A Freedom of Information request has shed little light on where €10 million the UK pledged to help ease the Calais migrant crisis will actually go.
Home Office Secretary Theresa May pledged €5 million per year over two years to a joint France-UK project to strengthen security in Calais.
Yet amid a growing humanitarian crisis and with numbers in the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp in Calais doubling to more than 6000 in the last month, the FOI request – sent to the Home Office – reveals that the British government has been unable to confirm where the money will actually be spent.
“There are no expenditure plans available at present so we are unable to provide these or any specific details of the spend in relation to the Calais migrant camp,” the FOI response via the International and Immigration Policy Group (IIPG) states.
And despite Ms May’s public pronouncements that the funding would be spent on strengthening border security to keep migrants out of the UK, the IIPG claims the funding is earmarked for humanitarian programmes to help make life easier for the thousands of migrants living in squalor on the French side of the Channel.
The funding would be spent to support joint UK-French programmes to “ensure the safety of the most vulnerable people”, with plans for “removing vulnerable people briskly to places of safety” and “offer advice and support in protected accommodation to help with any claim for asylum in France”, the FOI response states.
This is starkly at odds with Ms May’s August statement that the funding would be spent on security rather than migrant aid or welfare.
Ms May said the funding – announced as part of a joint French-UK declaration signed in August – would be spent on a ‘control and command centre’ to “relentlessly pursue” people-smugglers.
The money would also be spent on a migrant publicity campaign to “correct any misapprehension” about the streets of the UK being “paved with gold”, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said at the time.
The IIPG’s FOI response goes on to say “the financial contribution will support the work the UK and French are doing to make it easier for migrants to return voluntarily to their home countries”.
There is no mention of how migrants from Syria might be repatriated given there is no end in sight to that country’s ongoing civil war.
In the response, the Government acknowledges that the management of the Calais migrant camp is “ultimately the responsibility of the French Government”, but that the French had “put in place a day centre … that provides a daily meal, shower, sanitary care and legal advice”.
Yet aid workers on the ground continue to report that migrants are living in dire conditions without basic sanitary care, shelter or legal advice.
A University of Birmingham report – released last month in conjunction with Doctors of the World (Médecins Du Monde) – found migrants living in “perilous conditions” that were “significantly contributing to their ill-health and injury”.
“Furthermore, the shortcomings in shelter, food and water safety, personal hygiene, sanitation and security are likely to have detrimental long-term health consequences for the camp’s residents over their lifecourse,” the report found.
“It is our assessment that the situation in Calais amounts to a humanitarian crisis and requires far greater resource than has been provided to date by state agencies to protect migrants in the camp. Conditions in the camp do not meet standards recommended by UNHCR, WHO or the Sphere project.”
Prior to €10 million August funding announcement, the UK had committed to a joint €15 million cross-Channel fund to pay for high security fencing at the Calais port.
The FOI response goes on to say that the UK had “invested tens of millions of pounds to bolster security at the ports in northern France”.
This includes 1.5 miles of secure fencing on the approach road to the Port of Calais and additional dog searching capabilities, it said.
Ms Petherick – France-based British citizen and a member of the France & Beyond refugee aid network – says she lodged the FOI request because she was concerned where funding for Calais was actually going.
“I wanted ask whether money from the UK was actually helping people and not just being spent on barbed wire and sniffer dogs,” she said.
“The provision of a safe water supply and improved hygiene should be priorities. For example, the UNHCR has recommended a minimum of one toilet per 20 people, yet the University of Birmingham reports that in Calais there is just one toilet for every 75 people. With migrant numbers growing, this will only get worse.
“Yet it seems the British taxpayers are subsidising French police and security efforts, but doing little else to actually help ease this humanitarian crisis.”