French charity calls for Channel migrants to have same help as Ukraine refugees

Calais on north coast of France is the last stopping point for refugees trying to reach Britain

Messages of support for Ukraine outside the town hall in Lille, northern France, as a row is developing over perceived privilege among refugees. Bloomberg

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A French charity working with migrant groups in Calais wants all refugees trying to reach Britain to receive the same help and access as those fleeing Ukraine.

Ukrainian refugees are given shelter, help with visas and, once the paperwork is completed, free travel on Eurostar trains from the continent to London.

Migrants fleeing Africa, Asia and the Middle East do not receive the same help and Calais on the northern French coast has become the last stopping point for many refugees trying to reach the UK.

Refugees from Ukraine can travel by train through the Eurotunnel under the English Channel. Others will risk their lives to sail across the waterway, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, in unseaworthy vessels hoping to reach Britain.

“The [Ukrainian] families who arrived in Calais were given the possibility to go to a youth hostel for free during their stay in the city. This is great, this is pretty much what we have been pleading for for years,” William Feuillard of L'Auberge des Migrants charity.

Refugees wait to speak to UK Home Office officials in a ferry port building in Calais, France, having fled Ukraine. Getty

He said the welcome that Ukrainians have received should be extended to all arrivals in northern France. None of the arguments on why migrants from elsewhere were treated differently made sense he said.

“Some say Ukrainians have papers and Afghans don’t, for example, but both have their passports,” Mr Feuillard told the French RFI news organisation.

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart said the European Union was offering “temporary protection” to refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. “The difference is that Ukrainians are in a regularised situation,” she said.

People from Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria are regularly chased away by police from tent sites dotted around Calais. Police also patrol the area trying to stop attempted sea crossings.

“In France, the law applies for everyone and the treatment has to be the same, otherwise it’s considered as discrimination if you privilege one group of people or another one based on ethnic background, the country they are from or the skin colours,” Mr Feuillard said.

Migrant picked up at sea attempting to cross the English Channel are escorted ashore in England. AFP

More than 2,500 people have crossed the Channel to Britain since the start of the year.

A record 28,526 made the journey over the water in 2021. The biggest loss of life in a single incident last year was when 27 migrants drowned after their boat sank.

On Tuesday, more than 900 people in small boats were intercepted crossing the Channel — the largest number attempting to reach the UK in a single day so far this year.

Updated: March 17, 2022, 2:19 PM