France dismantles a migrant camp at Calais

Briefing Notes, 22 September 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 September 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This morning the French authorities have started to dismantle the makeshift camp in the northern French city of Calais, where mainly Afghan individuals have stayed waiting for a chance to go to the UK. As far as we know, only relatively few of them are still there this morning, most having moved to other locations.

UNHCR recognizes the need to combat smuggling and trafficking of persons, and the right of the French government to maintain public order. We trust that the operation will be carried out in a correct and humane manner. Closing the so-called jungle camp does however not address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular migration, nor does it solve the problems of the people concerned, amongst whom there may be many with protection needs.

UNHCR therefore appeals to the French authorities to look for the best solution in each individual case, as discussed last week by High Commissioner Guterres with French Minister Besson. In particular we call on the French authorities to ensure that those who wish to apply for refugee protection are given access to a full and fair asylum procedure, with an effective right of appeal. They should also be given proper accommodation pending the determination of their asylum claim. Special measures need to be taken for unaccompanied minors.

The situation in Calais underscores, once again, the need for governments in Europe to intensify efforts to arrive at a common European asylum system not only on paper but also in practice.

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From the corners of the globe, the displaced converge in northern France

Hundreds of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees have created a number of makeshift camps in northern France. Drawn from a diverse range of countries, the men are hoping that from France they will be able to enter the United Kingdom.

Locals call it, "The Jungle" - a squalid warren of shanties made out of cardboard, plywood and bits of plastic that has mushroomed among the sand dunes and brambles outside Calais. Hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers from such faraway places as Afghanistan, Somalia and Vietnam have traveled for months and over rough terrain to camp out and eventually cross the 34-kilometre stretch of sea that separates Calais from England's White Cliffs of Dover.

Some have family in the UK or have heard that it is easy to get a good job there. Others have been forced to flee their countries because of political, religious or ethnic persecution, and may be entitled to refugee status.

Since early June, the UN refugee agency and its local partner, France Terre d'Asile, have been present in Calais, informing and counselling hundreds of people about asylum systems and procedures in France and the UK.

From the corners of the globe, the displaced converge in northern France

Braving the cold in Calais

Many boys and young men from places like Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and the Sudan end up in the northern French port of Calais after a long and dangerous journey. Some have fled their countries to escape persecution, conflict or forced recruitment, others are looking for a better life. Calais has become a transit point where people smugglers have established networks to take these men to other European countries. Their makeshift encampments are regularly cleared by the French police, and they sleep most nights out in the open. They live in fear of being arrested or deported. UNHCR's office in Calais seeks to provide the young men arriving in the city with information about their options and the asylum system in France.

Braving the cold in Calais

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Out in the Cold in Calais

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, migrants and asylum-seekers continue to flock to the northern French port of Calais in a bid to reach the United Kingdom across the English Channel. Some are from conflict zones and UNHCR wants to make sure they have access to asylum procedures.