Friday, 20 November 2009

UNHCR Hypocrisy?

In a startling piece of double-think Wilbert Van Hövell, the regional representative of the UNHCR in Western Europe, claimed yesterday that “the situation of the migrants in Calais improved overall”* in the 6 months since their Calais office has been open. What planet is he living on?

He claims that “since the end of the 'Jungle', one notices that the number of migrants in Calais fell, which is a positive point”, and that “the fact of preventing very new squat also plays in the favour of this fall...The situation improved since October and the care is always accessible to the migrants… it is well.” What care? Being brutalised and detained every night by the CRS? Loosing all your possessions, your sleeping bag, clothes, money, mobile phone, etc. Only to be turfed out on the cold and wet streets the next day with only the clothes on your back. That's progress?

"Moreover, the town hall will place at the disposal a room for the great cold plan. It is positive…” But that happens every year and only operated when the daytime temperature remains below OºC.

And of course the UNHCR is having more migrants through their doors forced to contemplate taking the 'voluntary' repatriation grants offered and return to the various war zones around the globe that they fled originally because they have gotten the incredibly heavy-handed 'message' that they are not welcome...and of course it justifies all those UNHCR jobs in to the bargain. Its even been busy in the Loon-Plage 'Jungle' recently, prior to its destruction this week, running the gauntlet of the traffickers as the try to persuade the migrants to take the offer of voluntary assisted return. Its either that or forced repatriation somewhere down the line unless they can make it across the Channel, or die trying.

So what does he think are negatives about the 'Jungle' destructions? Not enough 'reception facilities', especially for minors, unlike Belgium apparently, where he is based. Not enough charter flights of course, and the fact that there are fewer migrants in Calais "from one point of view is a positive. The concern is that the problem is in the process of moving not only in France but also Belgium, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. The situation is not resolved." Now that's a bit of realism on his part. As is the contradiction he highlights in saying "We urge these people to stop illegality by asking them to engage in, proceedings to which they will no doubt be refused. This is proof if any (were needed) of the difficult in applying EU asylum policy." Exactly.

In Wilbert Van Hövell's home city of Brussels some of those displace Calais migrants will no doubt be staying in the tent city recently built by 5 migrant aid groups in a public park near the city's Gare du Nord railway station. The action to erect the 15 tents to house refugees forced on to the streets by the lack of adequate housing is being "tolerated" by city authorities. There are a dozen "family" tents capable of sheltering 50 people, three tents for health care, legal and social advice, and food support. And by mid-afternoon Wednesday around 100 people were trying to enter the camp.

Belgium is obliged under its own laws to provide housing for asylum seekers but more than 1,000 asylum seekers currently have nowhere to go but the streets with winter rapidly approaching but the NGOs accept their camp is hardly the solution. "Days and nights have gone by, and still no assurance has been given for taking care of people who are sent out into the streets every day, as a result of lacking capacity to house them," a joint press statement from Medecins Sans Frontieres, Medecins du Monde, Caritas International, CIRE and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen claimed.

* Apologies for the poor French-English translation through out.

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