Last week, the biggest unofficial migrant camp in France was evacuated and dismantled. It was a necessary action in light of the appalling living conditions of those men, women and children seeking protection or a better life, even if some elements could have been improved. The camp had also grown to unmanageable levels, rising from 400 people in April 2014, to 9 000 in September 2016. In spite of the valuable work of NGOs and volunteers, there were growing concerns about insecurity and exploitation of the most vulnerable within the camp.
Even if many of those migrants dream of reaching the UK, France still has a duty to offer them decent shelter and the opportunity to access the asylum procedure. Following the camp being dismantled, over 6,000 persons have been accommodated within the space of three days in temporary reception centres. In these reception centres, migrants will be able to rest and will be offered the opportunity to apply for asylum. According to the French Asylum office (Ofpra), 70 % of the migrants who were in Calais are in need of international protection.
Yet, challenges remain in the short and longer term. How many will stay in those centres? Are all those who apply for asylum to be offered a place in a centre for asylum seekers after their stay in the temporary centres?
As far as unaccompanied children are concerned, 308 have already been able to join their family in the UK under the Dublin III Regulation. While this is merely the implementation of the legislation, it still is significant progress as a few months ago those children had only one choice: risking their life by jumping on a truck near the port of Calais. During the dismantlement, 1 500 unaccompanied children were accommodated at the existing site composed of containers, located next to the ‘Jungle’ before being transferred to specialised temporary centres throughout France. In each centre, a representative of the British Home Office will examine their case to see if they can benefit from family reunification. For those refused, the question remains as to whether they will accept staying in France and what sort of protection they will be offered.
Evacuating this huge slum and providing accommodation to its ‘inhabitants’ was urgently required, but it will of course not end the Calais migratory issue as long as its root causes are not tackled. Many of the migrants that end up in Calais are in need of protection and may not have had access to asylum or to decent living conditions during their journey in Europe and in France.
As in the rest of Europe, France has seen the number of asylum seekers increase by 26% over the last two years. This increase is manageable and should not affect access to the asylum procedure and accommodation. On the other hand, we know that, because of family links or cultural ties, some migrants want to go to the UK no matter what.
The British fortress policy has not stopped arrivals and there is no sustainable solution without a strong British humanitarian commitment. Brexit or not, Calais still remains a European and France-UK issue. In this perspective, the family reunification pathway opened for unaccompanied children is a start but it is not enough. It has to be continued and widened. Political will and commitment are essential to find appropriate solutions to migratory and humanitarian situations. Without a long term commitment of both France and the UK, the migration situation in Calais risk being again a media headline.