Today marks the first day of the destruction of the Calais Jungle. Around 60 buses will leave the camp, taking with them around 3000 troubled souls to accommodation centres where they will be registered and their fates decided. Tomorrow there will be 45 more buses and 40 the day after that.
Since 1999, the camp has grown from a few hundred tents to a home for around 6,000 to 10,000 refugees and migrants who are trying to enter the UK via the Eurotunnel and ferry crossing. Yes, there are showers, there are small businesses and some cafes and restaurants have electricity and wifi.
The majority of people living there are men because adolescent boys are the prime targets for Taliban recruitment and army conscription in civil wars. Families living in poverty tend to send their sons away in search of better wages because the sad reality is that men are paid more. There are estimated 400 unaccompanied children living in the camp.
The Jungle is a dangerous place. There is insufficient sanitation, poor washing facilities and sleeping arrangements are cramped, temporary and leaves people vulnerable. Drug culture and violence are rife. There are often intercultural clashes. Men, women, children and volunteers are victims of rape.There’s no one to protect a common law, apart from French riot police armed with rubber bullets and teargas. The camp needs to be destroyed.
People flee homelands from all over the world: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria; Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burma and Vietnam. They have all made the most horrific journeys with traffickers, crossing war-torn lands and seas in sinking boats. Some have lost friends, some family, some both. But when all seems lost, they find the strength to continue to reach their goal: the UK.
But seeing the destruction of the camp won’t make these people go away. We’re just moving the problem to somewhere else. Out of sight, out of mind right? Wrong. Because these people have gone through too much to give up at the last hurdle. And what about the people who are already on route? They’re going to keep on coming, keep moving towards to UK via Calais. Remember, they’re chasing a dream – a dream which the United Kingdom has sold them.
The news that the move has meant that so far around 70 children have been reunited with family in the UK, at least 43 of them young, unaccompanied girls who have been brought here to safety under the Dubs Amendment. Some have been taken into foster care, whilst others have been forced to stay in a ‘pre-departure’ immigration detention unit called Cedars near Gatwick airport.
However, as I write this, the latest census by humanitarian organisation Help Refugees has found that there are still 49 unaccompanied children in the Calais camp who are 13-years old or younger. All are eligible for resettlement in the UK under the same act.
I’d like to think that all of the residents of the Jungle are being taken somewhere safer and that their futures are bright. However, whilst the threat of deportation and trafficking still hangs over their heads, I can’t help but feel a little apprehensive. If I’m feeling like this then God only knows what it feels like to be a refugee in Calais.