Thousands moved as Calais ‘Jungle’ demolished
Police will begin dismantling a notorious camp for migrants in the north of France today. Most of its residents want a better life in Britain — so does the UK have a duty to give it to them?
‘I will not move one inch from here. I just have one hope: to get to the UK.’
These are the words of one Iraqi migrant in Calais. People like him have intermittently set up makeshift homes in the northern French port since 1999. Today, the French authorities will attempt to end the practice, when they demolish the infamous ‘Jungle’ — a camp which has been home to around 7,000 people.
The Jungle’s population has swelled as Europe’s migration and refugee crisis has grown more acute in recent months. Reports have highlighted limited toilets and running water, rife disease, the menace of criminals and trafficking gangs and confrontations with police and local thugs. The UNHCR has described conditions in the camp as ‘appalling’.
Most of the migrants are young men who have fled violence, dictatorship or poverty in the Middle East and parts of Africa. They have travelled thousands of miles, often risking their lives in the Sahara and the Mediterranean.
Many see Calais as a potential gateway to the UK. Some have tried climbing on lorries or Eurostar trains or even walking through the Channel Tunnel to reach their preferred destination. Several have died.
Yesterday the migrants began to be transferred to refugee centres across France. Tensions ran high after clashes at the weekend. Police feared British anarchist groups could encourage violence. Clare Moseley, of the charity Care4Calais, said sending people to refugee centres ‘does not constitute a long-term solution to the crisis’.
Aid agencies are among those calling on Britain to give more of the migrants asylum. In the last week the UK has begun accepting some of the 1,300 unaccompanied children from the camp. But the government has been reluctant to accept others, amid public hostility to immigration. Last month it began building a wall at Calais, in an effort to deter those trying to get into Britain.
Does Britain have a duty to take more of the migrants in?
Settling the issue
It is a moral imperative, say some. These people are fleeing war and misery to build a better life in a peaceful country. Some have family ties in the UK; many are refugees; and even the others have been dispossessed by an accident of birth. If Britain tries to turn away from the world’s problems, migrants will set up other camps, probably in even worse conditions.
That is emotional blackmail, retort others. The migrants may be desperate, but so are millions worldwide. These people have travelled through several safe countries and are trying to break the law. Giving in under pressure would encourage others to risk their lives. And it would threaten a system which keeps order and protects a valuable way of life in Britain and Europe.
- Is it always moral to uphold the rules?
- Does Britain have a duty to grant asylum to more of the Calais migrants?
- Write down five questions which you would like to put to the people involved in this story. Discuss why you chose them with a partner.
- Work in fours. Write and act out a short sketch which explores the themes raised in this story. Make sure you include in your cast: at least two migrants, a member of the British government and an interviewer.
Some People Say...
“A government’s only duty is to its own citizens.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I am not British, and I do not live in Calais. What does this mean for me?
- This issue is symbolic of a much wider debate in public policy around the world. How far do rich, relatively stable countries (such as the UK) have a responsibility to those who wish to live in them? Perhaps you consider this an allegory for hardship which could affect you, or indeed anyone else. On the other hand, perhaps you are more concerned with protecting the society you are a part of.
- Is migration to rich countries an important news story?
- Migration to Europe was one of the most important news stories of 2015. This year the press has largely grown used to it — but it is still taking place at a rapid rate. Indeed the UNHCR says over 320,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea alone so far in 2016.
- This is an official figure from the French authorities — but the charity Help Refugees says the true population before demolition was 8,143.
- The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
- Middle East
- This includes countries ravaged by civil war, such as Syria and Afghanistan.
- Most commonly the eastern African countries of Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.
- Migrants want to come to Britain for many reasons. Some have relatives here; others are attracted by the prospect of finding work, either legally or illegally, or getting better housing and education than elsewhere.
- Anarchism is a political movement which rejects all forms of authority.
- Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, has also called for Britain and France to welcome half of the children each.
- There has been controversy over the age of some of the new arrivals, after pictures of some of them were published in British newspapers. Last week one MP called for mandatory dental checks to help to verify their ages.