By Sylvia Revello, translated by Gwénaëlle Janiaud
“Rural camp” turned “jungle”: Calais’s refugee camp recently acquired a reputation as “France’s first slum”. The French authorities have spent weeks demolishing the camp. The site, located near the Channel Tunnel, spans several hundred hectares and shelters 3,500-6,000 migrants who have mainly travelled from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea. Shacks, tents and other makeshift shelters that up until now housed more than 1,000 migrants in the southern part of the camp were torn down by bulldozers and anti-riot police. After a few tense days, which were marked by violent clashes between migrants, activists campaigning against border controls and the police, the evacuation process appears to have been carried out peacefully. As flames slowly engulf the wooden and corrugated iron walls of the migrants’ shacks, some are denouncing this bitter episode, which has done nothing to resolve the migrant crisis.
This dirty, dangerous camp of “forsaken migrants”, many of whom have turned to sex work, has drawn criticism from all sides since it was opened in early 2015. The vague and muddy site has slowly been transformed into a “town” with small shops, schools and makeshift places of worship, ensuring that its inhabitants have some quality of life. This self-management model was hastily developed as a way to deal with poor living conditions.
France’s Home Secretary, Bernard Cazeneuve, recently told the press that the government intervened in the situation at Calais in order to “ensure migrants have a safe shelter”. The alternative? To reinstate a temporary reception centre close to the camp, where migrants will be housed in 125 heated containers and monitored. This set-up, similar to the reception and referral centres where asylum applications are centrally processed and people are deterred from traveling to England has, however, only had limited success.
Charities and non-governmental organisations who are already working closely with the refugees are hoping for a different solution. The Grande-Synthe camp, which is considered to have been opened yesterday by Doctors Without Borders in an “anti-Calais” move, is located a few kilometres from the other camp. The long-term aim is to house 2,500 people in a site that meets international standards. Running water, communal areas and even visits from medical staff are just some of the improvements that will be made with the help of many volunteers. The 1000 or so migrants living in the neighbouring Basroch camp should be among the first to benefit.