Calais jungle is not “finished”, it has spread far and wide. There are several hundreds people in the Calais and Dunkirk areas. Further, there are people all over the coast, trying to reach the UK from the small Belgian port of Zeebrugge, from Dieppe, Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, St Malo, Roscroff up to Bilbao in the Basque Country. Thousands more are in Brussels and other big cities, and especially in Paris, that is the largest area where people are accumulating, surviving in dreadful conditions, sleeping on the pavement, men, women and children, facing police violence, petty crime and hard drugs. People are all trying to settle somewhere and rebuild their lives, defying the border regime with their own bodies. And they are many thousands. In many places citizens have mobilized and are sheltering migrant people in their own homes – Brussels is a shining example.
To cross the border has became exceedingly difficult for those who have no money to pay smugglers and prices have gone up, 2000 euros, 3000, even 5000 for a “guarantee”. In 2016 the UK built a border fence in Calais several miles long, and reinforced border controls on French soil. Africans are the most penalized as they have little or no money. People still manage to hide in the back of lorries, but are usually sniffed out by border dogs. Why people who pay smugglers manage to go past controls is an open question. In many cases, people are arrested by police before arriving to the border checks.
“ After the took me from the lorry, the police handcuffed me with my hands behind my back, then they beat me all over my body” reports a young African. Others complain being pepper-sprayed, insulted, including racist insults, being abandoned in the middle of nowhere, having their shoes taken away. There have been at least three death at the border last month. https://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2019/08/02/update-morts-a-la-frontiere-deaths-at-the-border/
TWO MORE DEATHS. An Iranian woman is missing from a boat that was rescued large of the UK coast on the 9th September https://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2019/08/13/mort-a-la-frontiere-death-at-the-border-2/
An unknown person has gone missing after being spotted floating in the Channel https://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2019/08/21/another-person-missing-in-the-channel/
Some are lucky and make it, which gives hope to the others. A young Afghan, who says he is 16 but looks much younger, crossed shortly after he arrived in Calais, after spending one year in the Balkans. He went all by himself, as he had arrived.
Since going by lorry has became so difficult many are risking their lives on boats, which prompted a series of high profile interventions by the UK higher authorities and a lot of media blablabla, notwisthanding the majority of irregular migrants to the UK arrive by plane, not by lorry or by boat. Other than the boats “scandal” there is very little about Calais – the media circus has moved elsewhere.
Dunkirk holds up to 1300 people in transit, according to some estimate. Most are accommodated in or around a very big gymnasium, that is now under eviction. The mayor of Grande Synthe near Dunkirk, Damien Careme, who is pro-migrants, managed to have the gym opened during the winter, and to keep it open until now against the will of the French government, but now all legal challenges have been lost and the gym will close this month, any time now. In the gym people are warehoused in miserable conditions, sleeping on the floor without any privacy. Many sleep outside in tents because inside there is no room. Diahorrea and scabies are rife. However horrible, it is a place other than the jungle and where people are allowed stay, without being chased by police. Most people are Kurds from Iraq, but there are also Iraqi Arabs and Iranians, and very few Afghans. Most people are very friendly and welcoming. There are 60 families they tell me, and lots of young children are running about. In this area a large group of families are camping together, they look after each other and can protect their children. Things will change for the worst when the gym closes and people will be dispersed. It is raining and the ground on which the tents are pitched has turned into a sea of mud. I speak to one of the women, in broken French. She and her husband invite me to their tent, somehow they manage to keep the inside very clean. They are very nice people. They offer me food. Their nine years old son steps in and starts translating, he speaks quite good English. He is small for his age and very intelligent, too intelligent for his age, with big eyes that seem to see everything. They are from Iraqui Kurdistan and have been in France for 10 months, sometimes in the jungle, meaning this camp, sometimes in temporary accommodation. They are determined to go to the UK. The younger son is sleeping in the tent. The mother tells me he is sick, and that she is pregnant with another baby. On my next visit the mother has just come back from the hospital, where she has left her sick child, who is being treated for severe epilepsy. She looks very tired.
