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Sep 26

Why Attack the Calais Refugees?

Posted on Saturday, September 26, 2009 in Editorial, human rights

When we dehumanise other human beings we lose part of what makes us human. If I had the time and resources I would have gladly attended the protests at the ‘Jungle’ outside Calais, the camp from which the mainly Afghan refugees were forcibly removed this week. Sadly though I had to watch from afar again, as people in search of a better life were deemed unacceptable, and unworthy of the human rights to which they are entitled. Jason Parkinson’s piece below shows you the brutal reality of what happened:


When French immigration minister Eric Besson calls the Calais “jungle” camp clearance a “dignified” success, Alan Johnson expresses his “delight” and immigration minister Phil Woolas questions whether these refugees deserve sanctuary, they expose the asylum system as profoundly broken.

What I saw at 8am on Tuesday was not dignified or humane. Men were wrestled and thrown to the ground, others head-locked and throttled. One boy collapsed and was removed. Not by the police, but by protesters.

As Parkinson points out, EU law says that asylum seekers must claim asylum in the first country they land in. But it’s an horrific cop out to suggest to people genuinely fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq or Eritrea (few of whom will do so by air) can only claim asylum in member states which are essentially the closest to them. Italy? With its current persecution of Roma? Greece? With its treatment of refugees? That system has resulted in:

illegal push-backs of migrants at the Turkish border, the puncturing of boats in the Aegean Sea, deplorable conditions of detention, police brutality, and various legal and administrative tricks to keep asylum seekers from lodging a claim, all of which Human Rights Watch exhaustively documented in two reports published late last year.

The Dublin Convention is clearly a failure, yet Britain and France express delight at the prospect of sending refugees back to the first EU country they entered, which in many cases for refugees formerly living in the Calais ‘jungle’ was Greece. This is particularly alarming considering many fellow EU governments have stopped transferring asylum seekers back there. Yet immigration minister Phil Woolas:

rejected suggestions that (even) those (merely) with family links should be allowed to come to Britain to claim asylum: “If they were asylum seekers they would have claimed asylum in France or in the first country they came to,” he said. The home secretary said “genuine refugees” would be offered protection if they claimed asylum in the first safe country they reached. The rest were expected to go home.

boy-carried-away_1486662iSuch compassion. No doubt there will be economic migrants in their number, no doubt hardened criminals too. But to dismiss the genuine needs and concerns of refugees, and falling back on an asylum system which benefits neither refugee nor host country is just monstrous. Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MEP has spoken out, saying:

“Rather than fulfilling their responsibilities to seekers of asylum under both EU and international law, the French and British governments are turning a blind eye to the suffering taking place on their own doorsteps. Home Secretary Alan Johnson‘s glee in the wake of this aggressive police raid is particularly disturbing.

“The plan for mass deportations of these refugees rides roughshod over the European Convention on Human Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Geneva Convention. And given that so many facing expulsion are children, the plans may also breach the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“This short term ‘solution’ is not only inhumane – it will not work. The French are not playing their part in allowing people to claim asylum in Calais, and must commit to making the official procedures for seeking asylum more accessible to those in need. Equally, other EU Member states must recognise their duty to share the responsibility.”

Protests against the UK Border Agency have taken place here, here here and here. There is continuing coverage by Calais Migrant Solidarity here.

(photo source)

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