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Refugee children in Dunkirk, 2017. Photo: David Bailey

Refugee children in Dunkirk, 2017. Photo: David Bailey

Jacob Bailey, a volunteer for Oxford Refugee Solidarity, calls for solidarity with migrants, reporting on the conditions in the camps in Northern France

Due to the pandemic it has been a while since my last trip out to Calais to aid the men, women, and children who have fled war and persecution, hoping to find asylum in the UK. On my recent visit I was upset, but not shocked, to see that the situation has only worsened during this time.

Hearing of the deaths of five refugees that had attempted the journey to England, solidified for me how dire and desperate the situation for refugees is now. On a daily basis the men, women, and children are having to take huge risks in the hope of gaining passage to the UK, in the fight against the French and UK governments’ agreement to ‘prevent 100% of crossings’ and make the route ‘unviable’ for migrants.

Is it not a basic human right to be granted safe passage, having left your home not by choice, but by force? Would you not want the same?

The lives of the refugees are being made increasingly impossible by the French government. Every 48 hours, clearances of anything that resembles a ‘camp’ where refugees settle are taking place, such as on Tuesday when French police evicted 1,500 refugees in Dunkirk. As well as dispersing refugees, police are destroying vital basic items, spraying clothing, tents, and sleeping bags with gas, pepper spray and even urine. The authorities don’t use regular police for this work, but the paramilitary CRS, notorious for their brutality.

The French and UK collaboration has seen hundreds of millions of pounds spent on ‘pushback’ tactics to force migrants to find refuge elsewhere. One thousand clearances have taken place so far this year, creating an increased need for aid in terms of clothing, tents, toiletries, and other daily necessities we take for granted. Even access to water has been restricted, as boulders are placed in front of water stations, making it impossible for lorries to refill them.

Solidarity and hope

In contrast to the hostility of the French government, locals have taken action to support migrants. Some have begun a hunger strike, which has resulted in a not so generous 45-minute warning for refugees to leave site before the clearances take place. The refugees are living in constant fear.

In conversation with refugees, during my stay, they seem very hopeful of a life in England, with a job, a home and acceptance. As optimistic as I would love to be about this, with the Nationality and Borders Bill, nicknamed the ‘Anti-Refugee Bill’, that Priti Patel hopes to pass, this sadly seems very unlikely. This Bill will mean that migrants entering our country by any means other than official resettlement are given no protection, no financial support, can be stripped of their right to ever see their family again, and can be deported back to the dangers of their origin countries. This Bill will allow the forceful removal of refugees, so that they can be sent to off-shore prison-like facilities, as they await the outcome of their request for asylum.

The mainstream media has failed to report the reality of what is happening in Calais and Dunkirk. It is our responsibility to speak out and fight back against the Tory government’s legislation. We must fight for safe passage for our fellow human beings.

The Stop the War Coalition, CND, and Stand up to Racism have called an emergency protest, Solidarity with refugees: No to fortress Europe, for Saturday, 20 November 2021.

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