What strikes me most, coming from Calais, is that in Grande Synthe the migrants are in the town, move about freely and people are not afraid of them. It is a very multi-ethnic area, with a strong Muslim presence and a pro-migrants administration. Public transport is excellent, and free 7/7, allowing poor people to move about. It is raining and people crowd under the bus shelters, old ladies with shopping bags, school kids, Muslim women wearing headscarves, Black immigrants, local alcoholics, Kurdish refugees, young mothers with babies and prams. Nobody seems afraid or suspicious of others. How different from Calais!
In Calais the racist adminsitration is headed by the mayor Natacha Bouchart, who got elected twice by pandering to the far right. People with no documents have been chased out of sight and can no longer go to town without fear of being arrested or beaten up by police. Segregation in the jungles is complete. Living conditions are miserable, and police harassment a daily occurrence. The only respite is a day centre open by Secours Catholique (Caritas France) that is attended mainly by Africans and a few Iranians, Afghans do not go there. It is very well ran but some essential services and especially legal support have been cut, on order by the head of Secours Catholique in Paris.
How many people on the move are in Calais? To make a count even approximate is totally impossible. There are 5 informal and “illegal” camps, two of which are quite large, one of which is very large. People have fought to resettle here after the eviction of the big jungle in 2016, braving daily police violence such as being pepper sprayied in their sleep. Number of main meals distributed during the month of June is 735 per day on average, but not everybody eats at the same distribution – some are not there in that moment, some have money to buy food, some eat at a different distribution. Therefore, in June there were well over 735 people. Numbers fluctuate and tend to go down after large scale evictions, then up again. Nearly nobody stays in Calais all the time, people move from place to place looking for a chance, or to take a break. They go to Dunkirk, Paris, Caen, Hazebrouk, and they come back. Total number of people in Calais may be way over 1000 if counting all those who are coming and going. The Prefect (head of police for the region) however is saying that numbers have gone down to 300 but it is a lie. There are well over 300 people in the largest camp alone.The police have an old habit of giving numbers way below the real numbers, so to hide the true scale of the migrants’ presence in Calais. François Guennoc, vice president and spokeperson for the association Auberge des migrants, lately is giving numbers similar to those of the police, and the press is repeating them, even Liberation in France. Calais Migrant Solidarity activists, who usually give very correct information, have given similar numbers to Corporate Watch.
The 11th July all three main camps were evicted, afterwards everybody went back to where they were. Previously the largest camp had been evicted twice. First the people had to move from rue Verrotieres, and relocated two streets up, near the food distribution place. Later they were evicted again, most people went back but some area was permanenlty cleared. They are now facing another eviction, requested by the owner of the land on which they have resettled. The Legal Shelter (Cabane Juridique) are preparing a case against the eviction. This is the international camp, hosting people of all nationalities, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Sudanese, people from other African countries, Afghans, many Iranians, some Kurds especially from Iran, and others. The camp near the hospital is all Afghans, as well as the smaller camp in Transmarck. The camp near the stadium is all Eritreans. On top of real evictions there are “cleaning operations” ever 48 hours. People are forced to move at 8.30 in the morning, lots of police (gendarmerie aided by CRS) close the area, kick out independent witnesses, search the woods and kick out everybody who has not moved already– most people move on the road with their tents before the police arrive. Council cleaners collect some rubbish, some tents are confiscated, a few people are arrested, the police leave in about one hour, and everybody goes to breakfast. At least this is what happens in the biggest jungle. Near the hospital, where tents are hidden in the bush, police often do not bother because it would be too much work. These “cleanings” are most ineffective, there are rats everywhere. They are done only to harass people and keep them moving.
Most people in the Calais jungles are males, including many unaccompanied minors, most from Afghanistan and Eritrea, some very young.
“When I arrived I was a minor, now I have just turned 18. I have been here 17 months. They arrested me many times, why? I do not drink, I do not smoke, I do not make any trouble. I do not like to stay in the jungle and I do not like to stay in France, the police have no respect. All I want is to go to England, work, have a good life and send some money to my family in Afghanistan. England is a good country, but it is so difficult to get there”!
