Peace & Justice Centre Demands France Protect Calais Children

french-consulateOn 28 October the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre called on the French Consul in Edinburgh with a letter to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve demanding France protect children who slept rough following demolition of the Calais camp.

We had delivered a letter ten days previously calling on France to protect the children before demolishing the camp but received no reply. With reports today more than one hundred children had slept rough, that many had fled the camp in fear and that more than one thousand children are now being housed in metal containers after the demolition of the camp we decided to take further action we concluded that France – and the UK – have failed in their duty to protect provide special protection to these children, and in particular to provide shelter, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A copy of the letter can be read here.

We were told that the Consul was not available. That we must email to make an appointment to see the Consul General, that the function of the Consulate is only to look after the needs of French citizens living in Edinburgh. But in the end it was agreed that a copy of our letter would be forwarded to the Embassy in London.

calais-vigil-candlesWe wrote yesterday to the Home Office asking the Home Secretary to demand that France insure the protection of the children. To our surprise and delight Home Secretary Amber Rudd did exactly that this morning and it was reported that France was to provide transport for the remaining children to Reception Centres. However, independent observers on the scene including Lady Sheehan were prevented from observing the processing of the children and there remain concerns that some of the children will be taken to detention centres from which they are likely to be deported. We requested that France ensure that the processing of the children be transparent.

kids-cafe-calaisIn today’s letter we made clear that we are deeply disturbed by the failure of both the UK and France to act in good time to protect these children and that we condemn the mutual blaming that has taken place between the two governments. It is categorically unacceptable that France and the UK have played a political game with these children, many of whom have now been forced to flee and will be at greater risk of harm including possible trafficking.

 

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P&J Centre Message to UK & France: Protect Unaccompanied Children

Photo: Lauren Rooney

Photo: Lauren Rooney

On Tuesday 18 October we held a vigil calling for the UK to fulfil its pledge to welcome thousands of unaccompanied refugee children to the UK, especially from Calais and for France to insure protection of the children in the Calais camp. We collected about 80 signatures on letters to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd and to the French Minister of the Interior and and delivered these to the Scotland Office and the French Consul the following day.

We welcome the subsequent arrival of the first Calais children including those who are entitled to asylum here who have family in the UK and those vulnerable children without family here admitted in keeping with the Dubs amendment.

But we continue to call on the UK to honour its pledge to take in thousands of such children from across Europe and on France not to proceed with demolition of the Calais camp until all the children there have been provided with safe decent shelter.

Photo: Lauren Rooney

Photo: Lauren Rooney

After welcoming the fact that a few of these children have at last been brought to the UK the letter to Amber Rudd went on: “We are keenly aware that hundreds of others are being left behind.  These children have already undergone unimaginable hardships in fleeing mostly from war as well as natural disasters, and extreme poverty.”

Aware that 129 children went missing from Calais when the French government demolished sections of the camp earlier this month, that at least three children have died attempting to enter the UK and that the children are caught in a struggle between France and the UK over responsibility for this crisis we urged the Home Secretary to press Interior Minister Cazeneuve to delay demolition until all of the more than 1,100 unaccompanied refugee children in Calais have been appropriately accommodated.

savecalaischildren5-1

Photo: Lauren Rooney

In writing to the Interior Minister of France we urged him to insure that all children remaining in the camp are provided with appropriate shelter and that appropriate accommodation is found for all the refugees and migrants currently living there before action is taken to demolish the camp.

We stressed that we were “particularly concerned that these children who are among the most vulnerable in the camp not be further traumatised by the imminent demolition.”

Finally we appealed to the Ministers’ “sense of humanity” saying “Please open your heart to these most vulnerable people who only seek shelter and a place to live in peace and dignity.”

save-calais-children-and-tableThe full text off the letter to Amber Rudd can be found here and to Bernard Cazeneuve can be found here.

Our banner will be hung on the railings of St Johns Church on Princes St – where it will be highly visible – for the next couple of weeks as a reminder to Edinburgh of the ongoing crisis of these refugee children.

 

Our vigil for Calais unaccompanied refugee children was reported in Common Space this week.

delivering-letter-to-home-secretaryThe vigil follows a meeting we organised as part of the Edinburgh World Justice Festival with 6 speakers including refugees and activists from local organisations doing refugee support. A full report on that meeting can be found here.

The Peace and Justice Centre’s briefing on “Towards Adressing the Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children” was sent to Theresa May as Home Secretary and relevant MPs, MSPs, civil servants and civil society actors and is available here.

Readers can write to Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP and French Interior Minister Bernad Cazeneuve using  the model letters and contact details here.

 

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Domicide in Calais – Demolition of “the Jungle”

Asylum seekers in Calais, residing in an area nicknamed “the Jungle” near the Port of Calais are being displaced from their makeshift homes. French authorities began demolition on Monday and plan to continue over the next couple weeks, sparking protests and violent demonstrations. The residents of the Jungle have risked everything, leaving their family and friends behind to escape violence and persecution. The majority of the migrants have come from the Middle East and Africa and have made vocal their desire to gain entry into the UK. The destruction of these homes is overly forceful and will have more of an impact in the lives of the these people than most realize; and therefor should be viewed as an act of domicide. Domicide, according to Harker is the “deliberate destruction of the home by human agency in pursuit of specified goals, which causes suffering to the victims” and includes “eviction, expropriation, displacement, dislocation and relocation”. To put it simply, domicide is the murder of the home and despite acts of domicide being prevalent across the globe, the term is not very well known.

