UPDATE Safe Passage for the Children of Calais, London, UK
London, UK. 24th October 2017. A large crowd hold up posters and placards before the Safe Passage rally outside Parliament before lobbying MPs on the anniversary of the destruction of the Calais Jungle. They urge them to provide safe and legal routes for the children in Calais, many of whom are entitled to come here to be reunited with their family and to fill the remaining 280 places allocated under the Dubs law but not yet filled 18 months after Parliament passed the law. They want the Home office to station an official in France to aid with these transfers and to work with the French to proved safe accommodation for all refugee children. Peter Marshall/Alamy Live News
The UK government let Calais children down by stopping the Dubs scheme before the children who should go to the UK were transferred. They took only 300. Many of the children who were in the ‘jungle’, at least 1000, are still in France, some have crossed ‘illegally’ and at least three have died trying. Many have disappeared and nobody knows where they are.
From ‘jungle’ to dystopia
One year after the eviction of Calais ‘jungle’ people keep arriving in Calais and crossing from there to the UK, surviving in terrible conditions with the police chasing them. People have not ‘returned’, never left, and just a few days after the eviction a group of Afghans passed from Calais to the UK, but for sometimes they were few and invisible. Now they are many hundreds and they are everywhere. Numbers keep going up. Is it worth reminding the eviction was no solution? Calais is still there and over 90% commercial traffic to the UK still passes through Calais. In Grande-Synthe near Dunkirk too, after the ‘humanitarian’ camp was burned down during a fight between Kurdish and Afghan smugglers, people sleep in the woods, often trying to hide in small groups, which leaves them even more exposed to danger of all sorts. 500 – 600 people were in Grande-Synthe, 90% Kurdish people including 15 families with young children; a tiny minority of Afghans, Pakistanis and Iranians and a few Sudanese. The 19th /05 the camp was broken down for the umpteenth time, reports of police violence, and all the families forced on buses to unknown destination. The same thing happened just one month ago, all people were deported to CAO (temporary accommodation places) in South France, border with Spain: in a few days they came back. The authorities are partucularly keen of getting rid of families as pictures of little chldren sleeping in the woods tend to upset the general public.
In Calais too the 18th /05 the biggest camp was totally destroyed, tents slashed, blankets and sleeping bags soaked in pepper spray, which renders them totally unusable. A report from a witness:
“So yesterday morning the CRS (riot cops dressed like robocops) came into jungle in Calais (or the biggest jungle..there are two main ones and countless smaller and hidden). What happened was routine. They opened, broke, cut and sprayed all the tents. Any left intact are rendered useless by choking fumes of pepper spray. They also took a 10 yrs old boy from his mother into ‘protective’ custody. Another day on the borders and the banality of border violence that is becoming normalised on both sides of the English channel”.
In the previous week there has been a sharp rise in police raids on the areas where people sleep, destruction of shelters/ blankets/ sleeping bags and personal belongings. Many people are arrested and taken to the detention centre at Coquelles – previously most arrests were of people trying to cross, now they are arresting people in the places where they are sleeping. Several destructions of improvised camps in a few days: the Afghan jungle near the LIDL supermarket at Transmarck, the camps near the hospital. Police violence is at an all-time high, with great use of gas grenades, pepper spray and batons, also against women and children, not only when they try to cross to the UK but also when they sleep, or any time they encounter the police really. French riot police (CRS) who are brutalizing the refugees are paid with money from the UK government, and the gas, and the barbed wire fences that run for miles around the ferry port and Eurostar terminals. In case you wonder where your taxes go. Police are also taking people’s shoes, by the dozens.
The French administration and security forces concluded an investigation indicating that there is “convincing evidence” that police used violence against people and children in the Jungle, Calais.
Human Rights Watch quotes the report reminding that the investigation was initiated in response to their report. The investigation confirmed — what HRW and volunteers from the field claimed – that the police used not only violence but also that they “routinely used chemical sprays on migrants, including children, while they were sleeping and in other circumstances in which they posed no threat, and regularly sprayed or confiscated sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, apparently to press them to leave the area.”
