I condemn the destruction of Calais legal centre

I have visited the Calais Jungle Camp twice since December 2015, most recently on February 15 2016, when I was shown the Legal Centre. I have spoken with dozens of dispossessed people (including many women, children and unaccompanied minors) who have found themselves living in the camp, unable to move on to join family and friends in the UK, and with no desire to submit themselves to further trauma back in their war-torn countries or in other parts of continental Europe where too many of them have sadly been victims of violence and racism.

The Legal Centre, with its group of qualified and experienced volunteers, has been a key component of the infrastructure in the camp, manned by compassionate and committed European citizens who wish to uphold the EU's fundamental values and ensure that relevant authorities do not flout human rights in their dealings with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The recent and inexplicable destruction of the Legal Centre by fire raises many questions at a time when areas of the camp have been subjected to heavy-handed clearance and increased presence by the CSR, in what appears to be a campaign to break the social ties between those living in the camp.

 

The camp residents are not without rights although their capacity to act is limited by lack of finance and poor language skills. Negotiating the world of officialdom in a foreign country puts them at an immediate disadvantage. Hence the crucial role played by the Legal Centre whose painstaking work is to be applauded.

 

I condemn, therefore, what appears to be a systematic campaign by the CSR to frustrate the invaluable work of volunteer aid organisation's including those engaged in legal processes. Vulnerable people fleeing from conflict should be given protection and access to services rather than be subjected to callous inhumane treatment and denied their rights. When the state will not step up to assume its responsibility we see all too often that civil society steps into the vacuum. This is exactly why the Legal Centre at the Calais Jungle Camp was established. At the very least I expect an independent inquiry as to how the fire in the centre started, and what arrangements have been made to provide an alternative facility.