The number of migrants at the Calais refugee camp has increased since the EU referendum result in the UK, according to a senior MEP visiting the site.
Portuguese Socialist MEP Ana Gomes says that increasing numbers have arrived at the camp, dubbed “the jungle,” in the three weeks since the 23 June poll.
“It appears they are being attracted by the false illusion that borders will be open after Brexit,” said Gomes.
She says the rising number of refugees necessitates urgent action in tackling the networks of human traffickers who, she says, “supply the oxygen” for such encampments.
Gomes told this website, “The Calais camp is being sustained by smugglers. They are the ones who are feeding the false illusion to refugees that Brexit somehow means they will more easily gain entry to the UK. They seem to think that it will now be easier to cross the border.”
She added, “From what we have seen this week, much more needs to be done to disempower the smugglers and people traffickers.”
Gomes led a nine-strong delegation of MEPs from the European Parliament's civil liberties committee to Calais and another refugee camp 40km away at Dunkirk on Wednesday during which the group met local mayors, civil society representatives and refugees themselves, many from Sudan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Chad.
The deputies visited reception facilities and a school project and also met NGOs, local authorities and representatives at the French/British coordination centre to assess conditions for people on the site.
French officials are frustrated with the migrants’ nightly efforts to force their way across the Channel, either through the tunnel or aboard trucks. It means that thousands of police have to be deployed around the camp.
Gomes, back in Brussels on Thursday, said there was a “big contrast” between the camp in Calais where she says conditions continue to be “lamentable “ and the neighbouring camp which is better maintained.
She said the authorities told the MEPs that, to date, it had cost some €18m to maintain the two camps, plus the “huge” security costs involved.
Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais said it was time for the camp, which houses thousands of migrants, to be demolished.
Bouchart said she wanted to see the northern half of the camp, which houses around 4500 migrants, dismantled as soon as possible. The southern half was torn down earlier this year.
But there are fears about the fate of the many children who currently reside at the camp.
Currently the only oversight these children have is the network of volunteers providing aid on the ground.
Gomes said, “There is real concern about the high number of unaccompanied minors, children under the age of 18, at the camp in Calais. There are an estimated 600 of them at Calais alone. I spoke to one boy who said he had walked from him home in Afghanistan to get there.”
The migrants, who are mainly from Africa and the Middle East, are sleeping in makeshift huts and tents in squalid conditions as they desperately try to find a way to make it to Britain.
“They are living in huts which are usually grossly overcrowded. These are extremely difficult conditions and, contrary to what we were led to believe, the camp has not been dismantled but merely relocated 100 metres from where it originally was.”
Gomes believes the situation at the camp will not be resolved until effective action is taken to “dismantle” the networks of smugglers who, she says, continue to ferry refugees to Calais.
“It is a very lucrative business and we spoke to refugees some of whom said they had paid thousands of euros to traffickers to get to Calais where they still hope to be able to gain entry to the UK.
“The great challenge is to persuade these people that they should try to go through the proper legal channels and seek asylum in France, or other countries, rather than clinging to the hope that they can get to the UK.
“More action is also needed to disempower the smugglers who supply the oxygen for camps like those in Calais and Greece.”
Gomes said a report on the delegation's visit would be drafted and discussed by MEPs in the autumn.
Meanwhile, a report by the Refugee Rights Data Project has found that more than three-quarters of refugees living in the “Jungle” said they experienced police violence.
Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director at Unicef UK, described the reports as “deeply worrying”.
She said: “This will cut off any hope of a safe and legal route, which they’re entitled to, and effectively drive them onto the train tracks and into the backs of Lorries.”