Photo: malachybrowne/flickr.com

Hungary has been greatly criticised by the EU for their treatment of refugees and migrants during the influx in 2015, for being actively hostile towards them and closing their borders to migrants. Germany and Sweden, on the other hand, employed a more inclusive approach to migration and accepted a large number of migrants. Their extremely diverging approaches in dealing with the refugee crisis has created confusion conflict regarding refugee policy and has led to Europe wide debates. Currently, every individual state can largely decide their policy on asylum seekers and refugees, providing that it is in line with the UN Convention on Refugees. Yet, ‘protection’ does not explicitly feature in the UN Refugee Convention, meaning there is a lack of clarity regarding protection in international law. The outbreak of war in Syria and the increase in the number of refugees and migrants entering Europe has provoked increasing need for international cooperation across country lines.

Worldwide there are large number of refugee camps and detention centres of different types, ranging from permanent purpose built to sprawling ad-hoc camps. Camps allow for a country to control and protect migrants and refugees but can also act to ghettoise the individuals and discourage integration. Arguably one of the most famous European camps for migrants and refugees is the Jungle in Calais. The camp has existed in one form or another since the late 1990s and has changed in size and identity dramatically since then. The camp was originally formed of a relatively small group of individuals waiting in France for safe passage to the UK. But as of October 2016, there were an estimated 9,000 migrants in the camp, according to aid groups and the President of the Calais region. The Calais camp has allowed for initial rudimentary processes of urban development and it raised questions about the place of ‘stateless’ people and migrants in modern European society. The camp was characterised by a number of different 'regions' for different national and religious groups in the camps, this has allowed for socialisation and politicisation of the migrants. Beginning this week, the Calais camp is being demolished and individuals are being transferred to detention centres throughout France. Although it is widely recognised that the camp is inhumane and dangerous, the way that the camp is being destructed will leave more people increasingly vulnerable, the largest concern is of the fate of hundreds of unaccompanied minors within the camps. There are well founded concerns that children may go missing and become increasingly vulnerable to trafficking and gangs.  Destroying this camp may lead to many, smaller camps cropping up in Northern France and a proliferation of dangerous conditions. Rhetoric surrounding the ‘clearing’ of the Calais camp has embodied the abrupt nature of the clearing and has been largely clinical, without reflection on the thousands of individual lives that will be drastically changed by the monumental decision.

The destruction of the camp at Calais reflects some of the negative attitudes towards migrants and refugees in Europe. People will continue to move and some will inevitably arrive in Calais, awaiting transit to the UK. This should be accepted and acknowledged with safer migration routes and protection for the individual migrants.

Furthermore, the concept of ‘protection’ of the refugee needs to be defined. Currently the UN Convention on Refugees outlines the rights of the refugee but does not state to what lengths a country must go to protect the individual from harm. The UN Convention addresses the long-term rights of the refugee, including employment rights and the right to welfare, but there is little addressing the immediate obligation to a refugee or migrant when they arrive in a country. Refugee and migrant rights should be closely aligned with human rights protection, taking into account the reasons people migrate and their expectations for life once they reach their destination.

The final seminar of Migration Week is on Friday 28th October, it will address 'Arrivals' and examine the rights and protection of refugees where ever they live. For more information: Migration Week

By Anna Gopsill

Anna Gopsill

Project Adviser and PhD candidate