Calais Jungle migrants just want work and education in the UK

Mike Sole visited the Calais Jungle

by Mike Sole

In the week that 20 illegal immigrants arrived in a lorry at the depot of fruit importer Gomez near Bridge, local social media is again filled with “send them back” and worries of gangs of young men roaming the countryside intent on committing criminal offences and terrorising local residents.

I might be dismissed as typical middle class, Guardian reading liberal, but I would like to offer a different perspective.

We all have different views on many things. These are shaped by our upbringing and experiences.

Three years ago I wanted to find out more about the illegal immigrants/asylum seekers arriving in UK so I visited the Jungle in Calais.

With two friends we took two car loads of tents and clothing for distribution to those in need.

Mike Sole, right, with James Flanagan in the Calais Jungle

The only judgement that I made before going was that there were fellow human beings facing winter in squalid conditions with inadequate clothing and shelter.

While there we walked freely around and spoke to many people who explained their situation to us.

Yes, many, were economic migrants seeking a better life. Many nationalities were present.

There were those fleeing war, but also those just so desperate and without hope that they had risked their lives to get to Calais.

Why did they want to come to England? Was it because they had been told they would be given a house and money? No, it wasn’t. I was told by everyone that I met that they want to get educated and find work.

But why England? Why not stay in France or one of the many other countries they have travelled through?

The answer was quite simply that because of the wide reach of UK influence across the world, the one language that these, mainly young men, could speak, was English.

They were seeking to make a new life for themselves in a country where they could communicate. Is that really that surprising?

Mike Sole, centre, with migrants

For the last year I have been a volunteer Grand Mentor with the charity Volunteering Matters.

I meet up regularly with a young man who somehow made his way to the UK from Afghanistan as a teenager. This young man, the same age as my son, left his home country after family members were killed by the Taliban.

The two of us chat over coffee and I try to bring some normality into his life. He is attending college, trying to make a life for himself, but his status in this country after about three years, is still uncertain.

If the final stage of his asylum appeal is unsuccessful, he will be put back on a plane and sent back to a country where he knows no one – a country where his family were murdered.

Now, we clearly cannot accept everyone into this country. We need to have border controls as much as we need to show compassion.
The young men who recently got out of a lorry at Gomez did not risk their lives getting here if they could have had a successful life at home.

In many cases it is the foreign policies pursued by successive UK governments that have created the issues in their own countries that lead them to leave.

These men deserve to be treated with compassion and their cases quickly processed. Government must act faster. The current system takes far too long.

If they have no right to claim asylum, then quite rightly they cannot stay. But while they are here, remember that they are often just young men who fled their own countries to try to find, not a better life, but just a life. In another world they could be our sons.

Mike Sole is a community campaigner who lives in Kingston and is a former Liberal Democrat Canterbury city councillor


  1. There really is nothing wrong with being a middle class, Guardian reading Liberal. So am I. Just add white, male, heterosexual and able bodied and you nearly have the full set!

