Asylum seekers continue to flock to Calais in the hope of reaching Britain because France does so little to help new arrivals find work, retrain or integrate, a group of immigrants has told MPs.
Four refugees, including three Sudanese men who are the subject of our 18-month project, The New Arrivals, spelled out how desperate life is for newcomers in France in a letter to their MP during consultations on France’s new immigration and asylum law.
Ahmed, Ali and Mohamed also met their local MP, Bénédicte Peyrol of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party, to set out their frustrations with the “bureaucracy and indolence” of the current system.
“Lots more people will go to Calais because they are hearing stories like ours: it takes too long to get work in France, and so people prefer to leave,” the letter said, according to a copy seen by the Guardian’s partner paper in the project, Le Monde.
“It’s lots of waiting and no rights,” it added. “We don’t have the right to work, there are no French lessons, or only with volunteers. To wait without knowing if one has a future, without knowing if one will be accepted or not, is psychologically very difficult.”
Opponents of immigration in the UK frequently ask why asylum claimants do not settle in the first safe country they come to, but instead go to such extreme lengths to reach Britain. In fact, the UK habitually deals with fewer asylum claims than the likes of France, Germany and Italy.
Nonethless, the tendency of migrants to head north to Calais in a bid to enter Britain has persisted for more than a decade. The notorious “Jungle” camp in Calais, once home to about 10,000 people hoping to make it to Britain, was demolished in 2016, but hundreds of migrants remain in the port city seeking to stow away on trucks bound for England.
The Sudanese men, who fled the country in 2015 and were granted refugee status in Varennes-sur-Allier last year, said they were grateful to France for giving them protection. But they added that the system was often impossible to negotiate.
“You have to validate things on an employment office personal page – and some people don’t even have computers,” they wrote in the letter. “It’s unfair how training courses are assigned. Some people get four or five French courses in a year, others get none.
“But the biggest problem is that it’s difficult to get work. We want to work. Some of us have been in France for three years and still have nothing.”