Nearly eight months have passed since the French government ordered the destruction of the notorious Jungle migrant camp in Calais. Home to at least 7,000 UK-bound would-be asylum seekers, the squalid shantytown attracted refugees, economic migrants and gangs of ruthless people smugglers intent on exploiting its desperate inhabitants.
In October last year, most of camp’s population was bussed out to reception centres around France, leaving the way clear for police to raze the site to the ground. Some of the migrants removed from the region vowed they would return, intent on making their way across the English Channel to the UK for a supposed better life, regardless of how many attempts it took them. It appears many have been true to their word.
Almost as soon as the Jungle was declared closed, migrants began to trickle back to the Calais area, sleeping rough in tents in and around the town, or making their way to other camps, such as the Grand-Synthe site just outside Dunkirk. Last week, Jacques Toubon, France’s “Rights Defender”, called for the creation of a new Jungle-style shantytown to house the hundreds of refugees and migrants who have returned to the area.
Toubon was speaking after the publication of a report by his team that claimed UK-bound migrants are sleeping in “undergrowth” in fields and woodland around Calais, where they are being “hunted night and day” by police. It has been suggested that law enforcement officers have burned migrants’ belongings and prevented local charities and NGOs from handing out food and supplies. Toubon’s intervention prompted new French President Emmanuel Macron to order local officials to show more compassion to refugees and migrants. A French government spokesperson said: “We cannot treat women and men as if they are just numbers.”
Speaking just days earlier during his first major interview since last month’s Presidential election, Macron said the creation of a new Jungle camp should be avoided, adding that France’s migration policy must be “profoundly reformed”. Separately, French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb this week said Paris is not in favour of pushing the UK border back across the English Channel, as had been suggested during Macron’s campaign, but would instead ask Westminster to provide more funding to help France deal with the volume of migrants amassing on its northern coastline before attempting to travel to Britain.
Despite this, little is being done on the ground, where the situation is beginning to look alarmingly similar to the days before the closure of the Jungle camp. It was reported earlier this week that the driver of a polish-registered van had died after his vehicle crashed into lorries next to a barrier placed in the road by migrants. Nine Eritreans were found in the back of a nearby truck and taken into custody. Local police said it was the first time a makeshift migrant roadblock had resulted in the death of a driver since 2014. Earlier this month, scores of police were deployed close to Calais when UK-bound migrants set up a similar improvised roadblock. Migrants used to regularly place barricades on motorways in the north of France to allow them to clamber on board lorry trailers when drivers were forced to stop. Police have said they are worried about the re-emergence of the trend.
While Britain has a part to play in discouraging migrants from attempting to cross the Channel, and should set up asylum hotspots in France to process applications from migrants who believe they have a right to stay in the UK, the French government must bear most of the responsibility for ensuring refugees and migrants are not allowed to mass close to the country’s northern shoreline and make repeated attempts to illegally travel to the UK. Refugees and economic migrants alike should apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach. While it will be likely that many will have passed through multiple nations before they get to France, Macron and his government have a duty to stop them travelling onward to the UK illegally.
It’s incredibly sad that migrants – including many women and children – are sleeping rough in woods and wasteland around Calais, but the truth of the matter is there are plenty of reception centres in France where they could be relatively well looked after while they apply for asylum on French soil. The last thing France, the UK, or migrants themselves need is another incarnation of the Calais Jungle camp. The Jungle and other refugee shantytowns on the north coast of France were allowed to deteriorate into hotbeds of crime and intergang feuds, where people smugglers were able to pick off those fortunate enough to have the means to pay for passage to England.
Instead of proposing provisions be made to make migrants who travel to the Calais region are made more conformable when they arrive, more should be done to encourage them to seek asylum in France. It may seem harsh, but migrants who repeatedly refuse to lodge an asylum application on French soil and then insist on attempting to travel to the UK illegally should be deported back to the country from which they entered France, which in most cases would most likely be another EU nation that was perfectly safe for them to be in. Macron is right to say that France’s migration policy needs to be “profoundly reformed”, but allowing the creation of more camps similar to the Jungle is not the answer.