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UK and French Governments plan mass deportation of Afghan refugees

By staff writers
July 16, 2009

Campaigners are mobilising on both sides of the channel to protest against a planned mass deportation of Afghan migrants from Calais next week, involving the UK and French Governments.

According to verified sources, it will begin next Tuesday (21st July) with the destruction of the 'Jungle' - the name given to the makeshift camps housing around 1,800 migrants.

The area inhabited by the Afghan Pashtu will be the first hit but other 'jungles' also risk being destroyed.

Conditions for migrants in Calais, many of whom are refugees, have been described as "atrocious" by Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council. Refugees are often camped on waste ground and in squatted houses in the town, forced to queue each day for soup kitchens provided by local volunteers and have little access to basic facilities such as running water.

Included amongst them are unaccompanied children.

France’s Interior Minister Eric Besson made it clear in January that he wanted to see all migrants removed from Calais and the surrounding area by the end of the summer. The project has already started with the bulldozing of camps at Loon-Plage and Teteghem and the destruction of squats in Calais over the past month.

After the Evian pre G8 summit on 6th July an agreement was signed between the French and British governments, in which the UK promised France £15 million for border protection in return for help in deporting immigrants.

Details are now emerging of plans to forcibly deport hundreds of people by charter flight to Kabul.

In November last year, charter flights to Afghanistan were cancelled after campaigners mobilised in protest. The UK and French governments’ attempts to carry out the mass deportation to Afghanistan through a joint charter flight were overruled by the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that the operation would violate article 4 of the European Declaration on Human Rights. This forbids the "collective expulsion of foreigners". The ruling also mentioned the trilateral agreement signed in 2002 by UNHCR with the Afghan and French governments, which stipulates that "the return of Afghans who do not enjoy protection... will be carried out in a gradual, ordered and humane way".

In an open letter to the then interior minister Brice Hortefeux, MEP Hélène Flautre highlighted the risk entailed by repatriations as "irreparable", referring back to the recent case of an Afghan, Mohammed Hussain, who, after repatriation from Australia, was kidnapped, tortured and finally beheaded.

Humanitarian groups in Calais are now attempting to inform migrants and a new campaign of solidarity is gathering pace on both sides of the channel.

In France, Salam, a humanitarian group who provide food daily to hundreds of refugees in Calais said yesterday: “We will continue our presence alongside the migrants everyday. Everything will be put in place to ensure they can exercise their rights and do avoid the charter flight to Kabul."

Alice Cutler from the UK based group, Calais Witnesses said: “Many individuals in Calais [who] are simply seeking safety and are trapped by a European immigration policy that is denying basic human rights. Without urgent intervention [that] there is very real threat of mass refoulement of asylum seekers back to countries of origin from which they have fled and where they could face torture, imprisonment and in some cases death. The British government share[s} equal responsibility for the proposed atrocities in northern France.”

A statement circulated to condemn the plans is calling for observers to go to Calais urgently. “In the wake of the clearance of migrant camps and residences in Patras, Greece and in Paris last week, we believe that strong condemnation of these plans and independent observers and monitors in Calais are urgently required” the statement says. "We call on you to pressure the British and French authorities to respect their international obligations to provide protection under the Geneva Convention and respect human rights. We demand the immediate cessation of any attempts to clear and destroy refugee camps as well as plans to deport migrants who have a right to seek asylum in Europe.”

The UNHCR estimates that 2.8 million refugees from Afghanistan are hosted in countries around the world.

You can read the full statement here

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