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Calais: “Jungle” Camp

Volume 769: debated on Tuesday 1 March 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what views they have expressed to the government of France about the bulldozing of the south section of the Calais “Jungle” camp.

My Lords, the management of migrant camps is the responsibility of the French Government. I understand that the French authorities have increased the capacity in alternative accommodation for vulnerable groups. We are in close touch with the French Government, and the UK has pledged £7.2 million to provide help and facilities for migrants at centres in Calais and elsewhere in France.

My Lords, having visited the camps in both Calais and Dunkirk, I am more convinced than ever that the protection of children and the protection of refugees are two of the most important pillars of international law. However, the violent images on our TV screens show that the French and British Governments have failed to uphold either in Calais. Will the Minister urge the Prime Minister to set up the processes necessary to assess the rights of the estimated 300 unaccompanied children in Calais, rather than hide behind the skirts of dysfunctional Dublin III regulations?

We are certainly aware of the situation, which is very difficult for the French Government. They have tried to deal with it correctly: they have applied to the courts for the right to take the actions they have taken and have provided another 100 welcome centres across France to look after these people. The reality is that no one needs to be in those camps. If they are seeking asylum, they should claim it in France. They will then enter the asylum system, and if they have a claim to family reunion in the UK, that can be dealt with expeditiously. We announced just yesterday that through the exchanges of key personnel, we are increasing interoperability between the two departments to ensure that that happens within two months.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the Prime Minister was guilty of pathetic scaremongering when he suggested that if we leave the EU, France will allow the refugees through to set up camp in Kent? Would it not be the duty of government to stop them at our border and would those who did get through not simply disperse into our community, which is, after all, where they want to go?

The Prime Minister is absolutely right to point out that the protection of our borders is inextricably linked to co-operation with our European partners. The migrant crisis shows that very clearly. On the other hand, our relationship with France, particularly over Coquelles, is the result of the Le Touquet treaty, which was negotiated bilaterally between the UK and France. We have similar understandings with Belgium, the Netherlands and, of course, the Republic of Ireland. So both hold true.

My Lords, while we would all agree that the situation is difficult for the French authorities, I am sure we also feel that it is significantly more difficult for the 300 unaccompanied children. I recently visited the Marsh Academy near Romney Marsh and saw a school and community fostering and caring with the utmost compassion for significant numbers of unaccompanied children. Given that example, does the Minister agree that issues of compassion should easily trump those of administrative efficiency and tidiness, and narrow definitions of family links, and that we should, therefore, take more children very quickly?

Of course that is true but, on compassion, the Prime Minister said in September that we would bring 1,000 people into the country by Christmas, and so far we have 1,200, half of whom are children. The case in Romney Marsh that the most reverend Primate mentions, is in Kent, which has a particular responsibility in this respect, in terms of the numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving there and needing to be cared for. I was very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, who undertook to write to other authorities about taking more of these unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, to share the burden that currently falls too heavily on Kent.

A tribunal has recently ruled that the unaccompanied children with a strong claim to be in this country under the Dublin regulations should be able to come to the UK to be in the care of their close family while they make their applications. Do the Government now intend to let some or all of the estimated 150 such unaccompanied children in Calais who have a strong claim to be in this country under the Dublin regulations, also now come to the UK to be in the care of their families while they make their applications?

The protection of children is paramount in this situation. There should be no child in Calais who is not being encouraged by all authorities to claim asylum there. Once they claim asylum there, they enter the multilateral Dublin agreement, and then their claims can be expedited to ensure that they are reunited with their families—if they have families in the UK—and, if not, more importantly, that they get the protection they need from the dreadful conditions we have seen and heard about.

My Lords, given the widespread and justifiable concern about the unaccompanied children in these camps, can my noble friend tell the House what age these children are and how they got to the camps unaccompanied in the first place?

Of the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in the UK, 61% are aged 16 or over and only 7% are under 14. Another point to bear in mind is where they come from; it may be of interest to the House that they come from Eritrea, Afghanistan and Albania. As for how they get here, a chilling report from Europol estimated that 90% of all people seeking asylum in the European Union have got to Europe by paying criminal gangs.