There would be urgent need for witnesses and especially people with cameras, as most of this violence does not get adequately reported. There are activists on the ground doing very good work but not very fond of cameras, some volunteers take pictures but documentation is still scarce. And there is always need of donations, and volunteers to sort and distribute. Calais has gone off the spotlight, the media circus has moved elsewhere, donations have dried up and the need has never been greater, with repeated destructions and cold coming. Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK) are struggling to feed everybody.
Numbers of refugees present in Calais: 800/1000 according to the mayor, 500 according to the prefect and 700/ 800 according to the associations but to make even an approximate count is impossible in the absence of any fixed structure. Refugee Community Kitchen are making 2700 meals per day, distributed twice in Calais once in Dunkirk (there are other associations doing meals there) so it is well over 2000 meals distributed a day in Calais, lunch and supper but not everybody goes to food distributions, i.e. the whole group of the Vietnamese and others, therefore there are well over 1000 people in Calais alone. Afghans are still the majority. Sudanese have made a big comeback after a series of police raids in Belgium, with mass arrests and the threat of deportation to Sudan. There are many Eritreans and Ethiopians including many Oromo who are persecuted in Ethiopia. Fewer minors but more women – around 60- 70, all from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The women sleep together, go to try together and protect each other. 4 families and two single mothers with young children, all accommodated by activists and local people. Other nationalities include Chad, Somalia, Vietnam, Arabs from Iraq and Iran, and lately Libyans escaping the civil war in their country. Many refugees are arriving in Calais from Germany since Germany is no longer so hospitable.
The camp of Norrent-Fontes in the Calais region has been finally evicted and destroyed the 18th September. It was inhabited by all African people: Eritreans, Ethiopians, Sudanese. There were many women Nobody was going to UK from there since the local lorry park had been closed but people still waited there, supported by the local association Terre d’Errance, that unlike other associations are militant, fight for people’s right and believe in equality. A group of people from the camp have found hospitality in a privately owned wood.
The situation in Calais is likely to become untenable, with many new people arriving numbers rising, some 800 people permanently in Calais, many others coming and going. They sleep near the points of passage and this is causing great competition between people of different nationalities, and big fights with great use of metal bars but also knives and the occasional pistol (plus anything that can function as a weapon, from wooden sticks to stones). Great increase in alcohol and drug abuse, mainly pharmaceutical and psychiatric drugs, cheap on the black market, that mixed with alcohol make people crazy. The amazing solidarity between migrants of different communities that used to characterize Calais and counter-acted the inevitable competition and tensions is at risk to become a memory. People fight for territory and eat in separate places, Afghans at a distribution near the hospital, Eritreans and Ethiopians near the stadium; the only mix distribution attended by different nationalities is in the ‘junge’ rue des Verrotiers; it is also attended by women and families.
The Locale managed by No Borders and other radical associations is the heart of the resistance – it is a private space in the city centre that belongs to the Communist Party, who let it to No Borders. There people can rest, have a break from the police, use the internet, have free tea and coffee, meet friends. The place is very much liked and very well attended. There are English, French and Arabic classes. There is legal information and signposting, which is most important since most services in Calis have been closed. Volunteer are always needed, even to just to welcome people and make them feel comfortable. There is plenty of room for more initiatives if there are people to run them.
Please donate to help people survive the Winter:
The associations have won the right to distribute food and install some showers, after taking the racist Calais authorities to court, twice. 28 showers have been installed of which 14 are working and few, totally insufficient water points. Toilets are yet to be seen. No association, however, is demanding accommodation and the right to housing for all, though they have asked for the minors and the most vulnerable; neither they are complaining strongly enough against the police violence and destruction of humanitarian aid such as tents and blankets.
