Calais: Bulldozers do not make policy!

21 February 2016

Once again, faced with the situation in the Calais area, the only response considered by the government to deal with it is the removal of a refugee camp, and dispersal. It makes out that it is addressing the real causes of the problem; but in reality, by making the victims doomed to disperse in fear, this policy only shifts the problem and makes it worse. This "solution" is not one.

Eight organizations sent an open letter to Bernard Cazeneuve asking him to postpone the evacuation programmed for much of the "jungle" of Calais. The Minister of the Interior has sent a response that is a categorical refusal: he justifies his decision with ungracious chants about respect for the fundamental rights of migrants and the legitimacy of policy that have not changed for years, despite their evident failure; and he reminds the associations of their "partnership" with the state so as to implicate them in the policy that they are challenging. In step, the Prefecture of Pas-de-Calais has just published an Order instructing the occupants of the southern area of the shanty-town, 'La Lande', to leave their places by Tuesday, February 23, at the latest.

Bulldozers cannot replace policy. This obviously does not imply accommodating us in a "jungle" whose name says it all. No one would accept keeping the Calais shanty-town going, nor the Grande-Synthe camp, nor any other. No one can be satisfied to see refugees forced to survive in such places.

For years, we have not stopped denouncing the indignity of these living conditions, as also did Jacques Toubon, the Defender of Rights, last summer. More recently, the Lille Administrative Court likewise ordered the state to carry out emergency improvements, a decision upheld by the Council of State.

However, there is no question of condoning the evacuation announcement, not only because it is inhuman, but also because it will not solve anything. Drive out the inhabitants of a large part of the area, run bulldozers there and destroy everything that was built over the months, in insecurity and usig the means to hand: why bother?

Migrants who are in the Calais region often want to join relatives in Britain. Others are entitled to seek asylum in France but they do not always know this or they are wary of the welcome that awaits them. Others are waiting for a response to their asylum requests. Among them, there are many children ... But for several categories of migrants, there are solutions included in the [legal] texts, with arrangements, roles and funds specified for this purpose. They could have been implemented long ago.

Rather than tackle it, the government preferred to conduct successive "dismantling" operations. In 2015, they forced the displaced migrants to settle in an area "managed" for them. In short, they have already defeated what was done, forcing those they chased out to live in a yet more precarious situation.

Today, the main part of the Calais State Slum consists of tents and rough shelters, built by refugees with volunteers from various associations. These few square kilometres have seen the gradual birth of makeshift cafés and restaurants, tiny grocery stores, places of worship of different religions, small schools, a theatre marquee, a legal aid hut, several places devoted to care, etc. So many social spaces, shared by refugees of different nationalities in the slum.

What justifies removing all this? The minister wants to convince people that this is for the good of the occupants. In reality, it is a policy of deterrence: make life unviable for refugees. For weeks, the authorities have urged those settled in this area, to fill containers – like modular site offices – or otherwise be scattered far from Calais in CAOs (welcome and orientation centres), called "respite places."

But this is an impossible alternative.

The Minister touts the containers, which in his prose seem to be holiday bungalows. The fact is that these are site cabins each with bunk beds for twelve people, where one can only stand up or lie down; adding any furniture is forbidden, there is no privacy...

On CAOs, the Minister congratulates himself because, unlike the slum, they allow migrants to file applications for asylum in good conditions through "quality associative support" and "special monitoring" of people. "At the last count," he writes, "80% of remaining CAO migrants were engaged in an asylum process" ... He forgets to mention those who, placed in a hotel, are deprived of any support and risk deportation soon. He also fails to mention that the CAOs were conceived as very short-term solutions; after they close, what will happen to people who have been sent there?

Containers, CAOs; expulsion, dispersion; these responses will only worsen the plight of migrants without in any way controlling the problem facing the Calais region, no more than did the closure of the Sangatte camp in its day. And in one year, we will replay the same scene. For it is above all the inaction of the authorities, but also their action, which by creating impossible living conditions, makes the situation unmanageable. The State wants us to believe it is on the side of the people against refugees; in reality it sets the one against the other by abandoning both.

We must stop chasing all the world's misery out of the jungle shanty-town, a persecution which only increases the resentment of the "residents". No, the plight of migrants will not create happiness for the French, nor more in Calais than elsewhere. In fact, allowing the situation to deteriorate is more painful for the peoples of Calais, and also more expensive for the government, than to work to improve it. The most basic humanity forbids us from repeated destructions; as also does our best interest.

Can this country be satisfied to become the champion of unwelcome, even when refugees are less numerous than elsewhere? What other countries are doing already, France must also be able to. Britain, which has a great responsibility in this situation, must also review its position on this front. We must end the perpetual improvisation; it is time for long term thinking. And if the state does not do its job, we will work there ourselves - with the associations in the field, with the inhabitants of the Calais region and with the refugees.

In the next few days we will go to Calais to speak out loudly and strongly: 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 to make a different story heard than from the public authorities that occupies the media. Destroy, said the Prefect? With, without or against the State if necessary, we must build a good future.

Once again, we, the undersigned organizations and individuals in solidarity, ask:

  • That the deportation order of February 19 is cancelled ;
  • Urgently: a respectful individual consideration of the fundamental rights of people currently present in Calais;
  • A discussion of the Dublin Regulation III and Le Touquet agreements;
  • More broadly, that France finally gets involved, particularly by promoting this approach within the EU, for a true policy of welcome for migrants.

February 20, 2016

First signatory organizations and persons:

Persons Éric Fassin
Camille Louis
Étienne Tassin

Auberge des migrants (Calais)
Emmaus France Gisti League of Human Rights (LDH)
Education Without Borders Network (RESF)
Le Réveil Voyageur (Calais)