COVID-19 in northern France: What that UK must do to help
You can’t socially distance if you’re living in a tent.
You can’t stay safe during this pandemic if, instead of helping you, the authorities are evicting you from that tent.
While many aspects of everyday life have changed for many of us, the UK government’s hostile border policy in Northern France sadly remains unchanged. As a result, over 1000 displaced people are in an increasingly dangerous situation, unable to keep themselves safe or act according to government and health service advice to help protect wider public health.
Just this Wednesday, the French authorities evicted an area of tents in Calais, taking people’s shelter and leaving them with nothing. Even in the current unprecedented circumstances moving people on and confiscating tents happens every two days. A group of people tried to protest on Wednesday morning and were met with police violence. With tensions incredibly high, stones were allegedly thrown in the direction of police officers and heavy use of force and tear gas followed. The situation is growing more desperate and Covid-19 is making a political circumstance void of basic rights, even more deadly.
Together with Refugee Rights Europe, we’re asking that the UK government make changes to the way that the UK operates its border – to recognise both the huge suffering that the continuation of business-as-usual causes, as well as recognition that the COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the already dreadful situation of human rights in Northern France, even further.
By outsourcing its border to N.France, the UK has a responsibility to those who are at the door asking for help and the conditions that they are forced to survive in as a result of such political arrangements.
We hope that our recommendations are heard and that swift action by the UK government takes place – to protect the lives of people in northern France, and through truly prioritising their own public health advice, all of us.
The UK must:
A. Allocate funding to the amount of £4.5 million (10% of that committed to more security in the 2018 Sandhurst Treaty) to support the French government’s ongoing strategy to offer accommodation and ensure that this funding is used to ensure universal access to dignified and safe shelter.
B. Instructing the UK Border Force (UKBF) not to return individuals arriving on UK territory to northern France. Those seeking protection arriving at UK shores at this time should be provided safe and humane reception while they await their asylum screening interviews and not fast-tracked to deportation or placed in any form of detention.
C. Allocate funding for the deployment of specialist Home Office caseworkers to northern France for extra efforts to identify and speed up transfer to the UK for at-risk groups and individuals such as victims of trafficking, unaccompanied minors, LGBTQ+ persons and people with disabilities, victims of physical, mental or sexual abuse.
D. Guarantee that administrative immigration detention at the UK’s Short-Term Holding Facilities in northern France is discontinued – in line with the UK governments COVID-19 response rules, and international advice on the functioning of detention centres and prisons.