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Calais, and why planning matters

The chaos when the Calais camp was dismantled is down to a lack of planning on the part of both British and French governments, writes Simon Jones


As the last bus leaves the camp, I am reminded of a second curse of today's world (after too few people doing important jobs). It is our apparent commitment to brinksmanship. We leave everything to the last minute. Now this is ok when you're thinking about an evening out or a weekend away. It's not a good strategy for sorting out complex problems affecting the immediate safety and long-term futures of some of the world's most vulnerable people.

But it seems to be the mindset of both the French and British governments in relation to the children of the jungle. Our government has known since the start of this year of the presence of many hundreds of unaccompanied children who have a Dublin 3 claim to asylum in the UK (because they have close family already settled here). The government knows because of the work of Citizens UK identifying and registering them, taking a test case to court and opening up a channel with the Prefecture to transfer children from Calais to London. 

Yet our government did nothing. Indeed it opposed Citizens UK in the courts. It lost the first round but won on appeal - lots of money spent to keep children out of the country that could have spent bringing them to safety. 

Then when the French finally decided that they had to remove the jungle, the British sprang into action with all the all the energy of a lethargic snail. Acknowledging that something needed to be done, they then allowed any and every obstacle to slow the process down. They managed to transfer 200 unaccompanied minors in a week but there it has ended. Our government is now locked in unseemly buck-passing with the French government. The thinking seems to be 'who can be seen doing the least to resolve this situation?’

The chaos when the camp was dismantled that has resulted in 2,000+ people, many of them children, existing with precious little support and no idea of what the future holds for them, is down to a lack of planning on the part of both governments. Now we all know that lack of proper planning results in piss-poor performance. But it reveals something more than that. It reveals a complete indifference to the consequences of our poor planning, in this case, the abandonment of some of the most vulnerable people in France.

Proper planning is evidence that we care. It shows that we are prepared to put ourselves out, commit resources to ensure that those who need our help, get it. Lack of planning demonstrates that we actually do not care at all about these people. The lack of proper planning on the part of our government and the government of France shows that neither really cares what happens to those who have come seeking refuge, safety, help.

On 2 November the buses took unaccompanied minors to accommodation and assessment centres across France. Some of them were accompanied by officials from the UK border force whose job will be to assess Dublin 3 claims that any of the minors have. This is a change from the previous week when the mood music was that children who had been registered as having a Dublin 3 claim would be bussed to the UK to have it sorted out there. The upshot of this is probably that fewer of these children will make it to the UK, more families will remain divided, more minors will remain stuck in limbo.

On 3 November the final residents - women and children and a few male partners - left the Jules Ferry centre. The camp goes quiet for a while.


Photo: malachybrowne / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

Related: Witnessing the jungle's last gasp

Simon Jones is ministry team leader at Bromley Baptist Church. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, A Sideways Glance, and is used with permission

Baptist Times, 14/11/2016
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