A year after the eviction and destruction of the shanty town, this is the result. Never forget the main associations in Calais collaborated with the eviction of the ‘jungle’ and their presidents even gave their written approval in an open letter to President Hollande. The English translation is in the footnotes.* What is happening now was totally predictable then, and the eviction of the ‘jungle’ should have been opposed altogether until real solutions were proposed for all the inhabitants. http://www.secours-catholique.org/sites/scinternet/files/comm_presse/lettre_ouverte_au_president_de_la_republique_29_09_2016.pdf
The work of distributing humanitarian aid is very important, without aid people would die, and the associations in Calais have done a really impressive job, considering the conditions in which they have been working and the total absence of the State and big NGOs, so please keep donating and volunteering. It is the politics of the associations I have a problem with not the aid distributions. At the moment the only warehouse is that of the Auberge, there is no alternative. The Care4Calais warehouse stopped activity after an arson attack (probably by fascists) but the head of Care4Calais is far less trustworthy than the head of Auberge’s. Clare Moseley made arbitrary accusations to the police against the people running the Kids Restaurant Jungle Book, as a result the Kids restaurant was raided by cops when it was full of kids, and a refugee and a fellow humanitarian worker were arrested, more than outrageous. The entire case against the jungle’s restaurants and shops that were raided by police ahead of the eviction, was largely based on Moseley’s accusations. Apologies for spending so much time on charitable associations, and attacking them from the left when they are already being attacked from the right-wing. The enemy is capitalism and imperialism, causing the ‘refugee crisis’ in the first place, and Fortress Europe, and the governments and their police, but the associations are part of the problem too when they collaborate with government and police in implementing policies that are against the interest of the refugees and migrants concerned, and against their will, like very clearly during the ‘jungle’s eviction, stage 1 and 2. I am not just angry, I’m really sad. What difference will the solidity movement make? What are many volunteers doing besides putting plasters on ever deeper, rotting and mortal wounds? Are volunteers happy to build a cardboard city, without any help or money from the government, just to see it destroyed one year later? The CAO system, where people are so violently pushed, is designed to fail the many; it does not meet the needs of those who do not want to remain in France, and in many cases it does not meet the needs of those who want to remain in France either. Quality of accommodation variates greatly, there are some nice places but mostly the accommodation is bad: cold buildings, no internet, bad furniture, not enough showers and toilets and often not even enough food. One thing all these ‘Centres d’accueil et orientation’ have in common: the orientation is absent, except when there are local associations and volunteers to provide some. In many cases people do not even have access to an interpreter in their own language, never mind legal advice but they are pressurized into making asylum applications in a set time, leading to an increase of refusals, which coupled with a rise in deportations poses a very serious risk to their lives. Particularly the Sudanese have much better chances to be given asylum in UK than in France. Many people are deported to Dublin countries, but when they go to CAO nobody tell them they can be dublined, and in many cases they are purposely misled: as it happened during the jungle’s eviction, the then Interior minister Cazeneuve gave an ‘oral reassurance’ – that was worth nothing, like everything that habitual lier says, but was carried around the camp by volunteers and associations. Some CAO are in or near urban areas but some are in the middle of nowhere and people find themselves isolated, utterly bored, lacking support and a community around, which is very bad for traumatized people. There has been an increase in self-harm especially amongst teenagers, and a minor has killed himself in a CAOMIE, CAO for unaccompanied minors; others have tried to kill themselves but survived. There has been a sequel of hunger strikes and protests in CAO and CAOMIE: against Dublin deportatons, bad living conditions, lack of information and long wait. Drop-out rate from CAO is very high and many, around 40% , prefer to return to the streets: if they leave they are no longer entitled to State support for 2 years, leaving them totally destitute, nevertheless many prefer to take their destiny into their own hands and many return to Calais to try and cross, or try from other places, or try their luck in other countries. The streets of France are full of people who have left CAO, thousands more arrive and end up sleeping in the streets too, exposed to police brutality and other dangers because there are never enough places and the CAO system is always saturated. However it is never too late, the demand for unconditional housing for all should be put forward again, and before people die of cold. At the moment government policies are of zero tolerance for camps and squats in the North of France, but there have been many evictions of migrants squats and Rrom camps in other parts of France, ahead of the trêve hivernale; that is the time during the cold season when evictions are forbidden, it begins the 1st November and ends the 31st March… except that under the state of emergency any camp or squat can be evicted any time (also legal squats) if it is believed to pose a ‘security issue’ – on the say-so of the police, rendering squatting much more difficult and autonomous camps totally unsteady.
