My visit to the Calais Refugee Camp - "The Jungle"

Today, I visited the Calais Refugee Camp, otherwise known as ‘The Jungle’, in an effort to understand the dire situation that faces those living in the camp.

Cllr Jas Athwal with Alex Simmons (Care4Calais)

In particular, I wanted to see the situation that is being faced by unaccompanied children living in the camp. It was estimated in July that around 608 children of the 761 in the Jungle Camp are unaccompanied.

What I saw was a place where nobody should have to live, let alone children who are there alone and in desperate need of care. These children are here under terrible circumstances; coming from war-torn zones like Syria, Afghanistan and the Sudan. I want to give them an opportunity at a ‘normal’ life in the UK.

I met a boy who, tonight, is going to attempt to jump into the back of a truck heading from Calais to the UK; he is 17 years old, and wants to be a doctor. Processing children takes a minimum of five months, this young man will turn 18 in just four, this means her will have to reapply as an adult, severely hindering his chances of gaining asylum in the UK.

Redbridge wants to house as many unaccompanied refugee children in the Borough as possible but as a Council we can only do so much. Since the ‘Dubs Amendment’ was passed into UK law in May, allowing unaccompanied children to come to the UK, not one child has been brought to the UK.

The reason for this, is in part to do with cuts to local government budgets from the Central Government; but the main issue is French and UK authorities being present on the ground in Calais to assist with processing of these children.

I have requested a meeting with the Home Secretary as a matter of urgency to discuss the situation of the unaccompanied children; as well as the situation with my borough and many others across London.

With the French Government promising to tear down the Jungle Camp in around a month, it is now a race against time to save these children – many of whom may disappear and never resurface if the camp is dismantled.

I hopes to drive the cause further across London and keep up pressure with the Home Secretary to ensure I as well as other Leaders across the Capital can make a real difference to these children in desperate need.

On a final note, I wanted to thank both Care4Calais and Alex Simmons from the organisation for showing me around the camp and explaining some of the intricacies and sharing her extraordinary knowledge with me.