Minister: UK must fulfil its moral duty to Calais children

France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve writes in The Guardian about the situation of unaccompanied minors in Calais

The issue of the Calais camp and the situation of the migrants has sparked conflict between public opinion in the UK and France. Our two countries are attached to broadly the same values and the same goals: respecting the right to asylum and regulating migration, while honouring both treaty and moral obligations.

But we need to find a common outlook on the current position in Calais if we are to avoid passing between us the blame for a situation that everyone agrees is a disaster.

From the point of view of some in France, the Calais migrants’ misery is entirely down to the selfishness of the British government. London, they believe, is hiding behind the Le Touquet agreements governing controls on entry from continental Europe to the UK. They accuse the UK of using these agreements in an unscrupulous way, as a means of refusing to take in refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, including unaccompanied children with family connections in the UK. Conversely, the British press is quick to accuse the French government of inefficiency as well as inhumanity. We are accused of being too slow to process asylum applications, and of being indifferent to the human stories behind each set of forms.

The reality, of course, is that neither government has chosen to leave people with the right to refugee status in the cold and the mud – women and children least of all. Over the past year, 6,000 people have been moved from the Calais and Dunkirk camps to 164 reception and guidance centres the French government has opened throughout France, with the aim of integrating the migrants into their host towns.

This method has been proved to work, and its success is the reason why the French government has now decided to dismantle the Calais camp for good. Because they share a moral responsibility towards them, the governments of France and the UK are determined to succeed with this operation together. Our countries must act together to shelter those people who are on their border and who clearly need protection – above all the most vulnerable among them. The British government has pledged to help solve this crisis by taking in some unaccompanied minors, the vast majority of whom have expressed the wish to go to the UK. Because they share a moral responsibility towards them, the governments of France and the UK are determined to succeed with this operation together. Our countries must act together to shelter those people who are on their border and who clearly need protection – above all the most vulnerable among them. The UK government now needs to intensify this effort, so that every unaccompanied minor can benefit from fair, lasting protection. The first transfers of young people with close relatives in the UK begin this week, while France has agreed to take in 13,000 refugees. The British government now needs to intensify its efforts to identify and resettle child migrants.

This humanitarian operation must be supported by long-term measures aimed at making the border impenetrable at Calais and other Channel ports – because if the border is porous, people-smuggling rings will exploit their weaknesses to hold out to their victims the possibility of an illegal crossing to the UK, hiding from them the mortal risks to which they will expose themselves on the way. The UK government has already done a great deal to support us in these efforts. Thanks to the cooperation between our police services, 33 illegal immigration networks smuggling people into the UK have already been dismantled in France since the beginning of this year.

In the longer term, neither the UK nor France can abdicate our responsibilities regarding the migration crisis across our continent. For obvious geographical reasons, ours are not countries of first entry like Greece and Italy, or even the countries most affected, in terms of flows of refugees. But the UK is the country that invented habeas corpus and France is the country that proclaimed the declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen. We also each exercise singular international responsibilities, stemming from our history, defence capabilities and status as permanent members of the UN security council.

As such, we must not just prevent migrants from living in precarious conditions on our soil, be it in the area around Calais or on the Kent coast. We must also act together to ensure that refugees aspiring to gain asylum in Europe are dealt with in conditions of solidarity and humanity, in a manner in keeping with the history and the values of our two countries.1

1 Article first published in The Guardian, 18 October 2016.

Published on 21/10/2016

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