The mayor of Grande Synthe Damien Careme is demanding the opening of another camp like that of La Liniere. Mind that humanitarian camp was run by Kurdish mafia, under the blind eyes of the association Afeji that was paid to run it, people lacked the bare essentials and women and children were sleeping with diapers because afraid to be raped if they went out their tiny windowless huts at night. Still better and less dangerous than sleeping in the woods without even a camp and nobody to see what happens. Particularly dangerous is the dispersal of people in small groups.
And the ‘problem’ is not only in Calais and Dunkirk but is all along the coast, in Paris, Brussels etc. What the authorities feared when they destroyed Calais ‘jungle’ has actually happened and people have spread all over the coast: Cherbourg, Le Havre, Dieppe, Caen, as far as Bilbao in the Basque Country, where there is a jungle with some 200 people in it, lots of police repression and a 30 hour journey to UK – there are No Borders activists in Bilbao. There are many people in Brussels trying to go to the UK from there, especially Sudanese, that have been subjected to police sweeps and mass arrests lately; many have been put in detention and a court order is stopping the Belgian government from deporting them back to Sudan but the government has appealed against the court decision. Follow on http://www.gettingthevoiceout.org/. All what governments can think of is more repression and more police violence. Deportations in France are also on the increase, also to countries at war such as Sudan and Afghanistan. There is a flurry of deportations of refused asylum seekers to Afghanistan: in the past they were mostly left alone to live in destitution, since without status they cannot get work. There is also resistance, legal challenges, French activists going to the airports, and deportees and passengers refusing to sit down until the person who is to be deported is taken off the plane. Many more are deported to third ‘safe’ countires under Dublin: these sometimes result in a chain of deportations to the country of origin, e.g. Norway and Finland deport Afghans who have been sent there by France back to Kabul.
Things are changing fast in Europe. A few weeks ago there was a mini-summit hosted by Macron. Leaders from Spain, Germany, 7 African leaders and the “prime minister” of Libya. They have agreed on a new strategy setting up hotspots ( basically detention centres) in Libya to try to stop people crossing the med to Italy.
The sweetener for this deal is €60 million from the EU in “financial aid” with military support to increase border controls.
Macron has announced that “there will be no one on the streets of Paris by Christmas”. There will be increased roundups of anyone who is Dublin who will then be held in detention centres. They will be returned to the country where their fingerprints were first taken.
The next most likely move will be to Norway to be deported back to Afghanistan. As the Norwegian government consider Afghanistan to be a safe country.
The Greek government have recently ruled that is safe to deported Syrians back to Turkey. Even though they are likely to be arrested and put in detention centres as soon as they arrive.
Libya is completely lawless and basically run by various militias who hold refugees for ransom, sell them into slavery and sex trafficking networks. Minors go missing all the time and generally people are being raped and tortured even murdered at their captors pleasure.
The whole situation is utterly horrific.
Some images of the Grande-Synthe camp before it was destroyed.