    Equally, there is nothing wrong with caring about one’s fellow human beings and thinking that things could be better for the populations of X, Y and Z. Having travelled slightly further south than Calais, I can vouchsafe that the countries that some of the Jungle residents hail from are not exactly Premiership players in terms of living standards, healthcare provision, or career opportunity. In point of fact, this list is (depending where you’re standing) nigh on endless. In some cases (I won’t name them but look up some of the members of OPEC) it’s not that the countries are poor, devoid of export income, or lacking in possibilities for their people: far from it. No, sadly, some of these places are simply bywords for corruption, graft and financial chicanery on a truly industrial scale. You really can’t blame a Jungle resident for wanting out. However, that doesn’t automatically mean that it is the right thing to do to lower the UK’s drawbridge to let 20 illegal immigrants stay, or that we should empty out the Jungle and re-house the residents in this country. So to do would simply encourage more and more to leave X, Y and Z. Then where do we stand? If we say “yes” to 1,000 then the subsequent 10,000+ would demand the “right” to join their friends, family members, neighbours and co-religionists, probably backed by hand-wringing groups in this country, claiming some kind of UN charter exists to help the mass migration from X, Y and Z to the UK (AKA the land of milk and honey – only it’s not, is it?)
    A couple of home-grown facts need to be addressed before we start getting all dewy-eyed about and “helpful” towards those who have made it as far as Calais.
    There are c.1.5 million unemployed people in Britain, of which c.25% are classed as youth unemployed. Ergo, we have no spare jobs to offer illegal immigrants, other than those in the black economy, where much sharp practice (and that’s putting it mildly) goes on.It hardly “helps” any kind of immigrant to be cast into the unregulated part of our economy, does it? The irony here, is that much of the black economy is run by former immigrants (legal and illegal) who predate upon new arrivals, thus exacerbating their woes. Our young people need to get started on their career paths. This is an urgent priority, for if these youngsters and the older unemployed reckon they have no chance, then they’ll feel dispossessed, disconnect from society and that is a situation to be avoided at all costs. They need jobs. Just imagine how you’d feel if you simply wanted a chance and then saw the UK falling over itself housing and getting jobs sorted for Jungle residents and their mates. You can’t? Then don’t go to Calais, travel instead to Teesside, Liverpool, the West Midlands et al and try and convince the good folk who make up the c.30% unemployment rates there, that what would really “help” them would be thousands more unskilled people hitting the beaches. Top tip – wear ear defenders! Your kind attitude towards unmanaged immigration will cut very little ice with unemployed Brummies, or Scousers and they’ll be unlikely to leave you in any doubt about this. NB. This does not make them xenophobes! They’re simply ordinary British people who want a chance, a break, a future.

    In the land of milk of honey, to which you might want to invite thousands of “poor Immigrants” in order to “help” them, you’d expect no child poverty, all kids getting three square meals a day, no rough sleeping and full employment of a well educated and motivated working population. Well, it ain’t like that is it? Not here, nor in Germany, France, Holland or Italy, which along with the UK are the top EU funding nations, where similar crises are evident. The milk and honey pots are not full and are well and truly spoken for. I travel in Europe regularly, speak German and French and I assure you, that you don’t have to scratch the surface much to reveal a seething discontent with career politicians, heart-tugging do-gooders and human rights quoting charities, who all seem intent on re-populating an already burgeoning European mainland from countries like X, Y and Z. What’s worrying is that I find this discontent voiced by the professionals with whom I work. God knows what it’s like in the unemployment blackspots in these countries. I don’t get much chance to visit these but I bet the people there would say much the same as they do in Teesside and South Wales about immigration
    and the lock of opportunity for the indigenous population.

    I need to wrap this up don’t I? Normally, I’d like to end on a positive note but being a pragmatist one has to look at the future. For all the above reasons, allowing more and more (or arguably any more) unskilled people to live in the UK is not a sustainable, sensible or practical idea. Sure, there are some skills we need to draft in but qualified professionals don’t usually camp out in Calais do they? No, to the above situation, simply add the letters A and I. Over the next 10 to 20 years many basic jobs are simply going to evaporate, as human roles are replaced by computers, androids, drones, robots and other marvels (if you see it this way) of AI technology. What we hold dear now will go the same way as typewriters, fountain pens and telephone kiosks, probably followed by conventional cars, bank branches, postal deliveries and maybe even cash.
    You can work out the rest for yourself. As much as you might want to help the millions of people in X, Y and Z you can’t in all honesty, by allowing mass immigration to the UK.. You won’t be doing them any favours, nor will you actually be helping them, long-term. What you will do though is cast many of them into a no better situation than they’re in now but in a strange land and forment an awful lot of trouble in many parts of the UK already enduring hardship through unemployment. NB. That doesn’t make me a xenophobe either!


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