Use the law to escape ‘the Jungle’
A visit to the Calais refugee camp reveals the pressing need for a legal solution
THREE MEN from Sudan communing around a portable stove beckoned us over and insisted we eat with them. They made us their guests, although their ramshackle canvas neighbourhood is barely any kind of home.
The men live in the so-called “Calais Jungle”, housed in tents, corrugatediron shacks and other forms of temporary accommodation. We were humbled when they invited us to become ushpizim, guests, on this bitingly cold evening during Succot.
It is hard to ignore the paradox of this role reversal. On Succot, Jews welcome guests into our temporary dwellings. Residents of the Jungle, from countries including Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, want to live in Britain and enjoy the refuge that so many of us owe our lives to. Yet here they were offering us, unannounced British Jewish guests, their hospitality. We couldn’t accept their food — it would have felt grossly unfair.
The people seeking sanctuary on our shores need more than our compassion. They need more than popular support in favour of government accepting more refugees. They need what we do not have yet: a solution appropriate to the legal reality of their situation. European legislation and British decision-making means there is no legal way for the people we met to enter the UK. Asylum-seekers have to be processed in the first country they enter, while Britain has no adequate facility for processing refugees off its shores. Airlines and shipping companies must pay for rejected asylum-seekers to return home. They will not risk this, so there is no legal or safe passage for refugees into Europe. This is why at least two people died in Calais this week.
The government’s response of flying 20,000 refugees over five years from Lebanon will not solve this crisis. It is too few and ignores the presence of people seeking sanctuary in Britain on our doorstep.
We have to recognise our role in the European refugee crisis. This does not mean opening our doors unconditionally, but it means finding safe and legal ways for asylum seekers already in Europe to have their cases heard. We have to establish a presence in Calais and become part of a co-ordinated international response. No one should have to risk their life to merely begin an asylum process in Britain.
As Jews, we have done ourselves proud in the level of solidarity with refugees, but now we need more than sentiment and short-term sticking plasters. We need a long-term legal process.
Unless a way of is found to process the claims of asylum seekers in Europe, camps like “the Jungle” won’t disappear