After Calais: Refugees still pine for the UK

After Calais: Refugees still pine for the UK
The demolition of the 'Jungle Camp' in Calais and subsequent dispersion of thousands of refugees across France has not dampened their resolve to reach the UK, writes Reem Abd Ulhamid
5 min read
28 October, 2016
Refugees dispersed all over France will still attempt to reach the UK [Getty]
Some 6,500 refugees, who have fled war in Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Iraq and Syria, have been dispersed across France as authorities carried out the full evacuation of the "Jungle Camp" in Calais.

But the "humanitarian intervention" has not dampened their resolve to reach their ultimate destination - the UK.

The refugees are being resettled at 287 shelters - so-called reception and orientation centres - scattered throughout France, to process asylum applications.

However, according to the Syrian group ampng them, this hasn't dampened their resolve to cross the Channel and reunite with their relatives in the UK.

The Syrian group, as they call themselves, consists of around 35 to 40 young men and three teenagers. They decided to take the bus to Nogent sur Oise centre - 48km north of Paris - for a brief break from the degrading conditions in Calais.

Moving us is not a solution. If I wanted to live in an accommodation centre I wouldn't have lived in the jungle for the past six months

The location of the "Jungle" made it a temporary baseline for around 6,500 refugees. Most were crammed in tents and shipping containers, with no electricity or plumbing as they waited for their chance to cross the Channel.

"Moving us is not a solution. If I wanted to live in an accommodation centre I wouldn't have lived in the Jungle for the past six months," said Abu Yamen, 33, Damascus who is the informal coordinator for the Syrian group.

"We agreed to take the buses together as a big family, but that doesn't change our plans to go to the UK."

Abu Yamen, who has a diploma in civil engineering, is determined to join his wife in the UK and ultimately find a job and build his future.

In theory, refugees with close relatives in the UK are legally entitled to join their families according to international rules governing asylum seekers.

But, in practice, most of the Syrian refugees agree that the system is slow, and would take them months to meet the "impossible" bureaucratic demands and paper work required by the French and UK governments.

The countless delays mean that this process could take years to complete, which is leading refugees to give up on the legal approach altogether.

It is ridiculous to think that I crossed most of Europe and the last 34 kilometers between me and my wife in Dover are impossible

Abu Yamen explains: "It is ridiculous to think that I crossed most of Europe and now the last 34 kilometres between me and my wife in Dover are impossible. I think of all the time I have lost, and I won't give up just now. Moving us will not change my determination."

The Syrian refugees are now residing at the Nogent sur Oise Centre, where each person has his own room, a shared kitchen, access to showers, and a daily personal allowance.

The French state designated approximately 25 euros for each relocated refugee per day, which includes accommodation, food and fees for the asylum application.

"We got in yesterday, it's warm and there is even a mosque downstairs. We signed papers, took vouchers of four euros daily in exchange for food and we were clearly told if we try to go to the UK again we will no longer be welcomed here," said Ehab, a 23-year-old electrician from Daraa in Syria. He has been trying to join his sister in the UK for the past 13 months.


Refugees will still attempt to reach Britain [Reem Abd Ulhamid]

Ehab's nightly attempts to sneak aboard cargo trucks heading for the UK has resulted in him being arrested three times, with 24-hour detentions. Ehab wants to find a job as soon as possible, he said.

"I don't want to stay in France. Everything here is complicated and slow, I don't know the language and I can't get a job. All I want is to be with my sister and get a job to send my family money."

According to an asylum in Europe organisation, despite adjustments to reduce the delays and facilitate early access to the asylum procedure in France, the time spent "has a dramatic effect" on refugees seeking work.

The law is clear; access to the labour market is allowed only if the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless has not ruled on the asylum application within nine months from the registration of the applicant, and if he or she is not to blame for the delays.

Additionally, refugees are required to learn French and write the application in the language, which is seen by most to be a very difficult task.

Minors remaining in Calais

The minors and children were asked to temporarily stay in the "Jungle" for the next 15 days, while their cases are investigated.

The negotiations between Paris and London have resulted in allowing a significant number of children, particularly the most vulnerable and those with family ties, to seek asylum in the UK.

I ran away from bombings and death and I found hell here

The local prefecture of Calais announced that there are around 1,500 children accommodated in shipping containers converted into temporary housing at the camp.

Among those, were three scared teenage Syrians. Yousef, 17, from Aleppo, described his trip to Europe as a "horror film".


Refugees wait to leave the "jungle" [Reem Abd Ulhamid]

Squeezed with other refugees into a boat heading from Turkey, he travelled across most of Europe. He has been in Calais for the past nine months waiting to join his cousins and friends in the UK.

"I ran away from bombings and death and I found hell here," he said. "It is very difficult here, I am afraid and cold."

Yousef is waiting for the legal procedures to end so he can leave the country. "I don't have anyone here in France, I want to continue my education and find a job. I walked for so long, I am so tired, why is it so tough? Why can't they let us be with our relatives and the closest people we have?"