In late October then-President, François Hollande, ordered the dismantling of the Calais “Jungle”, a small tent-city which housed an estimated 7000 migrants and refugees. The “Jungle” had long been a symbol of Europe’s failed border policies and inability to effectively manage the refugee crisis. On Oct. 24 law enforcement forced residents out, and the camp descended into chaos. Riot police fired tear gas as clashes between migrants and police erupted. Parts of the camp became engulfed in flames. The closing was announced as a “mission accomplished” by the Prefect of Pas-de-Calais, Fabienne Buccio. However, the closing was widely criticized by human rights and migrant protection groups. While international media expressed hope that the closure might ultimately benefit adults, there was a quick outcry at reports of unaccompanied children being “unaccounted for” and “turned away from the registration centres” during the deconstruction. For minors the closure of the camp also removed social networks that provided safety. Over six months later, how are the Calais migrants fairing?
A Brief History of the Calais Jungle:
Calais hosted migrants and refugees since the late 90’s when the Red Cross opened the Sangatte refugee camp to host an influx of asylum seekers. Then-President, Nicolas Sarkozy, ordered its closure in the early 2000’s. However, the flow of migrants continued, and the Calais tent-city slowly developed. The demographic composition of the camp shifted over time, but the majority of individuals living in the camp last October before closure were Eritrean, Afghan, and Sudanese. A large portion of migrants to France hope to travel to Great Britain view British economic opportunities as superior or have family members that reside there. At Calais, the majority of residents hoped to travel across the English Channel by stowing away on a truck or ship. In 2014, approximately 300 migrants attempted to storm a ferry in an effort to reach Britain.
Widespread global conflict has exacerbated the migrant crisis in Europe. The influx of refugees has exposed rifts between EU members and the limitations of EU border policies- in particular the Schengen Agreement and the “Le Touquet Accord.” The Schengen Agreement abolished internal border checks for participating countries in the EU (the UK had “opted out” even before Brexit). However, the application of this policy has become strained as politicians face increasing domestic political pressure to close borders and keep refugees out. “Le Touquet Accord,” signed in 2003, is essentially “juxtaposed controls” and allows British and French border control to check passports before entering the other country. For example, British border security checks travelers’ papers at the French coast as opposed to the British one. As a result, migrants can not officially reach British soil to claim asylum, nor can they pass the British security checks, keeping them in limbo at the French border. Current-President, Emmanuel Macron, has called for the Le Touquet Accord to be “renegotiated, especially the parts that deal with the fate of isolated migrant children,” an ownership of France’s failure in dealing with vulnerable, unaccompanied minors.
Plan for closure and Aftermath:
The French government’s plan was to divide the migrants and refugees and bus them to government-sponsored asylum centers spread throughout France. These centers were to temporarily house them while their claims for asylum were examined, and those who did not obtain asylum were to be deported. Unaccompanied minors were to remain at the camp while their asylum was processed. However, the registration process was disorganized and overlooked a number of children. The French government called Britain to provide asylum for the approximately 1500 unaccompanied minors who remained in Calais.
Researchers, Marta Welander and Leonie Ansems, report that an estimated 2000 residents left the camp for Northern France shortly prior to its destruction. Within six months of the Calais closure, the size of another migrant camp in Dunkirk had nearly doubled in size. The Calais week-long demolition was also followed by a sharp increase in the number of migrants living on the streets in Paris. Rather than protect migrants, the closure appeared to have merely further displaced them. Then-President Hollande claimed that the rise was due to Libyan migrants. Nonetheless, the timing was rather suspect, and reports cited that many of those on Parisian streets claimed to be Sudanese, one of the predominant demographics within the “Jungle.”
Six months later: Where are the Calais Migrants now?
The Refugee Rights Data Project conducted interviews of hundreds of migrants living on Paris’ streets in January and compiled a report, revealing 25% of surveyed adults and 29% of children had previously spent time in Calais or Dunkirk migrant camps. An additional report released in April from the Refugee Rights Data Project estimates that 400 individuals still reside in Calais, half of whom are children. Those left behind are increasingly at risk as they often lack food and shelter, security, as well as access to health and legal assistance. The camp’s demolition removed a community that provided a social safety net on which unaccompanied minors relied for protection and guidance.
Both reports suggest that police brutality and abuse is a key issue of concern for adults and especially children. The January report specified that migrants on Paris’ streets were frequently asked to move while sleeping, and 53.9% expressed that this was a “violent interaction.” Of the 400 migrants still in Calais 89.2% reported that they had experienced police violence. In examining interviews with minors, this number increases to 96.5%, reaffirming the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied migrant children. Last October, France called for 1500 unaccompanied children to be transferred to France. Encouragingly the Refugee Rights Data Project noted that, as of April, approximately 1100 had been transferred. However, the report also noted a new wall, heavily funded by Great Britain and designed to inhibit further migration across the English Channel. A staggering 89% of the interviewed migrants remaining in Calais hope to reach Great Britain, and a third responded that they did not feel safe in France. Only 12% of interviewees claimed to have access to information about their rights or European immigration law. While most of the respondents hoped to resettle elsewhere, a significant portion of those who had filed paperwork related to their legal status were unsure of the outcome.
These reports draw into question both the ethics as well as effectiveness of the camp closure and challenge the narrative put forth by some government officials that closing Calais would once-and-for-all address the crisis. Systemic violence alongside migrants’ inability to access legal information indicates that French-sponsored programs lack the resources, directive, or competence to address the issue with the comprehensiveness it deserves. In particular, the estimated 200 children still living in Calais suggest closure was more about optics than aiding migrants. The “Jungle” demolition was frenetic, failed to provide adequate support for refugees, and now leaves open the possibility of an international policy struggle with Great Britain. For the short-term, closing the camp appears to have harmed the migrants forced to relocate themselves with little to no support. In examining the long-term, the closure has failed to develop a true resolution to French migrant issues, merely sweeping migrants under the rug. President Macron has declared that France “must get used to mass immigration” and advocated for substantive EU-wide solutions. However, such developments may be out of reach with a growing crisis and an increasingly divided European Union.
The full reports referenced in this article from the Refugee Rights Data Project are linked above and available here.