By Clara Lewis

Connection to the UK

The vast majority of people seeking asylum do not come to the UK. But for the relatively smaller number who do, the most common reason they choose the UK is to join their family who are already in the country. Another common reason for people coming to the UK is that they speak the language. Family ties and the ability to speak the language make the task of rebuilding a life easier to face.

But another reason people leave France, hoping to find safety in the UK, is because of the conditions in French refugee camps and informal settlements.

Conditions in Northern France 

The notorious Jungle encampment in Calais was dismantled in 2016 but thousands of people, including hundreds of unaccompanied children, are still living in wooded areas, abandoned buildings and under bridges in the area. In nearby Dunkirk, hundreds of people are living in the forest. 

The conditions they live in are desperate and have been deemed degrading by Human Rights Watch. People live amongst the trees, in the mud, with few belongings and little access to sanitation, medical care or food. Essential items have become even more scarce than they were before the pandemic and Brexit. 

Aid services are not easily accessible and made even more difficult to provide due to legal restrictions and blockades created by the police. Several aid services have recently had their funding pulled which will make essential services like water, food, phone charging facilities and firewood even more difficult to come by. Winter weather only intensifies these harsh conditions.

Routine raids and evictions by police forces leave people even more vulnerable and their few belongings are often confiscated. 

Long-term problem

Conditions have been desperate in Northern France for a number of years. In this survey, conducted in the ‘Jungle’ refugee and migrant encampment in 2015, people reported just some elements of the harsh conditions they endured. Over 65% reported experiencing at least one violent event in the course of their journey. Since arriving in Calais, a relatively high proportion of violent events were experienced, including being tear gassed by police forces. Over 60% of those who took part reported at least one health problem and fewer than 40% of those people had access to medical care. Researchers were not able to include enough data from women and children in the survey which means it’s possible the number of violent events experienced by people in the Jungle was actually even higher.

Seeking asylum is a Human Right

People flee their home and their country because they are in danger or they cannot see a viable future for themselves or their family in their home country. They are fleeing conflict, violence, persecution, discrimination or, increasingly, climate-related pressures. Their journey to safety is commonly dangerous, life-threatening and often traumatizing. They want to find a place of safety where they can rebuild their lives. They have a protected right to do so.

We all have a right to seek asylum. Under the UN Refugee Convention, of which the UK is a signatory, people seeking asylum do not have to seek asylum in the first safe country they reach. 

No other options

The stark reality is that people feel they have no other option but to attempt to reach the UK in a small boat. It’s not a journey many of us would willingly take if there was another choice. Despite the fact that France receives a far higher number of asylum applications and takes in more refugees than the UK, there are still many people who are unable to settle in France. The viable options for settling in France for people who find themselves in places like Calais and Dunkirk are all but non-existent. They feel they have no other choice but to put themselves at the mercy of the sea.

Sources:

https://academic.oup.com/inthealth/article/9/6/335/4791936 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-jersey-59921223 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/02/life-death-and-limbo-in-the-calais-jungle-five-years-after-its-demolition

https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/10/07/enforced-misery/degrading-treatment-migrant-children-and-adults-northern-france 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/03/refugee-aid-in-northern-france-at-risk-as-choose-life-ends-funding 

https://fullfact.org/immigration/refugees-first-safe-country/ 

https://inews.co.uk/news/migrants-why-come-uk-refugees-crossing-channel-leave-france-explained-1318651