I copy an edited report from an activist who is in Grande-Synthye:
” A new jungle has been established by migrants in Grand Sythne, 20 mins by car west of Dunkirk, close to the camp that was burned down. It’s in an oddly nice location or locations..basically in all the wooded areas in and around a outdoor activities area and picnic area with body of water and canals. It’s still used by locals including kayakers and wind surfers. The zero tolerance policy enforced by the French State since the eviction and destruction of the Calais Jungle almost a year ago has softened a little after they lost court ruling. As a result food distribution is allowed and a water point for drinking and washing has been installed. It’s also used to wash clothes. When the weather is OK lots of guys bath and wash clothes in the canal. The vast majority of people have no shelter beyond bits of plastic and tarp and what cover the trees provide. Every few days the cops come and confiscate any tents or covering they can find, the time varies between 5-10 am, they also count the people so forcefully wake them up, even for children asking for papers they no one has (this is an improvement from every day before the court ruling). There is fight between French State and Grand Sythne Mayor who want’s a new camp with shelters built, the French government want only to build a day centre with showers, just enough to adhere to their obligations under EU law.
Food distribution happens twice a day, French NGO’s, Salam and Emuas on different days serve food at lunchtime. At 5.30 Refugee Community Kitchen come from l’auberge wharehouse in Calais, the are from UK.
Clothes and sleeping bag distribution seems to be ad hoc and all deriving from UK via l’Auberge.
MSF and another NGO Medicines du Monde come a few times a week to provide medical care. Predictably they refuse to do anything outside their remit, such as run people to dental clinic which is in Calais or bring a dentist.
Dunkirk Women’s Centre come in every day and take one of the smaller car parks as women and kids area. They are three women from UK and brilliant doing anything and everything they can.
Another small UK group come every day from Calais with generators and for a few hours everyone can charge phones and powerbanks. They are sound and very popular as you’d imagine. They’re the ones who’ve been bringin the tarp which the cops keep confiscating.
There are no legal or info point or distribution.
It’s pretty grim..the vast majority are having to try sleep through cold and most nights wet. It’s been raining for the last two hours, going to be a miserable night for everyone there. It’s also pretty shit how forgotten the migrants here are since Calais jungle eviction amid a year or outright nastiness brutality by the French state.
I’ve been mucking in with the food distribution which has been mostly fun as everyone is in good spirits but for one day when it kicked off in the queue and knives got pulled and the families an away with their kids. I was asked to take the food to them and chocolate for the kids. This led to a rumour I was taking families to UK. A dangerous rumour!
I’m understandably getting asked lots of questions about Dublin rules and asylum process. So been helping people find their country guidance docs on home office website, show the right to remain site and getting them onto fb group that tops their phones up. I did this for a few hours one day with a lot sketchy looking stoney faced guys listening and watching. They now give me a smile when I pass. .it may not be trust but I think at least they know I’m nobody to worry about. I feel much more safe after that.
Obviously questioning what I am doing here but making lots of friends. Including a few of the families who insist on sharing food with me. I helped some guys doing the beer run on Friday open a fence they where stuck behind, they gave me beer in thanks and they next day were telling everyone the story which brought me a lot of acceptance. Small things but things.
What can be done? (Lot of this is throwing ideas out there for others to consider)
I think the glaring gap is information and is what people are asking for. With no much collective effort I think translating stuff on Dublin, Detention and country specific info drawn from home office country guidance to give people the info to make best shot at their first interview would be a good thing. It’s something I want to pursue if anyone else thinks the same and has any energy for. Obviously it would be best to put structure in place that others can take up. Welcome to Europe
Vehicles. The most frustrating thing here is not having a van, this is one of France”s three major ports and for miles around there is tons of plastic and tarp that could be skipped/tatted and taken to jungle to replace what the cops take away. There are lots of pallets that need to be collected for firewood and to build shelters. There is the dentist situation still unresolved, a car would solve it. Three guys have bad toothache and the only place they can go is Calais on a Monday and Tuesday but police controls at Calais station rule out going by train. There is a hospital driving team based with l’Auberge but they are already taking 10 people from Calais (the maximum the clinic will take). This and lots of other small important things a car would be real useful for.
