Inhabitants of Calais ‘Jungle’ treated ‘like cattle’, say Irish volunteers

Migrants in France still at risk from people traffickers, say truck drivers

Irish volunteers working with migrants in France have described as "inhumane" the manner in which the migrant camp known as the Calais "Jungle" is being dismantled, while truck drivers have said this course of action will not address the main issue, human trafficking.

"Without tackling the traffickers, who are taking advantage of these people, this is just a sticking plaster," said Joe Druhan, an Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) truck driver who travels through Calais regularly.

Architect Gráinne Hassett, senior lecturer at the University of Limerick, designed some of the key buildings in the camp, including a women and children's centre, a therapy and community space, a vaccination unit and a youth centre.

Ms Hassett is on her way back to Calais to try and salvage some of the structures, and was in constant contact with the camp by phone on Monday as the official closure got under way.


“I have been talking to many colleagues, and we are not convinced that we are seeing the hallmarks of a humane procedure,” Ms Hassett told The Irish Times .

“The queues may be orderly, but asking people, including women and children, to stand for hours with little information, and with food only provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), is not humane.

“People had been told they would be offered a choice of two regions in France to travel to, where they would be accommodated in reception centres, but instead people were just being told to get on a bus and given no information about their destination.

“Minors have been getting caught in the wrong queues, and there has been a serious and systematic abuse of children’s rights.”

It was only due to repeated lobbying by NGOs that plans had been made to reunite some minors with families in England, she added.

Environmental hazard

Ms Hassett warned of a serious environmental hazard if the French authorities tried to set fire to camp structures, as had occurred earlier this year when there was a partial closure.

"Apart from the toxic emissions from some of this material, there is the fact that some of these structures could be used in refugee camps in other parts of Europe, "she said.

"People are being herded like cattle; it is horrific,"said retired guidance counsellor Eileen Boyle. Ms Boyle, from Dublin, has worked with the French NGO L'Auberge des Migrants in Calais and intends to return in November. "I do not blame the French, as I am not sure Ireland would be any better at handling some 7,000 people, but I would be very concerned about their future."

IRHA president Verona Murphy said her members had mixed emotions.

“It may take pressure off drivers in Calais, but the sight of these people being herded like this is distressing,”Ms Murphy said. “Brexit has probably forced the French to look at this properly, but we don’t think for a minute it is going to stop people trying to gain access to trucks crossing the Channel.”

The five people, including a three-year-old girl, who were found in a trailer in New Ross, Co Wexford, over a week ago had gained access at a loading station in the west of France, she added.

Ms Murphy’s partner, Joe Druhan, said that traffickers have to be tackled, as they are taking advantage of people in desperate circumstances.

“Our members don’t use service stations on motorways in France any more, as the traffickers are taking people up and down in minibuses and looking for Irish- and English-registered vehicles,”Mr Druhan said. “They have master keys for padlocks, which means a driver can’t even stop briefly to go to the toilet, and risks being fined and having his consignment written off.

“The traffickers are even herding people into refrigerated vehicles, perhaps without telling them, as the refrigeration system kicks in when the engine starts up.”

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times