6,000 people in a living hell: Calais camps judgment shows how vital our Human Rights Act is for protecting children and families

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 31 January 2016

The Upper Tribunal has now handed down judgment in the case of the three children and one young man left in the Calais camps. After ordering the Government last week to permit them to reunite with their families in Britain, the Tribunal has handed down its reasons. They are, to say the least, grimly illuminating.

With around 6,000 people forced to remain there, the camps were described as “a living hell”. The Upper Tribunal summarised the evidence in strong terms:

“the conditions prevailing in this desolate part of the earth are about as deplorable as any citizen of the developed nations could imagine.”

Indeed, a French court had previously held that the conditions gave rise to a real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment. But the Upper Tribunal found that, despite some changes made since then, “the appalling and highly dangerous living conditions continue”:

“The dangers include trafficking, violence, exploitation of unaccompanied children and the abuse, including rape, of women. Other sources of danger to human health include toxic white asbestos giving rise to the risk of carcinogenic disease.”

But it gets worse: those forced to remain there are, contrary to widespread media myth, extremely vulnerable. The applicants in this case are from Syria, separated from their families in the UK. Three are children, with another a 26-year-old man with a serious mental illness leaving him “completely dependent” on his 17-year-old brother. After leaving their homes, they had undergone the further trauma of a journey from the Middle East to Calais. Unsurprisingly, they suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric illnesses. As a witness attested: 

“The claimants do not have adequate access to the basic necessities of life to ensure that they are able to live with dignity. Instead they live under constant threat of violence from camp residents and the French authorities.”

In a telling passage, the Tribunal noted the Government’s misplaced priorities in its approach to Calais. Mr Justice McCloskey cited its “heavy emphasis on the primacy of security, public order, policing and breaches of the law” whilst the “plight and predicament of the human beings involved qualifies for secondary consideration only". The evidence suggested, in the court’s view, that government measures to protect those in the camps were “acutely inadequate”.

The Government sought to rely on a broken system of asylum regulation, known as the Dublin system. Under it, the Home Secretary sought to have the applicants remain in the camps whilst their claims were processed. Agreeing with our Supreme Court’s decision in EM (Eritrea) back in 2014, the Tribunal found that the Government must operate the Dublin system whilst respecting human rights. This includes the rights of the men, women, and children left – effectively to rot – in Calais.

Of course, the Tribunal took seriously the UK Government’s case for properly regulating asylum processes across Europe, and the UK right to control immigration. However, with families in the UK, and their lives being irreparably marred in the Calais camps, the Upper Tribunal found that there was no good reason for applicants not simply to join their families now.

Their cases demonstrate the importance of our Human Rights Act in protecting children and families, often in extremely dire circumstances. Cases like these are exactly why Article 8, along with all the other rights protected by our HRA, is so important.

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Policy and Advocacy Manager