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24 Apr 2017

Genuine Co-operation is Urgently Needed

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21 Apr 2017
Diane Abbott MP tells of her experience visiting Paris’s refugee camps and of the people trapped there.

Popular music has always waxed lyrical about Paris in the spring. But I was there last week and I can report that it is not so romantic if you are a homeless refugee.
That’s because bulldozing the Calais “Jungle” did not solve the challenge of migrants on the move, it merely displaced it.
There have always been refugees and asylum-seekers sleeping rough in the streets of Paris. But closing the Calais camp has sharply increased the numbers in Paris.
I was fortunate enough to be shown round Paris refugee encampments by volunteers working there, including Clare Mosley, founder of Care4Calais, and an amazing man working for an organisation called  Utopia 56.
He explained disarmingly that he wasn’t a lawyer or a social worker. Instead his area of expertise was organising campsites at music festivals. So organising refugee campsites was not that much of a
stretch.
First they showed me an official refugee site. It housed about 400 refugees who were being processed there to apply for refugee status in France.
It was clean and orderly, particularly in comparison to the Calais Jungle. The refugees were mostly male, although there was also a small group of families.
They sleep under cover, they get three meals a day, a change of clothes, the facilities to charge their phones and there are even washing machines available.
But there was a shadow of fear even over this relatively exemplary facility. Would-be inmates queue daily to enter and register. But gangsters are on the prowl outside. They demand money to be allowed to join the queue. And, if you have the temerity to join the queue anyway, you get beaten up.
Their activities have been reported to the police, but nothing happens.
The problem with the official facility is that in order to get in you have to be a refugee.
But the “Dublin” system of determining which EU member is responsible for processing a refugee’s asylum claim states that the claim should be made in the first EU state the refugee enters.
So refugees wishing to claim asylum in France — but who have been fingerprinted in Italy or Greece — are frightened of going to official centres because they are frightened of being sent back to those
countries.
So they camp in the street in Paris, hoping against hope that some voluntary organisation will help them with their asylum claim.
They have been joined by thousands of people who were dispersed from Calais.
Conditions in the unofficial Paris encampment are dreadful. In some aspects even worse than the conditions were in the Calais Jungle.
The refugees put up tents under motorways and in places where they hope the police won’t find them. There is no running water, no sanitation, and no services of any kind, no cooking, heating or washing
facilities and many of the inhabitants of the unofficial encampments have diseases such as scabies.
Another concern is the fate of over a thousand young refugees who remain scattered around France.
Nearly 2,000 young people were among the refugees bussed out of the Calais Jungle in October last year.
British MPs were told that they would be sent to special children’s centres. But Clare Mosley reports: “Many of the centres did not find out they were receiving minors until the night before they arrived and no special facilities were provided.”
The context to all of this was the agreeing of the “Dubs Amendment” to the Immigration Bill last year, which saw the government begrudgingly promise to accept 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from other countries in Europe, but it has since become absolutely clear that the government is determined to use any excuse to wriggle out of this obligation.
This was confirmed in March when a vote to bring back the scheme was defeated by 287 votes to 267, with 282 Tory MPs voting against.
If it had been passed, this vote would have required councils in England to identify whether they have spare capacity to house unaccompanied child refugees.
Furthermore, this was after it took five months to accept the first child refugee from the Calais camp under Dubs, and that was two days before the camp’s demolition.
We need to be clear that where safe and legal routes are blocked for these children, they are left with a terrible choice between train tracks on the one hand, and people traffickers on the other.
These children have been identified as the most vulnerable in the world, including girls without parents, who are susceptible to sex traffickers.
The government’s decision is particularly disappointing in that we know that many local authorities across Britain are willing to accept more refugees even though Home Secretary Amber Rudd has claimed councils
do not have enough capacity, and that is why the scheme is being stopped.
Additionally, it has been revealed that the Home Office turned down offers from fostering agencies that would have allowed up to 100 child refugees a week to be given sanctuary here.
Child refugees have been emphatically failed by the British government. Wanting to help children is a worthy impulse. But in the end we have to engage with both the children and their families. Waves of
migrants are moving across western Europe driven by war and famine.
So far European governments have tried to deal with the problem with barbed wire, walls, bulldozing encampments and criminalising the migrants themselves. There has to be a better and more sustainable
response.
We need much more genuine co-operation between European governments, whether they are in the visa-free Schengen area or not.
Sadly, with Britain leaving the EU, better co-operation seems further away than ever. Above all we need more safe and legal routes for migrants.
Let’s keep up the pressure. The internationally agreed principles and the Dubs Amendment were never conceived as a “one-off” — the government should commit to meeting its international treaty obligations and our own laws.

* From https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-f437-Genuine-co-operation-is-urgently-needed#.WPnSz8bavIW

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