Doctors in call for safe and legal routes for migrants

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent, in Calais

Doctors have urged the UK Government to make humanitarian need a “priority” and ensure “safe and legal routes” for asylum seekers, saying the ongoing crisis is damaging migrants’ health.

Politicians and officials must act because the dangerous Channel crossings and the “impossible life” in “unsafe” camps in France is affecting the physical and mental health of refugees, Doctors of the World UK said.

The comments came as French police cleared a Calais migrant camp for the third time in as many days.

On Friday, the National Crime Agency said six people suspected of being part of organised crime groups smuggling migrants across the Channel in lorries and small boats had been arrested this week.

Meanwhile, charities and lawyers supporting refugees signed an open letter calling on French authorities and civic leaders to put a stop to the “atrocious” policy of relentless evictions and dire living conditions in the camps.

Police clear a migrant camp near Calais
Police clear a migrant camp near Calais (Steve Parsons/PA)

A spokeswoman for Doctors of the World UK – part of the Medecins du Monde network – told the PA news agency: “The UK Government must do more to guarantee safe and legal routes for people to seek asylum in the UK.

“In Calais, we are seeing families and unaccompanied children desperate to be reunited with their loved ones in the UK.

“The dangerous trips they had to undertake to reach safety, and impossible life in the unsafe camps and settlements, is having an impact on their physical and psychological health.

“Humanitarian needs must always be the highest priority, and more must be done to support people in these desperate circumstances.”

On Friday morning, French police officers – including some appearing to be armed with tear gas guns – cordoned off the road by an area of wasteland and woodland on the outskirts of the port town, telling those camping there to leave and move their tents.

French police clear a migrant camp
Migrants at a camp in France are seeking to get to the UK (Steve Parsons/PA)

Many of the migrants walked off, carrying their remaining belongings in bin bags while officials were seen throwing rubbish and possessions including tents into a large skip.

The camp – being used by young men predominately from Africa – was cleared on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning, with aid volunteers claiming evictions have also taken place twice more this week so far.

Charities condemned the repeated upheaval and displacement of the refugees and called for governments to provide them help and support in order to find permanent accommodation and work.

Care4Calais accused the police of relentless intimidation tactics in a bid to move on refugees.

The latest clearance comes after aid workers claimed there is a “direct correlation” between a spike in the number of migrants trying to cross the Channel and large-scale evictions of camps in France.

Calais camp
The migrants were seeking to get to the UK (Steve Parsons/PA)

The dire living conditions and heightened security are also playing a part in prompting more people to risk their lives by taking to small boats in a bid to reach the UK coast, according to Help Refugees.

The comments from the charity, which provides humanitarian aid and advocacy for refugees, came amid the wave of camp clearances and a looming eviction of a Dunkirk gym – currently thought to be housing more than 70 families, many of whom have young children – after a court order was issued.

It is expected to be cleared in the coming days after being postponed from Thursday.

Earlier this year the United Nations called on France to act on the conditions of refugees and migrants sleeping rough in Calais and to stop systematically evicting people from tents which it said was in violation of their human rights.

Care4Calais called on the UK Government to provide “safe legal routes” for migrants by setting up a centre in France so asylum applications can be submitted and processed before they enter the country.

The charity thinks this would put a stop to the rise of Channel crossings as the paperwork is already being processed and so would stop smugglers in their tracks as fewer people would turn to them for help.

On Tuesday at least 86 men, women and children crossed the Channel to the UK – thought to be the most in a single day so far.

Border Force cutters are continuing to patrol the Channel while drones, CCTV and night vision goggles are used.

Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel said urgent action was needed to put a stop to the wave of crossings, after she met French interior minister Christophe Castaner in Paris.

More detail on the action plan is yet to be released.

The Home Office declared the matter a major incident under former home secretary Sajid Javid and pledged millions of pounds to tackle the crisis, dispatching the three cutters.

A plan drawn up in January included a £6 million investment in security equipment, CCTV coverage of beaches and ports and a mutual commitment to return migrants under international and domestic laws, the department said.

But the number of migrants taken in by UK authorities so far this year is thought to have already passed 1,000.

The Home Office said from 2020 a new resettlement scheme will help “more people fleeing conflict and persecution, including children, to build a new life in the UK”.

The UK has a “proud history” of providing protection to those who needed it and since 2015 more than 17,000 refugees have settled in the country, the department said, adding: “More than £2.71 billion has been committed by the Government since 2012 to help Syrian refugees, making it one of the biggest donors and the country’s largest ever response from the UK to a single humanitarian crisis.”