Sunday, 24 January 2016

Labour leader visits Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps

Yesterday, Britain’s Leader of the Opposition did what the Prime Minister hasn't done – he visited the squalid, dilapidated refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk to see the situation for himself.

And Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, looked visibly shocked as he witnessed the scenes before him – desperate, traumatised men, women and children living in truly dreadful conditions, compounded by the experiences of their war-torn, terrorised home countries from where they had made perilous escapes.

Mr Corbyn commented that he knew the situation in the camps was bad – but he hadn’t realised that they were that bad.

"What I'm trying to achieve here is to understand the nature of the refugee crisis that's facing the whole of Europe," he said.

He described the conditions at the so-called ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais and the Grande-Synthe camp in Dunkirk as “a disgrace.”  

He added, “We have got people here who have been here for months, if not longer than that, with no proper education, no access to doctors, no access to dentists, limited access to food - in very cold, very wet conditions.  
"We as human beings have to reach out to fellow human beings."
Mr Corbyn called on the British government to join efforts to share refugees around the EU and accept more unaccompanied children immediately.

Compare and contrast the comments of Mr Corbyn at the scene of the refugee camps, with those of British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who (as far as I can ascertain) has never made a visit.

Instead of pledging to help, Mr Cameron, commenting a safe distance from the camps last summer, described the refugees as "a swarm”.

He pledged that Britain would not take-in any of the refugees who had crossed the Mediterranean to Europe.  And he warned that the UK will not become a "safe haven" for migrants in Calais.

Unlike Mr Corbyn, the Prime Minister seemed more concerned that British holidaymakers should not be disrupted by the refugees in Calais and Dunkirk.  

Mr Cameron said last year:
"Everything that can be done will be done to make sure our borders are secure and make sure that British holidaymakers are able to go on their holidays.”
Last October Mr Cameron was urged to go and visit the refugee camp in Calais by volunteer Lisa Wright, after she herself made a day-trip and, like Mr Corbyn today, was shocked by what she saw.

In an open letter on her Facebook page she told the Prime Minister:
“I know you've read the news reports, and I have too, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw. Whatever you've imagined from reading these reports, the reality is a thousand times worse.”
She added:
“Consider this letter a challenge, David. Go to Calais. Go to the jungle. Leave your suit, your fancy car and (if you can bear to part with it) your racism at home. Stay overnight. Camp there. Travel around the camp, talk to its inhabitants.”
But it seems very unlikely that Mr Cameron will follow in the footsteps of either Jeremy Corbyn or Lisa Wright and see for himself the suffering of refugees living in the make-shift camps.

A number of the refugees in both camps are reported to be unaccompanied children with relatives in Britain who could care for them.  But Britain doesn't want them to come here, even though we've signed up to international regulations that state we have an obligation to offer them asylum.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees' representative in France, Philippe Leclerc, said most of the migrants in Calais were fleeing violence in countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Afghanistan.

This week an immigration tribunal overturned the British government’s refusal to allow four Syrian refugees – three of them minors – to come to Britain to join their relatives here.  

The Syrians were living in filthy, wretched conditions in the Calais refugee camp since  last October, and were physically and mentally traumatised by their experience.  The Tribunal judges stated the the refugees should be allowed to come to Britain immediately to join their relatives whilst their asylum applications are processed.

It's been reported, however, that the UK government is planning to appeal the decision. Clearly, they are worried that the tribunal's ruling could set a precedent, and allow other vulnerable unaccompanied children with relatives in the UK to leave the camps and come here.  

Maybe it’s easier for the Prime Minister to make tough-sounding comments and policies about refugees if he doesn't have to go and see for himself the situation in the camps. 

*Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, visited the Calais refugee camp last August. 

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