Skip to main content

Ganet, Moussa, Mohammad.

Not all the people who have died trying to get to the UK from Calais have been named yet, but on Tuesday night, a young Sudanese man joined that tragic list. The man became the 9th person to die since June fleeing the squalor of Calais camps for the UK.

They were hit by cars on the motorway, drowned in a canal at the entrance of the Channel tunnel or fell while trying to hang on to a train. Stories of how desperate people are to get to the UK have become daily news. Calls to crack down on smuggling as a solution ignore the fact that those who try to climb onto trains or even swim across the Channel lack the means to pay smugglers to help them enter the UK.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, everyone in Calais isn’t hell bent on reaching the UK. Many of the people I have spoken to in the Calais camps in the bitter winter cold or under the hot summer sun said they would happily apply for asylum in France if they didn’t have to sleep outside while their claim was being processed. It can take several months for people to register as asylum seekers in Calais according to asylum seekers with whom I spoke, and in the meantime, they are not eligible for accommodation. People with broken limbs and wounds also told me they had been beaten up by French police, and dozens said police had sprayed them with pepper spray.

A view shows a tent which is part of a makeshift tent city where migrants stay after they travelled from the Mediterranean northwards in the hopes of crossing the English Channel and seeking asylum in Britain, located in a field in Calais, France, France, July 2, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

By setting-up a day centre that provides men living in a nearby makeshift camp with meals, water and a place to charge their mobile phones during the day, and a shelter for 100 women and children, the French government has taken some positive steps. But it should do much more.

French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve said “the State has always faced its responsibilities” as France announced that 120 law enforcement officials would be sent to Calais to secure access to the Channel tunnel.

In fact, France will not have faced its responsibilities until asylum seekers in Calais can register their claim without delay, their cases are processed promptly and fairly, and they are provided with adequate accommodation while they wait for an answer. France should also face its responsibilities by ordering an independent investigation into reports of police abuse and harassment of migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, and making sure such abuses don’t happen again. 

France has the means to greatly improve the situation in Calais in a humane way. Doing so could help avert further deaths. It should do so before the death list gets even longer.  

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.