noting, that the refugee camp in Calais is not, and never was, actually a refugee camp but just a makeshift camp with refugees in. This distinction is important. The former implies order and support and the latter implies disorder and little sufficient support.
Our government’s limited response to this is in the last few days is shameful. At the last minute they generously offer to accept a fraction of the children they are obliged to support. Too little too late. For too long they have been focusing on building a hugely expensive “security wall”. Perhaps a wall fits better with this governments fortress Britain mentality, but does little to support the children living in the camp. This whole time, rather than resorting too counterproductive Trump-esque style tactics, the British Government could have been registering the children identified to them by NGOs in the camps, to stop them risking their lives trying to get to the UK illegally.
We now face a ticking clock while the camp is demolished. To stop children disappearing, the UK government must step up and process all children with a legal right to be here. This is either through the Dublin III Regulation which entitles them to be reunited with family members living in the UK or under the Alf Dubs amendment which is supposed to bring the most vulnerable unaccompanied children in Europe to safety in the UK.
There are of course children there who don’t have a legal right to be in the UK and for some it may not be in their best interests to come here anyway. For those the UK government needs to be pushing the French authorities to do more in providing reception facilities to these children so they can go through the appropriate asylum process in France.
Whilst in the camp I heard reports of children being turned away by French authorities when they tried to register to claim asylum. Worse still, I also heard numerous reports of excessive use of violence from the French police. Volunteers talked to me about rubber bullets and tear gas being fired directly into groups leaving some minors with serious injuries.
History will judge our own and the French government’s actions and inaction poorly.
This government behaviour has, to some extent, been mitigated against by an army of volunteers that should be highly commended. Until government steps up to its legal and moral reasonability the goodwill of you, I and volunteers is all some have at the moment. If you have not already I urge you to write to your local MP urging government to act urgently. This cannot wait. There is a sample letter here but more powerfully, you can explain why this is important to you in your own words. Secondly, if you can afford to, please send phone credit to the refugees in the camps. This is crucial all the time but even more so during the up-coming demolition. Lastly, if you have time, volunteer either in the UK or the camps yourself.
This is a moral crisis. Primarily a crisis of government but one that touches on each of us. As Dr Seuss said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
I doubt many in government have read Dr Seuss. But you have, so please act.