At the end of June NovaraWire brought you an article by Ruth Nicholson on the ‘sans-papiers’ migrant camp in Calais. Barely a fortnight after Nicholson’s trip, police and private security declared an eviction of ‘the jungles’, raiding the camp with tear gas and arresting around 320 people. In the last few weeks mass evictions have been sought, bringing the migrant camp into crisis. Sensationalism on both sides of the Channel has only intensified since then, and last week the Daily Express reported with jubilation that Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, has announced that the camp is to be bulldozed. Here are the things you need to know:
1. What evictions?
Two evictions were due to take place in Calais: the first at a newly opened migrant squat at 10 Impasse Des Salines, an abandoned factory on the edge of the centre of town, and the second at ‘the jungles’ – a tented camp – located near the port. The former houses 80 migrants, with many more visiting during the daytime to eat, shower and socialise, whilst the latter houses between 800 and 2000. On 24 July, the squat was given 10 days before the eviction was to take place; however, after the prefecture met, it was decided the eviction would not happen immediately, providing, at least for now, relative calm. The fate of the jungles remains unclear, with previous evictions taking place in May 2014 and in 2009. Occasionally, small victories are won at the squat with the Council coming to collect the garbage or clean the toilets.
2. Who are the migrants?
Coming from Syria, Eritrea and everywhere in between, the migrants in Calais are fleeing war, persecution and exile in their own countries. Most endure harrowing and life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean; from covering vast deserts with no water, to being cramped in small sailing vessels for sometimes days at a time with hundreds of fellow migrants, many of whom die from heat exhaustion or drown in the sea. Eventually, they reach Europe and make the journey to Calais, which for many is the last stop before crossing the channel into Britain – a journey which also tragically costs some their lives. Migrants typically pay smugglers to get them across each stage of the journey with funds coming through relatives who all hope for a better life. Some of the migrants had jobs, some were aid workers, and others were students. Due to the British border controls, some have previously gone to the UK to study only to be deported back when their visa ran out. A common question is: “is the UK good?” within which lay their hopes and dreams. Wanting to get across to build a better life for themselves – indeed many will proclaim that being in Calais is no life at all – they yearn for the opportunity to be educated, start a family and work. These rights, though seen as universal in the West, are denied to those in Calais. The hostility of the police and the constant fear as a result means any rights they do or should have are further abused. The migrants have fled severe persecution in their countries of origin, only to be dehumanised, oppressed, and forced into poverty in this town where they remain trapped, desperately waiting to succeed on the last leg of their journey.
3. What is daily life like?
Each day is a struggle for survival. Forced into a constant game of cat and mouse with the French police and local fascist group Sauvons Calais (‘Save Calais’), the migrants seek refuge where they can; many stay at the squat, and those who can’t often come during the day before returning to their respective crossing points at night. Food is cooked by migrants at the squat, provided by organisations such as Calais Ouverture et Humanitie (COH) and more recently Emaus, whilst donations are regularly received from locals and a food distribution centre is run by Salam. Activists provide English classes and legal workshops to prepare the migrants for when they arrive. However, due to local mayor Natacha Bouchart they face constant police brutality, with many being found whilst trying to cross and returned, some are bought back multiple times each night having been unsuccessful. Occasionally, an effort is successful and a migrant will manage to board one of the lorries in one way or another, only to find several hours later that the lorry has driven to some other European destination as opposed to crossing the channel. They will then have to once again travel hundreds of miles back to Calais, in order to pursue their relentless efforts to reach the British coast.
4. What are the solutions?
Calais is a humanitarian disaster, and the future for its migrant population remains bleak. Bouchart’s reasoning is that the migrants shouldn’t be Calais’s issue, it should be Britain that adapts its border policy, thereby allowing Bouchart to disrespect, abuse and deny any rights the migrants had or should have. In contrast, over 500 people and many local and national organisations rallied to support the initial opening of the Impasse squat – proving the scale of support that exists. This support has to continue if the migrants are going to survive with an urgent appeal for people to come and support both squat and occupants. Britain’s border policy needs to be more flexible and move away from legislation which hampers asylum efforts and forces migrants to cross illegally, such as the Dublin II regulation. Adopted in 2003 as a way of monitoring and controlling asylum access throughout the EU, the Dublin regulation states that the country responsible for the asylum claim and process should be the first EU member the claimant reaches. However whilst long term solutions can be proposed, an immediate solution has to be found: Bouchart needs to offer more asylum applications or at the very least provide housing, food and resources to these people.