“With the threat of another eviction any day now, it is important to document the camp for posterity.” wrote Tom, founder of grassroots volunteer group, Roots, himself on-the-ground full-time in Dunkirk, northern France.
”Today we walked around the nearly 2km² area counting the tents, community spaces and shower tents. We classify a community space as a covered area with a fire surrounded by five or more tents.
The numbers are as follows.
585, 2 man tents
47, 6 man tents
26, 8 man tents
15, 10 man tents
13, 12 man tents
686 total tents counted.
137 community spaces.
12 resident made shower tents.
It is important to remember that there is only one water point and not a single shower or toilet provided for the whole site. And that more then half the population have to walk over half a kilometer to just eight taps that supply water to over 1500 people.
Where appropriate, and with permission, we were able to take photos of the areas where people have made camp.”
For the two years since the Calais “jungle” camp was demolished in October 2016, the French authorities have inflicted the same heinous actions time and again on the refugees who have found their way to northern France. Heavy-handed, intimidating evictions, destruction of tents, encampments, and personal belongings and police brutality and tear gassing. Time and again it’s not worked, and yet still they keep going.
The true definition of madness is repeating the same action, over and over, and hoping for a different result. - Albert Einstein
From Donate4Refugees: we invite you to read our associated blog here https://www.donate4refugees.org.uk/blog/2018-another-eviction
The last two years
The unofficial Calais “Jungle” refugee camp was demolished by French authorities in October 2016. It had been home to an estimated 10,000 refugees including men, women, children and unaccompanied minors. With the bulldozers came buses to collect residents and take them to reception centres all across France. Some avoided the buses and stayed resolutely in the area. And it didn’t take long for word to come back of some good centres and some bad. Some refugees deciding to apply for status in France, and some not. Unhappy, bored and with no hope for their future in these corners of France, hundreds of refugees left their reception centres and made their way back to Calais, Dunkirk and the other port cities.
Each had his or her reason, perhaps family ties, language, or simply a dream of the UK against a mounting hatred and distrust for France. Hundreds, maybe thousands, had returned to the port towns by winter 2016. The only humanitarian help for them came from volunteers.
In the following April 2017 the official Dunkirk Grande-Synthe Camp was tragically destroyed overnight by a massive fire, leaving its estimated 1,500 inhabitants, mostly families, homeless. Before the fire was even out, authorities declared the camp would not be re-built. A gymnasium was opened as a makeshift shelter for families and everyone else was left to make their own way.
During the past two years there have been some moments of hope.
In May 2017, Emmanuel Macron became President of France. He had campaigned against the far right with promises of “a more humane asylum policy” and he paid homage to Angela Merkel for saving Europe’s “collective dignity”. Hope!
In June 2017, the Administrative Tribunal of Lille ruled that conditions for those sleeping rough in Calais must be improved. Whilst an accommodation centre wasn’t approved, and no mention was made of the region’s police brutality, the City authorities were ordered to provide humanitarian assistance such as showers, toilets, daily outreach for unaccompanied minors and departures to accommodation centres. Food was still to be provided by volunteers, and distributions shouldn’t be hindered. The Mayor had ten days to respond, or face fines. Hope!
In January 2018 Theresa May and Macron met to sign a new Calais Border Treaty. Their discussions strengthened an accord known as Le Touquet which had moved the British border to France in 2003. Macron urged the UK to set up a joint operation to process asylum seeker claims in Calais which would provide a legal route to Britain for some. Hope!
And, most recently, on 3 October 2018 The Court of Appeal in the UK ruled that the government acted unlawfully in not giving reasons to children refused entry to Britain under the Dubs Amendment. This means the number of children eligible for the Dubs scheme is 480, up from an initial number set at 350. Hope!
However, hope hasn’t lasted long in each case.
Macron has toughened up asylum laws in France. In 2017 France had their highest number of asylum claims for 40 years at 100,000. However, there was only a 36% acceptance rate and the country faced problems processing this number of claims leaving hundreds homeless. They also have little plan for those rejected. And unable to go forwards or backwards, many are ending up homeless and destitute. And the victims of police brutality (from the CRS special mobile police, a reserve force concerned with maintaining public order).
The Calais Mayor, Natacha Bouchart, accepted the fines of the Administrative Tribunal of Lille, rather than provide any humanitarian assistance.
There’s been no progress, further discussion, or even a hint of setting up a joint operation to provide a legal route to Britain for some. Meanwhile, British funding for security in the region has risen to more than £140 million (November 2016 - January 2018) paying for barbed wire fences, a one kilometer long concrete wall, CCTV and CRS brutality.
“I have destroyed many encampments, I have emptied canisters of tear gas to contaminate people’s sleeping bags… In Calais I follow orders and I don’t think. … I [have] colleagues who set tents on fire so badly that the fire brigade had to be called. We are asked to look busy, to evict people, to arrest them... Maybe one day I’ll confess my sins to the Lord.” The CRS officer said, speaking to Haydée Sabéran from Ebdo Journal in France.
Numbers of refugees are estimated at 300 in Calais, 1,500 in Dunkirk and low hundreds in other port towns. We could easily help if we chose to. Evidence shows that even if the UK accepted (or processed) every person claiming asylum, and every person wanting to claim asylum, in the UK, we would still have the lowest application per million population in Europe. In context, the UK received only 26,350 asylum claims in 2017 and it granted only 15,156 ‘forms of protection’. This, during the worst global refugee crisis since World War II, and whilst sitting in the Top 6 countries for arms and weapons exports accounting for nearly 5% of all exports.
Our government’s actions and decisions are #NotInMyName. Are they in yours?
Photo credit: Roots, Dunkirk