Misery persists 1 year after Calais camp evacuation

Published 23.10.2017 20:58

Today marks a year since French authorities started clearing out the notorious refugee camp known as ‘the Jungle' in the English Channel port city of Calais.

"The Jungle" was one of a series of camps that had sprung up on the northern coast of France as a temporary home for migrants who, rather than apply for asylum in France, dreamed of reaching Britain. France began the mass evacuation of the makeshift migrant camp known as "the jungle" in October, a mammoth project to erase the humanitarian plight on its northern border.

The mass clearance of the Jungle in October last year saw French authorities order its occupants, most of them young men from Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq, to accommodation around France. Then the bulldozers were sent in. The move was decried as heavy-handed by some critics and activists while pictures of the destruction were published around the world as a vivid illustration of Europe's struggle to cope with the unprecedented surge of arrivals.

But a year later, there are still migrants in Calais. They are fewer in number, but, if anything, more desperate. Most hope to cross to Britain despite the best efforts of security forces to stop them.

The head of the local administration, Fabien Sudry, told local newspaper La Voix du Nord there were about 500, while Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart puts the figure at 800 to 1,000.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who took office in the new centrist government in May, has been resolute that no camp should be allowed to spring up again, leading police to be criticized for harassing migrants and restricting the work of local charities.

A few portable toilets and water taps were installed reluctantly on a road near the port, but only after the government was forced by a court order to provide basic sanitation facilities.

Local associations recall a promise to build a permanent center to house migrants in Calais made by former Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve at the time the Jungle was destroyed.

"We need accommodation in Calais urgently because the majority of the migrants can't be sent back home," said Jean-Claude Lenoir, the head of the Salam charity which supported the government last year.

The nongovernmental organization runs a massive warehouse with donated clothing, supplies and a large kitchen, providing more than 2,000 meals a day for migrants scattered across the region. "People here are not concerned with finding asylum in France," Torendel said. His association surveyed 214 migrants in Calais last month and found that 92 percent of them wanted to go to the U.K., most often because they had relatives there.

For many, the problem is the Dublin Convention, a European Union agreement providing that asylum seekers must normally be dealt with in the first EU country they arrive in.

Many of the migrants have already been registered in Germany, Italy or other EU countries, and so would be liable to be sent back to those countries.

A group of Ethiopians from the country's Oromo region, where a low-intensity conflict has been running for years, say they are all in that position, having had their fingerprints taken "by force" in Italy.

"We came from Italy. ... Then after one year or two years they reject us to Italy," one man, who did not want to give a name, said. "We don't want to sit here. We can try [in the U.K.]."

After July's court ruling, the government set up two new accommodation centers. Torendel said those centers apply the Dublin regulations strictly, so the migrants in Calais steer clear of them.

Migrants have flocked to the Calais region for nearly two decades, living in mini-jungles. But the sprawling camp in the sand dunes of northern France became emblematic of Europe's migrant crisis, expanding as migrant numbers grew and quickly evolving into Europe's largest slum, supported by aid groups, and a black eye on France's image.

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