Calais: Refugees - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:03 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development) 4:03 pm, 2nd November 2017

My Lords, we are told that £36 million was given to the French Government on the condition that the Calais Jungle clearance operation is full and long-lasting. Is the Minister aware of the methods that the French police are using to meet the UK Government’s demands? It must be apparent to our Government that as in the townships in South Africa, homes may be destroyed but people do not vanish in a puff of smoke—they return. The Government must listen to the evidence in this debate from wonderful organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Refugee Rights Data Project, Safe Passage UK, the Human Trafficking Foundation and Help Refugees, a wonderful organisation staffed by the most fantastic young people you could ever hope to meet. I was in Calais this August for several days and can attest to their documentation of hundreds of asylum seekers sleeping rough in forests and parks around northern France in the most appalling conditions. Traffickers run rings around the police. Of the unaccompanied children spoken to by the Refugee Rights Data Project, 93.6% had experienced police violence. These are children, and this behaviour belittles both our nations.

Let me tell your Lordships about Ismail, from North Darfur in Sudan. I first met him in the Jungle, when he was 16. He had no shoes and I tried to get him a pair. He was not successful in getting to the UK in the 750, and was moved to a CAOMIE in Challuy, near Nevers in central France, with some of his friends. The centre had no heating—it was winter—and the food was bad. Their asylum claim was rejected by the Home Office. They were not told why and they were not told how to appeal—I saw the letter. The centre closed in February and they were told to leave. Since then, he has been wandering around France in Paris, Calais, Dunkirk—then to Belgium—Bordeaux and round again. He has suffered at the hands of the police, been imprisoned for four days and is sleeping under bridges and in parks.

I encouraged him and his friends to apply for asylum in France, but he says the French do not want them. They beat them up, teargas them and pepper spray their sleeping bags. Some friends who tried to claim asylum in France gave up in despair because there was no process for them to access in Calais. Getting to Lille, where there is a registration office, is hazardous because migrants are forbidden to use public transport and arrested. But even if they make it there, nothing happens. Not one of the people who tried to get asylum in France has started school—something they all desperately want.

Ismail’s story is the story of all the unaccompanied children who we have let down. They are being pushed out of France and have no choice but to try illegal and dangerous means to get to the UK. Leaving aside the ongoing legal process around the Dubs scheme, what excuse can the Government have for not meeting their own figure of 480? I know a few children have arrived in the last few weeks, but will the Minister give a commitment to your Lordships’ House today that this is the start of a meaningful process to reach the Government’s own figure of 480? Will the Minister also urge her counterparts in France, at the highest level, to stop their brutal methods? We are better than that.