The home is so important for individuals because it is an area where personal identity is stored and is full of social meaning. The destruction of the home is more significant than just damaged or destroyed objects and buildings, because a home is the physical portrait of those who live there. When it is demolished it takes a physical toll on the victims. Retrieving possessions will not bring back the cherished feelings, because the bond with security in the home has been violated. This is why people feel so shaken when their home has been burgled. It can be a huge blow to self-esteem and identity, because it is a personal portrayal of an individual. The effects on a community can be just as grave as if someone were killed.

There are a few criteria for domicide:

  1. It is a deliberate form of violence which involves victims, who are the inhabitants of the home, and the perpetrators, who destroy it. Victims are not necessarily refugees, however they may be internally displaced. In this case, they are already migrants and asylum seekers, away from their homeland and being forced out of their temporary residence. Domicide is a method of asserting power and dominance. While the resident of Calais are caught in a sort of limbo; waiting to be granted access to ordinary life in Europe, this area on the periphery of society is home for the moment, with residents forming communities, with homes, schools and places of worship.
  2. The act is justified as being for the common good and for the collective. The destruction of the home is justified for public interest and for the benefit of everyone; and usually includes urban renewal and economic development like new roads, sporting facilities or national parks. In reality these projects are usually in the interest of  a few elite (so they do not benefit everyone). The concept of “common good” is very flawed. Porteous and Smith call people displaced by these projects  “victims of the common good” , because wealth accumulated or the benefits from these projects goes to a very small group, not the masses. The promise of improved areas for the local community usually does not transpire. With regards to the common good, the Jungle is not slated for urban renewal; removing it is very much a show of power and may not be a decision made with the interest of the residents considered. Authorities claim they are concerned traffickers will take advantage of this situation and asylum seekers will enter the UK illegally. This is certainly a legitimate concern for the UK and the rest of Europe. It is also troubling to think that migrants and asylum seekers will be taken advantage of and exploited. French authorities are also offering more comfortable lodgings. However aid groups say that there is insufficient accommodation available to meet the need of the number of people displaced as a result of the demolition and these new accommodations come with a catch. Individuals will be forced to give biometric data in the form of finger and handprints to obtain access in and out of the compound and the French government is encouraging migrants to apply for asylum in France. Migrants are worried that this will ruin their chances of gaining entry to the UK. As mentioned earlier the people residing in this area are there because they want to come to the UK, many to join family.
  3. Authorities completely disregard and ignore the opinions of the victims. This creates an “otherness” through dominating and eradicating. Referring to this area of Calais as “the Jungle” produces an inhuman and uncivilized picture and creates an image of the other, someone unlike ourselves. Keeping people removed from normal everyday society is also a way of creating a special dominance over them that excludes them from participating in day-to-day life.

The lives of the people in Calais have already been disrupted; are unpredictable and chaotic. Displacing them forcefully yet again will not resolve this issue. Using violent means will only spark violent retaliation and there have already been riots and protests within the camp. There should be more support and a hand up, not a knock back down. These are extreme and unnecessarily forceful actions to take against an already disadvantaged population. Governments should be working together and with migrants and asylum seekers to ensure their rights and dignity are upheld, rather than passing the burden around to one another, with no one taking action or responsibility for the people desperate to start a new life, provide for their families, and contribute to society.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. For some reason many seem to forget that these are people we are dealing with; other human beings who deserve the same respect and dignity that we expect in the West.

Featured photo credit: malachybrowne CC BY 2.0

Sarah MacDonald

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Human Rights Torn Down In Calais ‘Jungle’ Dismantling

News has spread this morning of continued attempts by French police to dismantle what has become known as the Calais ‘Jungle’. The camp is home to hundreds of dwellings for some 3500 refugees currently inhabiting the region. The operation began on early Monday morning when a demolition team arrived with diggers. Residents were warned they had a mere hour to relocate before their shelters would be destroyed. The Guardian has reported police had fired teargas at approximately 150 people and activists who began resisting the process and that at least three of the shelters had been set on fire.

The proposed alternative from the French Government is a biometric security protected compound with room for only 1500 refugees. Supposed security measures include the scanning of hand prints upon entry into and exit from, the compound. Such measures raise fears among the refugee population that the French government may be attempting to force refugees to claim asylum within French borders. Many of the refugees hope to make a home in the UK, shedding light on the fact that Calais remains the joint responsibility of both the French and UK governments.

Irrespective of motive, the actions taken by the French police on behalf of the government appear to be a disproportionately harsh response to what is already an incredibly delicate situation. Many volunteer groups have spoken out about the inappropriateness of the proposed solution, rightfully suggesting that this will do little to solve the root cause of this issue. Certainly, taking away the little autonomy that these displaced people have left is of grave concern from a human rights perspective. Accordingly, the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre would like to publicly deplore the action taken by the French government and welcome the response of humanitarian and other such groups in working towards a peaceful solution to the current situation. As previously argued in the November edition of Peace and Justice News, the UK should work towards a considerable increase in refugee intake. Any meaningful action taken by either the French or the UK government should involve a dignified and respectful dialogue with all parties, such that the global community can be rest assured that the human rights of disenfranchised groups are being sufficiently protected. Undoubtedly, the disruption caused by bulldozers and lines of riot police is a long, long way from the European human rights standards that the rest of the world has attempted to emulate.

By Zoe Cameron and Sarah MacDonald

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