Condemning the operation, refugee groups say children are required to be properly looked after
Tags: Calais, Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, Afghanistan, Alan Johnson, Gemma Juma, Eric Besson
23rd September 2009: Even as the French police bulldozed a fetid forest camp near Calais and detained illegal immigrants who had hoped to slip across the English Channel into Britain, refugee groups have urged Britain to take in some of the youngsters.
Condemning the operation carried out with the help of 600 officers surrounding the site, they asked Britain to take in children with links to the country.
The activists even yelled at police with megaphones when the operation was being carried out, and some formed a human chain around the refugees. A brief scuffled also took place with the police as they took the men and boys one by one.
In all, a total of 278 people, mainly immigrants from Afghanistan, were detained in the first phase of the operation. Nearly half of them were minors, said Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, the top official for the Pas-de-Calais region.
The criticism by the refugee groups came a day after Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he was "delighted" over the impending closure of `Jungle’ — the immigrant camp in Calais; and described as wrong the reports that Britain could be "forced" to take illegal immigrants.
Describing the camp’s repugnant conditions as shameful, policy manager at the Refugee Council Gemma Juma, on the other hand, said they had always been concerned about the vulnerability of the people living in hideous conditions. The fact so many were so young should make them feel ashamed that a better solution had not been found before now, she said, adding they would need to make sure all of the children were safe and properly looked after.
The option should not be ruled out of bringing them to the UK in a small number of cases to be reunited with friends and family, she added.
Activist group Refugee Action also described the police operation "horrific" and inhumane, but insisted the camp should not have been permitted to come up in the very first place. They should never have been allowed to rot like, said Sandy Buchan, the group’s chief executive.
Meanwhile, French immigration minister Eric Besson said the Jungle was a base camp for human traffickers; and added the law of the jungle could not last eternally, and a state of law must be re-established in Calais.
He said each immigrant was being offered individual options, and that 180 have agreed to return to their homelands and 170 started applying for asylum in France.
Available information suggests the operation saw the refugees, teen included, in jeans and sweatshirts being led away in single lines by police. Some refugees even cried as the police loaded them on to buses. They insisted they wanted to stay in the camp, while voicing apprehensions about being returned to Afghanistan.
Besson clarified the operation did not witness any violence. All personal belongings had been collected and were being sorted in the Calais mosque. Thirty interpreters and a medical team were helping authorities, and 200 temporary beds were arranged for the immigrants.
He asserted other smaller camps scattered around the region, which were sheltering Iraqi Kurds and illegal migrants from other trouble spots, would too be cleared out this week.
Related article: Home Secretary Johnson `delighted’ over the impending closure of `the jungle’