People seeking to make the treacherous journey across the Channel to seek asylum in Britain are experiencing “routine” human rights abuses in northern France, charities have warned Rishi Sunak.
In a letter to the new prime minister, grassroots organisations under the banner of Calais Appeal accused his nascent government of “mocking” the rights of those fleeing war, after home secretary Suella Braverman invoked the far-right rhetoric of an “invasion” on England’s south coast.
As the record numbers of people crossing the Channel in small boats dominate headlines, aid groups warned the “harsh reality on the ground” is being ignored, with Calais and Grand Snythe remaining “cruel and dangerous” places for the thousands of displaced people living there.
French police are continuing to create a “hostile environment” in the region, carrying out evictions in makeshift camps every 36 to 48 hours, the eight humanitarian groups warned – in what they alleged was a “direct result of UK taxpayer money funding French border police”.
“During these evictions, people’s limited personal belongings – tents, blankets, bags, identity papers, mobile phones, medicines and clothes – are often destroyed on the spot or thrown into skips,” Mr Sunak was told.
“The right to shelter is routinely abused. The state refuses to provide any access to water within a reasonable distance of living sites and organisations under our umbrella are threatened with fines for distributing warm meals.”
While aid groups celebrated a court’s decision last month to order authorities in northern France to lift a two-year ban on distributing food to migrants last month, Calais Appeal warned that other state clampdowns still remain in place.
The UK government has “poured money into fortifying the border through drones, fences” and barbed wire, the groups said, while Britain has agreed to hand over tens of millions of pounds to France to police its northern coast.
Meanwhile, Downing Street has signalled an intent not only to press ahead with Boris Johnson’s government’s ailing plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda – described by Ms Braverman as her “dream” – but also to extend it to other countries.
The announcement of the scheme had a “devastating and immediate” effect on the mental health of those displaced in northern France, Calais Appeal warned Mr Sunak on Thursday.
“Families feared they risked being flown to Rwanda before their asylum claim had been heard, and that they would remain in Rwanda if their claim was accepted,” they wrote. “The atmosphere was very tense and despondent whilst people dealt with these uncertainties; two people took their own lives amidst all the confusion and misinformation.”
In contrast, the “admirable success” of the visa scheme for Ukrainian refugees, many of whom were briefly accommodated in Calais, shows the UK and France are able to collaborate to provide people with safe passage, the groups said.
But they warned that the government “is failing to fulfil this responsibility to people of other nationalities facing equal threats” who “are treated with an inhumane disregard at almost every stage of their journey” – despite some 80 per cent of all asylum applications in the UK succeeding.
The letter to Mr Sunak came just under three weeks ahead of the anniversary of the deadliest day of the Channel crisis, during which at least 31 people drowned trying to reach Britain.
“They died because the UK’s asylum system is broken,” the groups told Mr Sunak, adding: “In limiting people’s options to arrive to the UK safely you are forcing them to undertake horrendous, life-threatening journeys.”
They added: “As long as people seeking safety, reuniting with their families and a new home are ignored and harassed by the authorities, we’ll be here in solidarity.”
A government spokesperson said: “Countries across the world have a shared moral responsibility to tackle illegal migration and we are working extremely closely with the French on the ground to stop people making dangerous journeys across the Channel.
“Together, we have stopped over 28,000 illegal crossings since the start of the year – nearly twice the number at this stage last year. Our priority is to break the business model of people smugglers who are exploiting vulnerable people and putting their lives at risk through these dangerous and illegal journeys.”