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What is Britain doing to help the Calais migrant crisis?

Philippe Huguen, AFP | A migrant walks on a mud path in the 'New Jungle' camp in Calais on October 21, 2015

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve visited the northern port city of Calais on Wednesday amid mounting calls to improve living conditions for migrants there. But what is Britain doing to help resolve the crisis?


Cazeneuve’s visit comes a day after a group of 800 filmmakers, writers, philosophers and intellectuals signed an open letter published by the French daily Libération calling for more to be done for the thousands of people currently living at a sprawling makeshift camp in Calais known as the “jungle”.

The number of refugees and migrants at the “jungle” has doubled over the past three weeks to 6,000, the vast majority of whom hope to eventually reach Britain.

The situation has highlighted the ongoing crisis in Calais, raising questions over Britain’s role in helping to resolve it.

FRANCE 24 spoke to Nick Harvey, spokesman for Doctors of the World UK, which helps to provide medical care to refugees and migrants in Calais, as well as Geneviève Jacques, president of Cimade, a French NGO that works with migrants, about Britain’s handling of the crisis.

FRANCE 24: How did the crisis in Calais get to this point?

Nick Harvey: The reason why people are in Calais is not because they want to be stuck in a rain-sodden camp in northern France, it’s because they want to get to the UK.

It’s not a British problem or a French problem – it’s a global problem. But of course Britain has a role to play, and has promised to take in 20,000 refugees over the next five years. That adds up to 4,000 people a year, which is not enough. More than that have entered Germany in a single day.

Geneviève Jacques: The UK is at the heart of the problem. The British chose not to be a part of the [passport-free] Schengen zone, which has created a bottleneck. Right now, they’re letting France do all the dirty work. But France is also responsible. It alone is at fault for the migrants’ squalid living conditions. The country could do more to accommodate them decently.

France’s other responsibility is public order. When he signed the treaty of Touquet on February 4, 2003, [former French president] Nicolas Sarkozy committed to halting illegal immigration to the UK. And the current government hasn’t gone back on the treaty. NGOs have called on Bernard Cazeneuve to bring an end to the deal, but his response is invariably the same: If the British open their doors, there won’t be 6,000 migrants, but tens of thousands.

FRANCE 24: What is Britain doing to help in Calais?

Nick Harvey: The French government has a role to play, as does the UK. Almost all the money the UK is now spending in Calais goes to security – building fences and [bringing in] sniffer dogs. What we’re calling for is that some of that money be put to humanitarian needs. If you go to our clinic in Calais, there’s a long line of people waiting to be seen by our doctors. We should not be the ones treating these people, it should be the government. There’s a perception that by improving the situation in Calais, there could be some sort of pull factor, but that’s ridiculous.

Geneviève Jacques: The Conservative government has no plans to change its immigration policy. The only help Britain is giving France regarding the problem in Calais is to reinforce the border and security protocols in place. They notably financed the construction of a wall and installed razor wire to stop the migrants. All the same, British and French NGOs are coordinating on the ground. British NGOs often lend a hand to help French humanitarian workers distribute food and clothes to migrants.

FRANCE 24: What more needs to be done to resolve the crisis?

Nick Harvey: What we are limited by is funds. We don’t have an unlimited amount of money to spend there. We rely on donations from the public. But it’s not sustainable. There needs to be a long-term, sustainable solution because the problem is not going away.

We’d like to hope and think [that the government will change its position], but we’ve been there in some capacity or another since 2003, so we’re not overly hopeful. But we’re still calling on the government to do more.

Geneviève Jacques: NGOs can do their best to help the migrants, but the solution is above all both political and diplomatic. French non-profits are constantly calling on the government to change things. But these decisions need to happen on the European level.

Britain cannot remove itself from the migrant crisis while also adhering to European values. British NGOs are also putting pressure on their government to at least agree to look at asylum requests from migrants in Calais. Right now, migrants are not allowed to submit asylum requests.

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