The majority of refugees living in Calais believe Brexit has made it easier for them to secure asylum in the UK, according to a new poll.
Around 1,000 people are currently staying in makeshift camps along the French coast, with many intending to try to cross to Britain.
A survey of refugees sleeping rough in Calais found that 55 per cent believe they have a better chance of being granted asylum in the UK since Brexit, while just 18 per cent think they have a worse chance.
However, those in Dunkirk were less confident, with 37 per cent saying they felt they had a better chance and 25 per cent a worse chance.
Across both locations 79 per cent of respondents said Brexit has made physically reaching the UK harder.
The UK’s departure from the EU means it has lost the ability to deport refugees to other EU countries under Dublin regulations. Instead, new arrangements with individual countries will now be required. However, Immigration minister Chris Philp said “the claim that getting asylum is any easier now is categorically untrue”.
The findings of the poll have been published in a joint report, by refugee charity Care4Calais and Dutch campaign group Stop Wapenhandel (Stop Arms Trade). The charities conducted a survey of 139 refugees across Calais and Dunkirk during January 2021.
The report, which reveals the impact of Brexit on refugees in Calais, details the ever-harsher security measures put in place by the French and UK authorities in attempts to manage refugee crossing. Naval vessels, RAF planes and Army drones have all been deployed in the Channel. The UK is also paying for extra police officers and surveillance technology, including cameras and radar, in northern France.
Care4Calais and Stop Wapenhandel noted that while this creates millions in profits for the security industry, for refugees the only result is greater risk of death or serious injury.
Meanwhile, the survey also found that the majority of refugees are more fearful now, with 63 per cent saying they feel less safe since Brexit. Volunteers on the ground have reported increasing levels of violence from the police, including the use of tear gas and aggressive tactics to move homeless refugees on.
Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said: “Seeing how people in Calais are treated by our authorities is deeply shocking. They are hounded night and day, exposed to the bitter winter elements, denied food and shelter and subject to regular police brutality.
“In the Channel our governments treat them like a military enemy when they are simply asking for our help. It’s horrific. They are ordinary people who are fleeing conflict and oppression. We can do better than this.”
Ms Moseley stressed that the UK should give refugees a chance to have their asylum claims heard at the UK border in France, before they take the risk of climbing onto a lorry or getting into a boat.
“This is a solution that works for everyone: it would end the dangerous crossings, break the market of people smugglers and give the UK more control of its borders,” she added.
Mark Akkerman, researcher at Stop Wapenhandel and co-author of the report, said: “The steps the UK has taken over the last year to keep or get refugees out of the country are appalling. The increasing militarisation at Calais and on the Channel only creates more dangers for desperate people on the move. Arms and security companies are the only winners, profiting from the hundreds of millions of pounds the UK throws at its efforts to step up border security and control.”
Over two thirds of refugees (71 per cent) say they will now attempt to cross to the UK by lorry, compared to just 29 per cent who said they would go by boat, according to the poll.
With volumes of freight set to increase, miles long queues of lorries could provide more opportunities for refugees to climb aboard, risking their lives in the process.
Kamran (not his real name), a refugee living in Calais, explained that he had left Iran, where he had worked as an engineer, because of the government and it is now his “dream” to work again in the UK.
“I hope that I will get to the UK soon by lorry. I know crossing by lorry is dangerous, but I have no other options. It is so bad here in the jungle, the weather is cold and we are always chased by the police.
“Some people think Brexit will make it easier to stay in the UK, my wish is simply to be in the UK now so I can start a new life.”
Over a third of the refugees in Calais say they want to come to the UK because they have family here (38 per cent), or because they speak English (34 per cent). A further 28 per cent want to come because they like the UK culture.
Picture: A group of refugees.