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The Calais ‘Jungle’ One Year On

October 25, 2017 11:41 AM
By Tim Farron MP in Liberal Democrat Voice

Tim Farron and Refugees

Yesterday (October 24) marked one year since the makeshift refugee camp in Calais known as the 'Jungle' was demolished.

Three weeks after becoming leader I got to visit the Jungle for myself, and the experience was both eye-opening and heart-breaking. The word 'jungle' is actually not an appropriate or accurate description of what these desperate people had built for themselves. It was more like a city. It sprawled for miles. Conditions were grim, but it was amazing to see the strength and grit of the people living there, despite the unimaginable situation they had found themselves in.

But on 24th October 2016 the French authorities began their full-scale demolition of the jungle, which in total took three days and was backed by an estimated £36 million of UK money. One of the reasons they chose that date was because of French law that was due to come into force on the 1st November making it an offence to make anyone homeless. Faced with outcry from voters in the run-up to an election, the demolition was a clear attempt by the French authorities to clear the decks and to do something which many of us would consider wrong and morally reprehensible.

Rather than the UK Government signalling their outrage and offering to help by rehousing the population, they were joint partners in this cruel action. As compensation, or to deflect criticism, the Home Office transferred 750 children to Britain to begin to rebuild their lives. To put this into context, 1900 children who were living in the camps were registered, many more won't have been.

One year on, and despite falling from the news agenda, the refugee crisis has by no means abated, and the situation in Calais is arguably far worse now for the unaccompanied children and refugees who continue to arrive there. They face brutal action by police including beatings, pepper spray, and even the removal of their shelter and bedding. Harsh winter conditions are setting in and life will become even more miserable and unbearable for the hundreds of children who are currently scared and alone on the continent.

And with Brexit negotiations underway, our participation in family reunification rules under the Dublin III have been thrown into doubt.

Just because this is happening across the Channel does not mean we can wash our hands clean of any responsibility.

As we have always known, this Government seems intent on doing as little as possible. I, with colleagues from all parties both in the Commons and the Lords, secured a commitment from Government to transfer unaccompanied refugee children from Europe to the UK, but after taking only 480 children the Government shut down the scheme. This was despite local authorities saying they had additional capacity. This attitude reveals their callousness and should act as a call to arms to all those who care to redouble their efforts to ensure that the Government can't simply brush this under the rug.

So I have once again joined forces with colleagues from all sides of the House of Commons to call for urgent discussions on the practical recommendations to continue and improve access to safe and legal options for vulnerable children to come to the UK as an alternative to dangerous and illegal routes they are currently exposed to. Whilst Brexit dominates the agenda in Westminster there are children who are in desperate need. We refuse to forget them.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs & North of England and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.