The Calais wall: Ring-fencing humanity

When Donald Trump suggested he would build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the United States of America, he received a lot of backlash and understandably so. However, when the United Kingdom announced that work is due to begin “very soon” on the “Great wall of Calais,” a 4 meter-high one-kilometre-long wall along Calais to stop people getting across the English Channel, the world seemed to brush it under the carpet.

The caveat to remember is that the people getting across the Channel are predominantly refugees who have escaped after suffering enormous trauma in their lives. The other caveat is that there are hundreds in refugee camps who have family in the UK - in total, 21.4% of those surveyed by the Refugee Rights Data Project said they have family in the UK. Under the Dubs Amendment, proposed in February 2016, minors with family in the UK are highly likely to be eligible for safe passage to the UK.

Refugees need legal aid, not walls

What is getting in the way of people gaining the right to the UK is that they do not have access to advice or information on procedures. Research provided by the Refugee Rights Data Project showed that 46.7 percent were looking for legal methods to gain entry to the UK and have no interest in jumping on the back of a lorry. These people clearly have no interest in starting their new life in the UK by breaking the law.

What the residents of the Calais camp need is not a wall to separate them from the future but bridges to help them get over the trauma of what they have been through

Yara al-Wazir

What happens when there is a severe shortage of information availability and desperate human beings attempting to better their lives or reunite with their family is a bottleneck and an overpopulated camp. A wall cannot debottleneck the camp of refugees and will not stop people from arriving at the camp. What the camp’s population needs is access to legal aid and advice on how to get out of the camp and onto safe land where they are respected human beings.

Building a wall will only build resentment and waste tax money

The wall is estimated to cost £2 million ($2.7 million) and will be paid for by UK-tax payer’s money. As a UK-tax payer, I am absolutely ashamed that hard-earned tax money is being spent on alienating and dehumanising people who have already suffered enough emotional and physical trauma, rather than on integrating them into society or helping them restart their lives.

Instead of spending £2 million on a wall, the money should be spent on providing a healthy and safe environment with sufficient legal aid to help aid asylum seekers to reach their final destination. Let’s face it, the population of Calais’ camp has been through wars, they have seen death, they have seen horror and the worst days of their lives – they have nothing to lose. What area few extra weeks waiting in Calais? They will wait until they are processed, however long it will take

Humans are not animals – don’t ring-fence them

What the residents of the Calais camp need is not a wall to separate them from the future but bridges to help them get over the trauma of what they have been through. Building a wall will provide business opportunities for people-smugglers, which is what happened when the Greek-Macedonia border closed in March 2016.

What will happen to the population of the camp when aid groups suffer volunteering fatigue? There is only so much time, effort, and money aid organizations can pump into a location like Calais when governments refuse to step up and spend money in the right place.


Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir




Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 13:59 - GMT 10:59
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.