The last bus has left the refugee camp in Calais, France, known as the “jungle.”
Closing the camp has reminded me of a second curse of today’s world (the first is too few people doing important jobs): our apparent commitment to brinksmanship.
We leave everything to the last minute.
Now, this is OK when you’re thinking about an evening out or a weekend away. It’s not a good strategy for sorting out complex problems affecting the immediate safety and long-term futures of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
But it seems to be the mindset of both the French and British governments in relation to the children of the jungle.
The U.K. government has known since the start of this year of the presence of many hundreds of unaccompanied children who have a Dublin 3 claim to asylum in the U.K. (because they have close family already settled here).
The government knows because of the work of Citizens UK identifying and registering them, taking a test case to court and opening up a channel with the prefecture to transfer children from Calais to London.
Yet, our government did nothing. Indeed, it opposed Citizens UK in the courts. It lost the first round but won on appeal – lots of money spent to keep children out of the country that could have been spent bringing them to safety.
Then, when the French finally decided that they had to remove the jungle, the British sprang into action with all the energy of a lethargic snail.
Acknowledging that something needed to be done, they then allowed any and every obstacle to slow the process down. They managed to transfer 200 unaccompanied minors in a week, but there it has ended.
Our government is now locked in unseemly buck-passing with the French government. The thinking seems to be “who can be seen doing the least to resolve this situation?”
The chaos in the camp when the dismantling began – which resulted in more than 2,000 people, many of them children, existing with precious little support and no idea of what the future holds for them – is down to a lack of planning on the part of both governments.
Now, we all know that lack of proper planning results in poor performance. But it reveals something more than that.
It reveals a complete indifference to the consequences of our poor planning – in this case, the abandonment of some of the most vulnerable people in France.
Proper planning is evidence that we care. It shows that we are prepared to put ourselves out, to commit resources to ensure that those who need our help get it.
Lack of planning demonstrates that we actually do not care at all about these people.
The lack of proper planning on the part of our government and the government of France shows that neither really cares what happens to those who have come seeking refuge, safety, help.
On Nov. 2, buses took unaccompanied minors to accommodation and assessment centers across France.
Some of them were accompanied by officials from the U.K. border force whose job will be to assess Dublin 3 claims that any of the minors have.
This is a change from the last week of October when the public was informed that children who had been registered as having a Dublin 3 claim would be bussed to the U.K. to have it sorted out there.
The result of this change is probably that fewer of these children will make it to the U.K.; more families will remain divided, and more minors will remain stuck in limbo.
The final residents – women and children and a few male partners – left the Jules Ferry center on Nov. 3.
The camp goes quiet for a while.
Simon Jones is ministry team leader at Bromley Baptist Church in Bromley, a suburb of London. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, A Sideways Glance, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @bromleyminister.
A writer and Baptist minister, Jones is about to step down from his role as Vice Principal of Spurgeon’s College in London to concentrate on working with Peaceful Borders, offering support to displaced people in Calais and London.