This week has been taken up with a real focus on refugees; both here and in France, along with follow up action and meetings. In the midst of all that, we had the junior doctors’ action; for which the blame lies squarely at the government’s door.
Calais and Dunkirk
Last Friday I went to see for myself the conditions of the camps for refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. Councillor Sally Gimson and fellow lawyer, Katy Thorne, who has been working with the camps came with me.
My main aim – as Labour Shadow Immigration Minister – was to collect evidence that will help shape party policy. What we found was truly shocking.
The squalor and the hardship that thousands are enduring just an hour’s train ride from Camden is difficult to convey. I have written a more extensive account, which you can find here.
Getting media coverage
It is vital that these conditions are exposed as widely as possible and so Richard Osley of Camden New Journal and Martin Bentham of the Evening Standard came with me.
Since then I have spoken to the BBC World Service and will continue to do all I can to explain the urgent need to tackle these atrocious conditions.
…and raising the case in Parliament
My first chance to raise it in Parliament came on Monday, when I asked the Home Office Minister, Karen Bradley this question:
“Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): I spent Friday in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk. I have seen some pretty appalling conditions in my time, including in prisons in Africa and the Caribbean, but nothing could prepare anyone for the squalor of those camps, particularly in Dunkirk. What was obvious, among other things, was that there is simply no process in place on the ground for anyone—particularly children—who is entitled to join their family in the UK. What steps are the Government taking to address that issue and to ensure that children in Calais and Dunkirk who have the right to join their families are able to do so?
Karen Bradley: The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that we work very closely with the French authorities. We are working with them to make sure that their processing is done as swiftly and efficiently as possible. I must repeat that these are camps in France. It is a sovereign country and we cannot interfere in French matters.”
This did not answer the question. Refugees I met in the camps – including some with children, who had family in the UK – deserve better, swifter treatment. I will continue to press their case.
Discussions with the TUC
As I begin collecting views on these topics I was keen to hear the views of the trade union movement. So on Tuesday I held a meeting with the TUC, Unite, Unison, the GMB and USDAW. This had kindly been co-ordinated by Rosa Crawford, who helps shape the TUC’s migration policy. She, and some of her colleagues came to Parliament to give me the benefit of their experience.
Junior Doctor’s strike
It is really extraordinary to see how the government has managed to drive the junior doctors, who do so much of the vital work in our clinics and hospitals, to go on strike.
Their claim – that the hours he wants to impose would leave them so tired their work with patients would be dangerous – is entirely reasonable. They have been driven into a corner.
No wonder Dr Laura Pelota and her daughter Frida were on the picket line outside UCH, supported by Labour Party members from Holborn & St Pancras!