‘The overwhelming evidence of violence inflicted by the French authorities and the police on children is one of the more shocking findings of this inquiry, whether it be the indiscriminate use of truncheons or the tear gassing of children and their sleeping bags. The UK must work with our European counterparts to ensure that in all cases safeguarding processes are prioritised, the rights of the child and the child’s best interests are upheld’. (‘Nobody should live like this’ Report of Human Trafficking Foundation)
On a wet, cold, end-of-August day, four members of Westminster Justice and Peace left London for the Catholic Worker house in Calais. It was our third or fourth ‘day-trip’ in two years. We arrived to find Brother Johannes tired and preoccupied with health and practical issues in the house. A volunteer sister had accompanied someone to hospital, while some young people were waiting for showers and clothes washing. Johannes took us quickly to a point near the former ‘Jungle’ camp, where several charities were serving hot meals to 40 or 50 young people who looked damp and chilled in the un-summery weather. We had arrived at the tail end of the proceedings.
Help Refugees, Calais Kitchen, Auberge des Migrants and others have banded together to provide nearly 2000 meals a day (lunch and supper) to those who have come back to Calais still hoping to cross the Channel by one means or another. From there we were taken to the far side of the city to another industrial estate where these big charities take deliveries and have a giant industrial size kitchen to cook the meals in large steel containers. Brother Johannes is able to get a good deal of food for the house from this distribution centre.
We were able to tell this very energetic Franciscan brother about the generous donations from parishes and individuals who responded fast to his appeal, which Westminster J&P publicised at the end of July. We raised an astonishing £3,500-plus sum, which Brother Johannes will put towards the drop-in work of Maria Skobstova Catholic Worker House. The bills for electricity and water, alone, are shooting up as some weeks more than 100 showers and clothes-wash-and-dries are offered.
The charity Seeking Sanctuary, has been monitoring and helping the migrant situation in Calais for so many years. They quote the Human Trafficking Foundation as follows:
‘Rt Hon Fiona Mactaggart and Baroness Butler-Sloss GBE, recent Chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, oversaw the production of a report (ii) from an independent UK inquiry on 10th July, “Nobody deserves to live this way”. It examines the situation of separated and unaccompanied minors in parts of Europe, including France, and was sponsored by the Human Trafficking Foundation. It concludes that protecting children on the move is an issue of child protection and prevention of serious crime as well as immigration. There is overwhelming evidence of violence inflicted by French authorities and police, whether the indiscriminate use of truncheons or the tear gassing of children and their sleeping bags. With the premature end of the “Dubs” scheme and a police-induced mistrust of officials, young people see their routes to the UK as paying people smugglers or becoming entangled with traffickers. The UK should devote resources to devising legal schemes for transferring young people, with more transparency in procedures, improved liaison with charities working with children, and better dissemination of relevant information in appropriate language and formats. (see www.seekingsanctuary.weebly.com for further reports and information).
It is clear from just one short visit, that proper procedures are essential so as to respond to the needs and demands of these young people. A Home Office presence in Calais to deal with applications is a minimum requirement. Indeed, the report, Nobody should live like this maintains.
The administration of the Dubs scheme cannot be a solely London based exercise it requires multi-agency teams of specialists on the ground where most children are located, including Calais and Dunkirk to build confidence in safe routes and resistance to traffickers.
After seeing young people abandoned on the edges of the Calais industrial estates, we couldn’t agree more.
The summer in Calais has been difficult but volunteers are very worried about what will happen to the young migrants on the north French coast once the cold weather sets in.