As you read this CRS police squads, acting on French government orders, will once again be destroying the make-shift homes and personal property of the 9000 people who are trying to survive in the Calais refugee camp.
They have returned to this task sporadically over the years. In April 2009 a determined effort to close the camp led to the arrest of 109, with bulldozers destroying the tents of around 800 refugees.
Regrouped after assault
Within weeks the victims of this assault had regrouped and the Jungle was up-and-running again. Another dawn raid in September the same year saw 276 refugees arrested, but the camp survived and even flourished as the wretched home for thousands of people who could find nowhere else to live.
Heedless of past failures to vanquish the refugees, the French government ordered another clearance in January. This one displaced around 1000 people. The forcible eviction was accompanied by efforts to get the refugees to accept alternative accommodation in 125 metal shipping containers. Take-up has been patchy.
Instead French NGOs report there are at least eleven other camps in the region. The biggest is in Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk. Others are in Boulogne, Dieppe and Le Havre. Smaller ‘jungles’ pop up across the Pay du Nord and Normandy at road junctions and petrol stations – almost anywhere where port-bound traffic slows and there is a chance to jump in the back of a lorry that might possibly be en route to England.
The current week-long operation which is being advertised as a no-holds-barred effort to eradicate the refugee camps altogether is also being presented as having a sensitive side. Buses will transport 3000 of the most vulnerable – families and the estimated 1200 unaccompanied children – to 100 new government-approved sites across France. No doubt some of the people who have been living in the squalor and discomfort of the Jungle for long months will finally agree to being relocated far away from the Channel.
Abject failure to cooperation
So can we expect to see an end to stories about refugee camps just across the Channel? And will the authorities be able to claim the victory they have long been craving?
Don’t bank on it. It simply skips over the factors which led to the creation of the Jungle way back in the 1990s. Foremost amongst these is the abject failure of European governments to cooperate with one another in providing a humanitarian response to a whole series of refugee crises that have ripped across southern Europe and the Mediterranean over the last 25 years.
From the Balkan wars that saw the break-up of Yugoslavia, and the refugee flows that merged Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis with people displaced by conflict in the Horn of Africa. And later, Syrians and all the nationalities that once lived in Libya flowed into the torrent who beached up on the shores of a Europe determined not play any useful role in resolving the crisis.
This never sat easily with Europe’s claim that it is the continent of human rights – the oldest of which is to provide a safe haven for people fleeing persecution. While European governments turned away from meeting humanitarian obligations large sections of continental public opinion disagreed with them, and this in turn fed the flame of hope that a safe place to live might be found.
The Jungle continued in its various forms because refugees carried on believing they can reach safety, despite the hastily constructed fences, mob-handed police operations, and denial of humanitarian aid.
Independent, compassionate message of welcome
What is happening in France now will not kill off that hope. The more Europe’s governments say ‘No’, the more will refugees look to the places where independent, compassionate, thought continues to send out the message of welcome – which official Europe has tried to silence.
If the Calais Jungle vanishes we can be sure that what it has represented to the tens of thousands who sided with its denizens will not. Likely as not the camp will reappear in much the same form because the injustices which created it are still the most active ingredient in the crisis. Our solidarity with the refugees’ cause will be reaffirmed, and our resolve to do more to give aid and support will be strengthened.
Read original posting here.
This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.
*Don Flynn, the MRN Director, leads the organisation’s strategic development and coordinates MRN’s policy and project work. He is a regular and sought-after speaker at conferences, seminars and lectures on behalf of MRN.