The French government moved to clear the Calais Jungle camp late last month to disrupt the activity of people smugglers and stop economic migrants and asylum seekers attempting to reach the UK illegally. Almost four weeks after the shantytown was demolished, it is clear the operation has achieved neither.
While people who live in the area will likely be delighted that the unsightly camp has been razed to the ground, many of its inhabitants have simply moved on to other sites along the coast or headed into Paris, where police were forced to tear down a makeshift migrant settlement that had been swelled significantly by Jungle inhabitants looking for somewhere else from which to plot their journey to Britain.
Meanwhile, there has been no evidence to suggest that migrant flows across the Channel have been cut to any remarkable degree since the demolition of the site, with boats of would-be asylum seekers still managing to reach the south coast of England with relative ease and lorry loads of refugees tumbling out of trailers on UK motorways.
Some analysts have suggested that it is only a matter of time before a new Jungle camp springs up close to the Channel Tunnel terminal in Calais, noting that destroying the squalid settlement will do little to diminish the determination of those hell-bent on reaching Britain.
Even if a new shantytown on a similar scale does not spring into existence in the short term, there will still be thousands of migrants at the mercy of people smugglers at sites in locations including Dunkirk and Paris. The fact that some of the migrants who were offered asylum in France after the camp closed were still vowing to reach Britain from their new homes is testament to the fact that this problem won’t be going away anytime soon.
The act of tearing down the Jungle camp merely treated one symptom of a crisis but not the cause. The same would be true if the French government attempted to make good on its threat of pushing the country’s boundary with the UK back to Dover. While appearing to be doing something about an issue that is likely to play a significant role in next year’s presidential election, the French government has resoundingly failed to make any significant impact on the number of migrants heading to its northern coastline.
At the same time as failing to thwart people smugglers and illegal immigrants, the destruction of the camp has not only dispersed large numbers of migrants to alternative nearby sites, but displaced scores of vulnerable lone child refugees to whom the site offered a small modicum of security. It was widely reported that child residents of the shantytown were forced to sleep rough after its closure. Earlier this week, the Refugee Youth Service (RYS) charity revealed that almost a third of the child refugees from the camp it had been monitoring had disappeared since the demolition.
Destroying camps such as the Jungle is pointless all the while the French government is unable to control the number of people entering its territory. In July, Europol head Rob Wainwright warned that the migrant crisis had seen the number of people smugglers operating in Europe reach an all-time high as organised crime gangs moved in to take a piece of the action. All the while asylum seekers and economic migrants are able to get as far as France, there will be criminals happy to facilitate the final leg of their journey to the UK, making it inevitable that a site comparable to the Jungle will pop up sooner rather than later.
Rather than threatening to shift the UK border across the Channel to the coast of England, the French government would do better to work with its European partners on a plan to slow the constant flow of migrants into Northern Europe, which is showing little sign of slowing even as the colder weather sets in. Countries such as Turkey, which are receiving billions of euros from EU nations in exchange for stopping refugees from making the deadly crossing over the Mediterranean to Europe, should be pressured to ensure they are doing all they can to fulfil their side of the bargain. Separately, as is law in the EU, refugees who arrive in the 28-nation bloc should be compelled to claim asylum in the first country they reach, rather than being allowed to head further north.
Blaming the UK for the problems associated with migrants on its northern coastline only makes the French government appear petulant. If anything, pushing the border back to Dover will increase the flow of migrants into France and boost people smugglers’ businesses further south. Tearing down migrant shantytowns and grandstanding against the British might play well with certain sections of the French electorate, but at the end of the day, it’s just window dressing. As long as France and other European governments are willing to allow the status quo to continue, illegal immigrants will continue on their journeys, helped along the way by ruthless people smugglers who could not care less whether their clients live or die.