As for volunteering with women’s centre. .they are happy to have any women who’d like to come over for a few weeks. They’d be really happy if folk could come even once in a while and do fun activities for the kids. They also reckon some activities for the men to counter the tension’s caused by boredom, trying for lorries unsuccessfully and miserable conditions. Maybe mobile cinema or showing champions league highlights on cinema screen…football is popular!
Demonstration by refugees and supporters, La Chapelle, Saturday 21st October (photo by Sarah Fenby Dixon)
Unprecedented and always rising numbers of people sleeping out in ever worsening conditions, among police raids and evictions of improvised camps. The ‘humanitarian centre’ at Porte la Chapelle managed by Emmaus is forever saturated. It funcions as funnel to the CAO system, people still queue all night to get in. Living conditions are squalid and people in the centre lack the bare essentials and basic information, e,g. regading Dublin deportations. Utopia56 who were helping inside the centre have recently pulled out because they say they could not work in such conditions, and continue offering essential aid elsewhere. A second similar camp with 50 capacity (single men) has opened in Cergy-Pointoise, Ile de France.
Donations for Paris: https://www.gofundme.com/4dwnptc
- LETTER English translation
Mr. President of the Republic,
Last week, Ms Cosse and Mr Cazeneuve met our associations in order to present the plan to dismantle the Calais “jungle” of Calais where thousands of exiles live in pitiful conditions.
We have informed the ministers that our organisations would support such a plan, and could go along with it, if all the measures to permit the protection and respect to the fundamental human rights of the people are guaranteed. You yourself, when you visited the site, reminded us that the State would find a worthy and effective solution to this humanitarian tragedy.
However, there remains one unanswered question concerning the dismantlement of the Jungle: it regards the progressive disappearance of all the apparatus created over the last two years and comprises of the Jules Ferry “welcome” day centre and the centre of temporary “welcoming” (CAO)
We hope that these facilities can continue to provide a humane and dignified solution in this very complex situation where exiles will attempt – regardless of their motivation – to travel to Great Britain from Calais.
It is our wish that this apparatus remain until a humane and dignified solution can be brought to the very complex situation of exiles who wish to – whatever their motivation – to travel from the United Kingdom from Calais. Otherwise, we would return to exactly the situation that prevailed during the years after the closure of the Sangatte centre, the utter abandonment of hundreds of men, women and children living in the streets, woods and squats of Calais, even more at the mercy of the criminal smuggler networks and dangers of all sorts, both summer and winter.
Nobody seriously believes that there will be no more attempts to reach the UK. No one seriously believe that this will lead to an overnight decline in migrants heading to Calais. So how to respond in a pragmatic and humane way to this difficult situation? It is on this question which we have worked for years, for a long time without any support from the State, for three years on a difficult road, for three years in a real partnership [with the State]
We cannot support or participate a dismantlement project which will annihilate of this the work while it remains useful.
We demand of you, Mr President, to confirm the maintaining in place of the humanitarian assets of the Jules Ferry Center and the CAP whilst the migrant fluxes towards Calais continue and to make it so that the work of the public authorities with the associations remains a work of confidence and transparency.
Please accept, Mr. President of the Republic, our highest consideration..
Véronique Fayet, Présidente Secours Catholique – Caritas France
Thierry Khun, Président Emmaüs France
Christian Salomé, Président L’Auberge des Migrants
Louis Gallois, Président FNARS
Françoise Sivignon, Présidente MdMParis, 29th September 2016
Police violence does not end with the migrants, all demonstrations are forbidden and a very peaceful gathering for peace was violently interrupted by riot police (CRS) with lots of arrests and broken bones.
A year after the eviction and destruction of the shanty town, this is the result. Never forget the major associations in Calais collaborated with the eviction of the ‘jungle’ and their presidents even gave their written approval. http://www.secours-catholique.org/sites/scinternet/files/comm_presse/lettre_ouverte_au_president_de_la_republique_29_09_2016.pdf What is happening now was totally predictable then, and the eviction should have been opposed altogether, until real solutions were proposed.