UNHCR calls for comprehensive response to the Calais situation
GENEVA, Aug 7 (UNHCR) - Stressing the situation was neither new nor unmanageable, the UN refugee agency said on Friday there were an estimated 3,000 refugees and migrants in Calais and elsewhere on the northern coast of France - virtually the same number as last November.
However, UNHCR expressed concern over the rising death toll among refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Channel from the French port city into the United Kingdom, at least 10 since the beginning of June.
"This is a worrying development... UNHCR reiterates its call made since the summer of 2014 for a comprehensive response to the worsening reception conditions for refugees and migrants in Calais," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a press briefing in Geneva.
"Security measures alone - although understandable - are unlikely to be effective by themselves," she stressed.
Fleming stressed that many of the people in Calais and nearby were in need of international protection. "They are refugees who have fled conflict, violence and persecution in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Syria," she said.
UNHCR remains concerned at the dire living and reception conditions in makeshift sites around Calais and encourages the French authorities to relocate people from the current informal settlements and provide them with adequate reception conditions in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region as well as in other locations.
"Women and children who now represent a notable group in Calais are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking and require special attention," Fleming emphasised.
"We also call on the United Kingdom and other EU member states to work in a collaborative manner with the competent French authorities in finding solutions for those in need of international protection - namely in cases where there are existing family or other links in another EU Member State in accordance with the existing European legislation," she added.
UNHCR says the situation in Calais is a reflection of broader refugee and migration movements in Europe which, in turn, are dwarfed by huge refugee displacements in the Middle East and Africa.
Today, the four countries neighbouring Syria host more than four million Syrian refugees. One in three of the around 224,500 people arriving to Europe this year are Syrian refugees - families fleeing one of the deadliest conflicts in recent history.
The situation in Calais has highlighted the need for greater responsibility and coordination and robust implementation of the Common European Asylum System.
UNHCR says EU member states need to address current gaps in asylum and reception, and increase solidarity measures such as relocation and other legal avenues for people to reach safety. A genuinely collective and far-reaching European response is required, based on the principles of humanity, access to protection, solidarity and responsibility-sharing, both within the EU but also with countries outside the EU.
"Not all the people gathering in Calais may be refugees. Solutions for these other groups may include humane and dignified return to their countries of origin or other countries where they have lived before, in cooperation with the countries of origin and in accordance with international human rights standards," Fleming concluded.
UNHCR remains ready to further assist France, the United Kingdom and other EU Member States, in finding practical and comprehensive solutions.
By Jonathan Clayton, Geneva