Near the port of Calais, France, an estimated three thousand migrants from the Middle East and Africa who hope to go to the United Kingdom or gain asylum in France, live in a makeshift village on sandy terrain called “The Jungle.”
The migrants, hailing from countries like Afghanistan, Syria, and Sudan, get a hot meal each day, line up for showers, charge their phones, and get French language lessons – all which are provided through the Jules Ferry Refugee Center and made possible by the French government and local non-governmental agencies (NGOs).
Many who live in The Jungle know the dangers of attempting to enter the Eurotunnel terminal to jump on U.K.-bound cars and trains. At least 10 migrants have reportedly died while attempting to cross the channel between Britain and France since June. Sixty migrants are treated each day for injuries in The Jungle that, more often than not, are obtained by trying to hop the fences and scale the barbed wire that stands between the migrant and their path to the U.K.
Yet, as many as one thousand migrants within an overnight period will attempt to reach the Eurotunnel, in groups as big as three hundred people. This number is an improvement compared to previous statistics, primarily due to French and British efforts to bolster security forces at the entrances and exits of the Eurotunnel.
The joint effort between France and the U.K. has put close to £20.4 million, or over $31.5 million, to protecting the Eurotunnel and the general Calais port area with more “physical security” like additional police, extra fencing, CCTV, and detection dogs.
In a statement published on August 1 in the Sunday Telegraph, UK Home Secretary Theresa May and French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve called the migration crisis a “top priority” for both countries, and urged EU support.
“Many of those in Calais and attempting to cross the Channel have made their way there through Italy, Greece or other countries. That is why we are pushing other member states – and the whole of the EU – to address this problem at root,” the statement read.
The United Nation’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has also called for European Union support for a comprehensive solution to the increase of migrants in Calais.
“What is really important is to get the EU to develop a coordinated response,” said Céline Schmitt, a UNHCR spokesperson who recently returned from The Jungle and the Calais region. “Many of [those who have arrived in Calais] have seen conflict and war. They need assistance and the EU has to reply.”
The EU has since taken action: Europe has planned to relocate about 120,000 migrants and refugees – with France recently announcing that they will take in 24,000 over the next two years and Germany pledging an additional $6.7 billion toward the effort.
The UNHCR also said that while the joint security efforts of France and Britain are necessary, other actions need to be taken to remedy the problem.
“It is totally legitimate for countries to be concerned about security, but that can’t be the only response. They need to respond to those who need assistance,” said Schmitt. “It’s important to make sure [the migrants] have the access they need to asylum. They have already suffered, and they need humanity.”
Many migrants in The Jungle and those in “quite a few” smaller groups in Calais and the French region have increasingly been seeking asylum, rather than taking the dangerous trip through the Eurotunnel. More than one thousand applications for asylum to France are coming from Calais thanks to the efforts of the UNHCR and NGOs that educate migrants and help steer them through the process.
“We’ve been advocating for the French government to reduce delays for access to asylum, and the delays have improved,” Schmitt said. “But more needs to be done to find solutions. Other European countries, not just France, need to be willing to accommodate asylum-seekers who want to move to another country for language or family reasons.”
The migrant crisis is increasingly becoming a larger issue outside of Calais. Thousands started to set-off on foot seeking refuge in Germany and Austria after Hungary’s train station remained inaccessible to them. Police forces and migrants are getting into scuffles daily along Europe’s borders in places like Macedonia, and hundreds of migrants have died in smuggling attempts over land and sea.
While Schmitt agrees that progress has been made on the issue, she says more effective plans and policies need to be implemented in order to see positive change relative to the crisis.
“We have been working with the EU regarding migrants and refugees, and we’re ready to help. We have to make sure that there is reception capacity for people who can arrive, that they can apply for asylum, and that they can gain assistance,” Schmitt said. “We are ready and we are already working with countries to give advice and help.”
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