There are very few women and small children, nearly all from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Most are sheltered by volunteers and local people, but sometimes there are women and children sleeping in the jungle. They want to stay there to try go to England, or they have just arrived and do not know there are women’s services and the possibility of accommodation.
People are quite friendly, and increadibly cheerful. Sure they are determined not to let things get them down! Calais is a place of hope, they are all here for a better, a possible future and hope keeps them going. Some people have been here for two years or more.
Some people are newly arrived. Some are returning after being in other EU countries, or back home in Afghanistan. Many applied for asylum in France and were refused, and are now trying to go to England. Some applied for asylum in Belgium, Germany, Norway, other countries, and were refused. The new Loi Asile Immigration 2018 represents a turn for the worst on the subject of asylum and refugees rights. Since the beginning of 2019 time in detention had been doubled to 90 days, creating an explosive situation in the now overcrowded detention centres. There have been a series of protests and hunger strikes. In Paris the Gilets noirs, a new Sans Papiers movement, occupied the main airport to protest deporations.
“I am from Sudan, from Darfur. I am an air pilot. I had to flee my country to save my life. When I arrived in France I liked it, and decided to stay here. My asylum claim was refused, and the appeal refused. I was detained 5 times and they wanted to deport me back to Sudan. If they send me back to Sudan I will be killed. I was released, also thanks to people campaigning for me. I spent 4 years living in the streets, but what can I do? I cannot go back to my country because if I go back I die, and I want to live. I am trying to go to England now. I hope one day I can fly airplanes again”. He speaks in a mild, matter-of-fact way, as if what is happening to him was normal. He is a lovely, intelligent man. There are other Sudanese men in detention in Coquelles, near Calais. One man was sent back to Sudan and disappeared, neither his family or his friends have heard from him. Others were released thanks to legal support and campaigning efforts. There are Afghans being sent back to Afghanistan, also as a result of the hardening of French immigration policies. Lately an Eritrean was deported and others are threatened with deportation. Plus there are lots of Dublin deportatons, especially to Italy. Calais Migrant Solidarity activists are doing good work supporting people in the local detention centre of Coquelles, and raising the alarm, https://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2019/08/02/risques-de-deportations-vers-le-soudan-risks-of-deportations-to-sudan/?fbclid=IwAR2GDROOkDcYO2d7Pt3EXvkbNCb1q8yLpc72u35D3bLdx2jO883BXK0bvQ8
This year there have been a series of demonstrations in Calais to demand dignity and rights for the people in the jungles, an end to deportations, an end to the Dublin system, stop police violence and an open border. They have been organized by a collective called Appel d’air, including refugees, activists and volunteers. After the last, very peaceful protest, the police went to the jungle and beat up everybody they could find, in revenge. Refugees say the associations did not complain about this unprovoked attack, and in general are failing to defend them.
“We do not need food, blankets or clothes. We need to be given our rights”!
My personal thoughts is that the associations in Calais have always failed to defend people’s rights. They always had double loyalties towards the people they are supposed to be helping and towards the institutions on which ultimately they depend. In Calais we do not have a humanitarian crisis, what we see is the result of politics and the UK and French governments are creating this situation. The problem is the border. Justice renders charity 100% useless.
Nearly 10 years have passed since the first wholesale evictions of Calais jungle, in September 2009. There were several self organized camps and squats, the French State tried to demolish them all, but immediately they formed again. In June 2009 there was a No Border camp in Calais, and Calais Migrant Solidarity was formed by activists present at the camp. No Borders activists have mantained a continuos presence in Calais even since, offering solidarity not charity and working with refugees and other migrants on an equalitarian basis, instead than an up-down relationship.
