Who failed the refugees of Calais?

September 22, 2016

Refugees fleeing war, repression and famine in Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa have endured countless hardships seeking safe conditions for themselves and their families in Europe. As part of the massive migration, hundreds of people found a home in a camp in the northern French city of Calais, across the English Channel from Britain.

Since that time, however, camp residents have endured repression from police as well as attacks by the far right, which has become emboldened by the anti-immigrant rhetoric of many European leaders. In this report for the revolutionary socialism in the 21st century website, Mitch Mitchell, who is part of the London2Calais solidarity initiative, described the deteriorating situation in Calais.

THERE IS an old saying, "You can't squeeze a quart into a pint pot." That is precisely what is happening at the moment in the refugee camp in Calais, referred to by some as "The Jungle."

To recap for a moment, when, in April 2015, the authorities assembled the camp, the first residents were told, "Come here. We will never evict you." That promise lasted until February of this year, when a court order was evoked to clear the southern section of the camp. This destruction of people's homes and in some cases livelihoods resulted in a (very) temporary reduction in the numbers living there.

Many of the evicted residents left and tried to find shelter elsewhere. Several of them have now returned, and together with about 100 new arrivals daily, are trying to find space in the part of the camp which remained. Prior to the evictions, the camp's population was roughly 7,000. That figure now stands at closer to 10,000, and the area they are cramming into is obviously much smaller.

Add to this the fact that the place is suffering from what the Guardian calls "donor fatigue"--in everyday language, people have stopped giving in the large numbers that was happening, and the place is in serious trouble. Food is running short, as are tents, sleeping bags and blankets for new arrivals, plus, of course, space in which to pitch the tents.

Refugees and solidarity activists march in the northern French city of Calais
Refugees and solidarity activists march in the northern French city of Calais (Convoy to Calais)

Unfortunately, because the crisis has dropped out of the headlines, many people think it is over.

MORE PRESSURE is piled on to the unfortunate people in the camp by attacks from local fascist groups and, your friendly neighborhood thugs, the CRS [France's riot police units]. The CRS think nothing of firing tear gas and rubber bullets fairly indiscriminately at men, women and children.

Recently, people from the local truckers union teamed up with farmers, Calais business people, the [far-right National Front] and others to protest and demand a date for the camp's final closure. They did this by blockading the motorway which leads to the Eurotunnel and the ferry port in protest of the refugees who were....er...blockading the motorway which leads to the Eurotunnel and the ferry port.

To placate these right-wing protesters, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the whole place will be smashed down in October. Where people are supposed to go is anyone's guess.

Much of this situation has been caused by the abject failure of both the French and British governments to provide a solution. Both sides blame the other for inactivity, and while they do, people continue to suffer.

The now-departed British Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to settle 20,000 Syrians by 2020 looks like it's coming to very little. Apart from the fact that this affair is not only about Syrians, Cameron stipulated that they must come from the camps in Lebanon and Jordan, rather that from Northern France.

The only people who are profiting from this stalemate are the people traffickers and truck drivers (many British) who offer to smuggle people into the UK for up to 10,000 euros.

I personally stand for "No Borders" and would like to see every refugee given safe passage to the UK. There are almost 1 million empty properties in Britain, so the bigot's argument "We're Full," doesn't hold up. Yes, the infrastructure would be under some pressure, but that should be properly funded. It could be done by scrapping Trident and making sure, Starbucks, Amazon and co pay the proper level of taxes.

First published at the rs21 website.

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