Once again, the only response considered by the government facing the situation in the Calais area, is the evacuation of a refugee camp and the dispersal of the refugees. Much is made about addressing the real causes of the problem; but in reality, by attacking the victims doomed to disperse in fear, this policy only moves and worsens the problem. This « solution » is nothing of the sort.
The Minister of the Interior has just addressed a response to the eight organisations that published an open letter to Bernard Cazeneuve asking him to postpone the scheduled evacuation of a large part of the Calais « jungle », stating that their request was inadmissible: he justified his decision with incantatory words on respect for the fundamental rights of migrants and merits of the policies that have not changed for many years, despite their evident failure; and he recalled to the associations their « partnership » with the State as if to involve them in the policy that they challenge. At the same time, the prefecture of Pas-de-Calais has just published an order ordering the occupants of the southern zone of the slum known as « la Lande » to vacate the area by Tuesday 23 February at the latest.
The bulldozers cannot replace policy. This does not mean that we should accept a « jungle » whose name speaks volumes. Nobody could accept that the Calais slum remains in its current condition, no more so than the camp of Grande-Synthe or any other camp. Nobody can be happy to see refugees forced to survive in such areas.
For many years now, we have continued to denounce the indignity of such living conditions, as did human rights defender Jacques Toubon last summer. More recently, the administrative court of Lille even ordered the State to implement improvements as a matter of urgency, a decision that was confirmed by the State Council.
However, there is no question of condoning the announced evacuation, not only because it is inhuman, but also because it will not solve anything. Driving out the inhabitants of a large part of the slum, driving in bulldozers and destroying everything that was built there in precarious conditions and with the materials at hand: what will this achieve?
The migrants in the Calais area often seek to join relatives in Great Britain. Others may be entitled to seek asylum in France but are unaware of the possibility, or are wary of the welcome they will receive. Others still await answers regarding their application. There are many children among them. However, there are solutions for several categories of migrants, enshrined in legislation, with facilities, stakeholders and funds allocated for the purpose. They could have been implemented a long time ago.
Rather than tackling the problem, the government preferred to conduct successive « dismantling » operations. In 2015, they forced the migrants who had been evacuated to settle in an area that had been « prepared » for them. In short, they have already undone the efforts made, forcing those they were chasing out to live in even greater precariousness.
The main part of the State slum in Calais is currently made up of makeshift tents and shelters, built by the refugees and volunteers from various associations. Over time, makeshift cafes, restaurants, small grocery stores, places of worship for various religions, tiny schools, a theatre under a tarp, a legal aid hut, several places devoted to the provision of healthcare, and more, have appeared in these few square kilometres. These are all social spaces, shared by the refugees of various nationalities present in the slum.
What can justify razing all this to the ground? The Minister hopes to convince others that it is for the good of the occupants. In truth, it is a policy of deterrence: making life unliveable for the refugees. For weeks now, the government has been encouraging those who have settled in this area to live in containers – modular building constructions – or to be dispersed far from Calais in CAOs (reception and orientation centres), called « places of respite ».
However, this is an impossible alternative.
The Minister touts the advantages of the containers which, to hear him speak, sound like bungalows for holidaymakers. The fact of the matter is that they are infrastructures designed for construction sites, each containing bunk beds for twelve individuals, where people can only stand or sleep; any other furniture is prohibited, any intimacy an impossibility.
Regarding the CAOs, the Minister welcomed the fact that they would enable migrants to submit asylum applications in good conditions, thanks to « quality support from associations » and « special monitoring » for individuals, which was not possible in the slum. « At last count », he stated, « 80% of the migrants still present in CAOs were engaged in the process of seeking asylum ». He forgot to mention those who, placed in hotels, do not have access to any support and risk being deported from the country soon. He also forgot to specify that the CAOs were designed as very short term solutions; what will happen to the people sent to the centres once they have been closed?
Containers, CAOs; expulsion, dispersion; these responses will only worsen the plight of the migrants without solving the problem facing the Calais region. These measures will not help any more than the Sangatte camp being closed down all those years ago. And the same events will play out in a year from now. Above all, it is the lack of action from the government, as well as its actions which, by creating impossible living conditions, make the situation unmanageable. The State wants us to believe that it is on the side of the inhabitants, against the refugees; in truth, it is setting the first against the second, all while abandoning both sides.
It is necessary to stop chasing the world’s misery from one jungle to another shantytown, a persecution that only serves to exacerbate the resentment of the « local residents ». No, the unhappiness of the migrants will not make the French any happier, not in Calais and not anywhere else. In reality, letting the situation deteriorate is more painful for the people of the Calais region, and more expensive for the government, than working towards improving it. The most basic feeling of humanity prevents should prevent us from accepting these repeated destructions; but our best interest as well.
Can this country be happy with a reputation as the champion of non-reception, while it has fewer refugees than other countries? France should be able to do what other countries have already done. Great Britain, which has a heavy responsibility in this situation, should also review its position on this border. The times of perpetual improvisation must come to an end; it is time to think in the long term. And if the State does not do its job, we will work towards doing it ourselves – with the associations in the field, with the residents of the Calais region, and with the refugees.
In the coming days, we will be travelling to Calais to make ourselves heard: we are not condemned to choose between the « jungle » and its destruction. We refuse to reduce France to barbed wire and bulldozers. We will hold a press conference. We want an alternative position to be heard, different than that of the government that is relayed in the media. The Prefect wishes to destroy. We must build a future with, without or against the State, if necessary.
Once again, we, signatory organisations and individuals request:
- That the expulsion order rendered on 19 February be cancelled;
- As a matter of urgency: individual support that respects the fundamental rights of the persons currently present in Calais;
- A discussion of the Dublin III regulation and the Touquet agreements;
- More broadly, that France finally commits itself to developing a proper policy for receiving migrant individuals, in particularly by promoting this within the European Union.
20 February 2016
First signatory organisations and indivuals:
Auberge des migrants (Calais)
Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH)
Réseau Éducation sans frontières (RESF)
Le Réveil voyageur (Calais)