In 2016 we were overcame by volunteers and startups, who swamped Calais without understanding the politics and without listening to anyone but to themselves. The Auberge des migrants, that was the smallest association in Calais, became the biggest thanks to Help Refugees. Most associations including the Info bus, the Refugee Youth Service and the Refugee Community Kitchen are based with the Auberge. To me this is a problem. The Auberge / Help Refugees did a great job collecting and distributing humanitarian aid. However they also co-opted the large solidarity movement that had sprang out after the death of little Aylan Kurdi in a direction convenient to the State. They helped building the big jungle-ghetto, and keeping people there. When migrants organized demonstrations supported by No Borders activists, demanding an end to racist segregation in the jungle, a house for all, open the border and an end to police violence, the associations were not interested. They organized a large but pointless demonstration of their own, with no demands, and they did not even consult with the migrants in struggle, who were very disappointed. The charites- led demonstration went to the ferry port, on which entrance a fake wall had been erected for people to write on so to vent their frustration – without going inside the ferry port, that could have caused some disruption. Nobody took notice, except for a little article in the local paper. The migrant-led demonstrations had gone to the city centre, rendering the issue visible, and to the Town Hall, even the mayor Natacha Bouchart went and meet them on one occasion.
The warehouse from where the Auberge operate, and where most other associations are based, had and still has a policy not to allow anyone without papers inside. In the warehouse, same racist segregation like everywhere else in Calais.The justification given is that the police threatened to close the warehouse if they found undocumented people there. Undocumented people however had been helping with the charities in the past, and nothing was shut down. The Auberge have always been very prone to obey the authrities, and perhps the pressure may have been higher this time. Further, the Auberge and their partner Help Refugees (now renamed Choose Love) obliged all their volunteers to sign a paper in which they promised NOT TO TALK TO REFUGEES. Why? Are they not human beings like us? Are they dangerous and why should they be more dangerous than anybody else? The refugees were deeply offended seeing large groups of volunteers going to their home, doing some work, and leaving without even talking to them! Choose love? How can you love someone you do not know and you don’t even talk to? Many volunteers signed the paper, disobeyed, and kept talking to refugees, sitting in the jungle’s restaurants and fraternizing with the people living there, fair play to them.
When Cazeneuve, the minister who had created that horror of the big jungle, decided to evict it in one week, without any real solution for the thousands of people there but deportation to temporary accommodation centres far away, the associations decided to collaborate with the government, even expressing their approval in a letter to the then president of France, Hollande. Meanwhile Jean Claude Lenoir, president of the association Salam, who do not work with the other associations, was inviting everybody to “trust the government”! (“faire confiance ou gouvernment) WTF. I am not accusing all volunteers of being collaborators and most are good people. Some have been harassed and even prosecuted by police. The problem is with the head of the associations and their hierarchical organisation. Some associations’ local branches, like Secours Catholique in Calais or Emmaus in Dunkirk, are quite good. The heads of the same associations in Paris are major collaborators with the State. Clare Moseley of Care4Calais, who does not work with the other associations, grassed up and took to court various refugees who did not want her in the jungle. Moseley also falsely accused fellow humanitarian worker Mary Jones and the people who ran the Kids’ Restaurant Jungle Books of stealing money destined to the kids, taking them to court. Later the case was thrown out of court because not supported by any evidence whatsoever. Moseley’s accusations were instrumental for the police to close shops and restarants in the jungle ahead of the eviction in 2016. All this is common knowledge but nobody is talking about it.
The Auberge and Help Refugees took the government to court over the eviction, but they did not ask for the eviction to be halted until real solutions were found for everybody. They just asked for human rights to be respected, which of course is ridicolous, you cannot displace thousands of people in one week and respect their human rights. They asked for minors to be taken care of, and some minor points. They did not obtain anything, but still collaborated with the eviction. What is happening now in Calais is the result of that eviction, that is why I feel the need to keep taliking about it. The associations totally failed to make the point that people have a right to stay somewhere. The temporary accommodation places are no solution, after one month people are thrown back in the streets unless they apply for asylum in France. The rate of Dublin deportation and refusals of asylum claims made from these temporary centres is staggering, as support and information there are mostly absent, sometimes people do not even have an interpreter in their language! For everyone who was given papers and a place at the university of Lille there are dozens who dropped out the system or were refused, usually without having their cases properly heard. I met many of them, who have returned to the jungle.