The mayor of Calais has just announced the destruction of the northern part of Calais Jungle, but it is not clear if she is the first to announce something that has already been decided -in order to appear as in the heart of the process-, or if she is trying to force a still irresolute government to take a decision. Her argumentation focuses on the disorders caused by migrants where the slum is. Also the authorities of the Harbor demand the destruction of the Jungle because of the negative impact of its presence in a such close place and because of dangers for the work, some trade unionists say. The order to evict the southern part of the Jungle was also reasoned by the prefecture of Pas-de-Calais department with public order issues, pointing out disorders caused by this mass of migrants staying right under the road leading to the port.
But who placed migrants there?
Let’s have a look back in time. In late summer 2014 the mayor of Calais announced the creation of a center for 400 people, requiring the french minister to clarify that it would have been a day care only. The prefecture then came into the story by defining more the project, and then the place is announced: the Leisure Center Jules Ferry. On September 17, in a post titled “Is the day-care center project not a joke?”, we declared ourselves astonished by the choice of that location: ” The planned location raises doubts. […] The images of large groups of migrants surrounding trucks and trying to force the port entrance, it’s there. The intended location for the day care center, the Jules Ferry camp, is located immediately on the other side of that road. To place migrants there is in contradiction with trying to calm down the situation at the entrance of the Harbour, which appeared as one of the priorities of the prefecture. ”
We were not especially clairvoyant, the others associations shared the same unbelief. We passed through a phase, that lasted until June 2015, in which there were traffic jams several times a week, both on the road to to Harbour and the ramp to the Channel Tunnel, with migrants trying to jump on trucks and the police trying to stop them. Over the following months it became clear that the authorities wanted to create not only a day center but to regroup there all the migrants until then living in different squats and camps around Calais, there where is the Jungle nowadays, just outside the road to access to the Harbour. The evictions from old living places and their grouping on the current land were held in late March – early April 2015.
And we are surprised a year later -the famous traffic jams disappeared, the Harbour and all around the tunnel area surrounded by new fences with an increased police surveillance- if there are tensions around the road to the Harbour and if migrants are trying to block trucks to jump on them, and we blame them for the fact that the Jungle is where it is.
Certainly there was not a lot of land available to accommodate thousands of people. The mayor of Calais wanted migrants to be the farthest from the city center as possible, and neighboring municipalities were not interested in hosting a slum of several thousand inhabitants (inter-municipalities solidarity has its limits), we would have anyway found ourselves close to the road to the Harbour or the A 16 motorway.
Furthermore the situation created did not have only disadvantages, the spectacular pictures of migrants trying to jump on trucks, as well as the media attention in summer 2015 on attempts to pass through the Channel Tunnel ( see here, here, here and here), helped to change the attitude of the British government. Until then he had accused French authorities not to do their border surveillance work, and on the contrary in the last two years British Government made several checks of tens of millions of euros – it must now be an overall around 80 million euros. By the way, if you add to this the money to close the border spent on the French side, we would have way enough money to finance a policy of welcoming.
So if we have to talk about an eviction, let’s expel first those responsible for the situation, who forced migrants to settle in this area, particularly inhospitable, where none of them wanted to go: the Mayor of Calais and the Interior Minister.
Published in French on Passeurs d’hospitalités 13/07/2016.