The Calais refugee camp on fire. Photo: Flickr/Michel Spekkers The Calais refugee camp on fire. Photo: Flickr/Michel Spekkers

French authorities and the British Home Office have washed their hands of remaining refugees in Calais, explains Shabbir Lakha

The demolition of the refugee camp in Calais has been chaotic since it began on Monday, but the situation has been even more dire than anticipated. The French prefect of Pas-de-Calais, Fabienne Buccio, announced on Wednesday that “it’s the end of the Jungle, our mission is over. There are no more migrants in the camp.”

Some simple maths refutes this claim: varying reports suggest that 3,000-5,000 refugees have been bussed out of Calais since Monday and around 1,000 unaccompanied children have been housed, processed and transferred from the container section. The population of the camp was between 8,000 and 10,000 refugees before demolition began. Even taking into account refugees who may have left Calais on their own, the numbers simply don’t add up.

And the reports from volunteer organisations on the ground are even more harrowing. Huge fires engulfed large parts of the camp on Tuesday night and carried on through to Wednesday. On Wednesday, 300-400 unaccompanied minors who had turned up to the registration centre at the container section of the camp as instructed were turned away because the containers were full. They were sent back to a burning camp.

Help Refugees reported that they took refuge under a bridge, not knowing where to go. With most of the structures in the camp burnt down or dismantled, most of these children were forced to sleep rough on Wednesday and Thursday night. Concerned individuals on social media, such as the group that has been fundraising for and arranging smartphones and phone credit for the refugees, offered to raise funds to put the children up in local hotels or B&Bs.

However, volunteers informed people that the hotels were mostly full because of the 1200+ police officers who have been deployed to Calais for the demolition and the journalists. There were reports that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because apparently hotels in the area had been told prior to the demolition not to provide accommodation for anyone without a passport.

So these children slept rough, and on Thursday morning they once more went to the registration centre to be processed, but this has now been closed – permanently it seems – so on Thursday night they were forced to sleep rough again. Following the announcement of the end of the eviction on Wednesday, volunteers say that Home Office officials have also returned to the UK. Disturbing videos surfaced of police arresting children who didn’t have wristbands allowing them to be accommodated in the containers.

Volunteers were subsequently told they would also be arrested if caught filming the ongoing carnage in Calais. This is following them being barred from providing food or water to the refugees still stuck in the camp since yesterday.

The situation really is very desperate. It was troubling as it was that the place that provided some level of safety for thousands of refugees has been demolished and that the future for those refugees bussed out is dubious; but the fact that over a thousand adult refugees and 400 unaccompanied children had been entirely abandoned by the French and British after destroying the camp is alarming.

Some attempts were made to suggest that all of those left in the camp now are new arrivals, but this claim was quickly debunked by groups such as the Refugee Youth Service who confirmed that they have been working with some of the children for some time. Some if not all of the unaccompanied children still stuck in the camp are eligible to be brought to the UK under the Dubs amendment.

There is a very real risk that these children will be forced to make further dangerous journeys to Paris or other refugee settlements in northern France to seek refuge and support. This leaves them extremely vulnerable to human traffickers and the chaos over the last few days has meant that some children may have already gone missing.

Those left behind have also increasingly taken to try and get onto lorries heading for the UK – 20 people were arrested at the motorway heading to the port on Thursday evening.

Heavy machinery including bulldozers has been brought in to demolish any remaining structures to ensure they cannot be used to create a new camp by those still there or new arrivals. It was a sad sight to watch the school that was able to provide shelter for a few of the children left behind as it was demolished today.

Care4Calais, Help Refugees and MSF among other organisations made a desperate call on Amber Rudd and the British government to not abandon these children – who are only still there because of the neglect of the Home Office in registering the children before the demolition began.

In response Amber Rudd, UK Home Secretary, said that France was not properly protecting child refugees left behind, and Bernard Cazeneuve, French Interior Minister, in turn blamed Britain for not living up to its commitments to child refugees. Thankfully however, diplomatic squabbles aside, French authorities sent several buses to the camp today and picked up most of the refugees that had been left behind – most but not all.

The numbers still don’t add up and there is a worry about many refugees having to have made their own way out of Calais on Wednesday and Thursday when it seemed as though no one was coming back for them. Volunteer agencies are now going to redirect their efforts to other refugee settlements around France including several near Paris, and will monitor the situation for the evicted refugees now in asylum centres.

The Calais camp has existed, been demolished, and restarted numerous times since 2002 after the closure of the Sangatte facility operated by the French Red Cross. With the number of refugees both around the world and in Europe on the increase, there is a chance that refugees might settle in Calais again. What’s desperately needed – and what we must continue to fight for – is a change in the policies of walls and fences, evictions and demolitions, and neglect and abandonment.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.