Two petitions are circulating to oppose the destruction of Calais shantytown. Not to be perpetuated this substandard housing, but because its brutal destruction and without solution for its residents will bring a worse situation.
One of these petitions, in French, is addressed to the president of the republic. It points out that destroying homes and organizing the forced displacement of their inhabitants is akin to an act of war, exerted on people who mostly flee from war.
You can sign this petition here :
The second, in English, addressed to Amber Rudd, British Home Secretary. It requests the slum is not destroyed in the absence of solutions for people who inhabit it, including the reception in France of those who wish, but also that the United Kingdom take its share in the reception of refugees, and opens to them its border.
You can sign this petition here :
You can read the text of the petition addressed to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd :
SUBJECT: Stop the demolition of the Calais Jungle
We, who have been supporting the refugees in the Calais camp for the past 13 months, are deeply concerned about the proposed imminent demolition of the unofficial Calais Refugee camp. We are writing on behalf of the thousands of British volunteers who have given their time and money to provide and distribute food, clothing and simple medicines for the estimated 9,000 refugees in the camp to call on you, as Home Secretary, and the UK Government to take action to prevent this atrocity from taking place.
Demolitions do not act as a deterrent to refugees travelling to Calais; in February 2016 over half the camp was demolished and yet now six months later it is larger than it has ever been.
The alternative provisions offered by the French Government (the Centres d’ Acceuil et Orientation) do not address the key reasons refugees are settling in Calais and therefore cannot provide a long-term solution to the crisis.
Demolitions have hugely harmful consequences, not only being a traumatic experience for the vulnerable refugees experiencing them, (people who have already suffered intolerable conflict and oppression in their countries of origin and perilous journeys to reach Calais) they destroy vital infrastructure, do not help combat illegal and unsafe routes into the UK and encourage the creation of smaller more unsafe camps.
There are over 1,000 unaccompanied children in the camp and as yet there have been no guarantees, or even proposals, as to how the safety of these children will be guaranteed. Many have the legal right to be transferred to the UK.
There is no way the French government can guarantee safety of these children when they cannot produce a list of their names, even less list an assessment of each case. Demolitions should not take place until these assessments have been done and it can be guaranteed that all the children will be safe.
Demolition should not take place until viable long-term solutions are in place and all child refugees have been suitably rehoused.
There are now more than 9,000 people seeking refuge in the Calais camp. These are individuals and families, including an estimated 800 unaccompanied children, fleeing violence, threat and uncertainty at home.
Increasingly violent tactics are being employed by people smugglers on the roads entering the port, disrupting important transport links.
As the only British organisation working full time on the ground we have a key insight into the situation in the camp and a clear understanding of the role the UK can play in establishing a long-term solution this humanitarian crisis.
The upcoming elections in France mean that the French government is keen to be seen to act quickly and definitively.
President Francois Hollande has announced that the camp will be demolished by the end of the year. Recent reports have suggested that this process will happen as early as mid-October.
The French authorities have said they will create up to 12,000 places in 160 temporary welcome centres around France for people to be moved to. These are small centres that will each hold 40 or more refugees.
While it is possible that such centres could be a viable alternative for those wishing to claim asylum in France, many refugees in Calais have strong reasons for wanting to get to the UK and will simply return to the Calais area (1). These include family ties, the fact that English, which many of them speak to a greater or lesser extent, is the global language, and that our country has a fine reputation for always showing a humanitarian response, whether welcoming Jews fleeing the Nazis, Vietnamese boat people or Ugandan Asians fleeing from Idi Amin.
There have been reports of various failings at the French welcome centres and the dispersal of refugees around France will make monitoring of this, and delivery of aid, extremely difficult if not impossible (2).
Why demolition is not a solution:
Dismantling the camp is not a sustainable solution to this crisis. We believe that it is a decision that has been made with a short-term political victory in mind.
In February this year over 50% of the camp was demolished and yet six months later the camp is bigger than ever before. This is clear evidence that demolitions do not act as a deterrent. We have no doubt that refugees will continue coming to Calais. Destroying the basic infrastructure will achieve nothing more than making living conditions much more inhumane.
Demolitions have previously led to an increase in people living in the smaller camps along the northern coast of France. If the Calais camp is closed it is likely that these camps, which have no running water, toilets or medical facilities will grow, and such camps are much more difficult for aid organisations to access (3).
Destroying the hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of basic infrastructure that is established in Calais, thanks to the extraordinary, generous donations by UK and other volunteers, is tragic and purposeless.
We know that more refugees are on their way from Northern Africa and the Middle East and that the refugee crisis will get worse before it gets better. We recognise that this is a global problem with an estimated 65 million refugees worldwide. We are also aware that much of the refugee problem is being dealt with in countries that can ill afford to take them e.g. hundreds of thousands of refugees from South Sudan who are being cared for in Uganda. Sustainable, long term solutions, rather than one off action, are required.
Any sustainable long term solution requires recognition of the underlying reasons that refugees travel specifically to Calais; many have close family or community ties to the UK, have served with the British army in Afghanistan, have lived in the UK previously etc. To date the UK has refused to take any responsibility for these people who are now in desperate need through no fault of their own.
There is no morally acceptable reason why the UK should not do its fair share to help out in what has now become the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. This applies equally to Calais as it does to the refugee crisis across the whole of Europe.
We must work towards providing safe passage for genuine refugees and establishing a means whereby those in genuine need of UK asylum can be safely processed without the need for them to risk their lives by attempting to enter the UK illegally. This would benefit the hauliers, the police and border forces as well as the refugees.
Until the UK government recognises the vital role it can and must play to achieve a longer-term solution, the situation only looks to worsen.
“Abdo” age 26 left Sudan shortly after the militia arrived at his village. He said they razed everything to the ground. “Even the trees were on fire.” Everyone just ran and in the confusion he was separated from his family who he hasn’t seen since.
In February when the French police demolished his small shelter in the southern zone of the “jungle” it brought back these painful memories. Once again there was nothing he could do to stop the destruction of the tiny bit of normality that was his life. Once again he was subject to violence and fear.
After they had gone we had nowhere for him to sleep so I led him to the mosque. I offered him some food and a blanket. He sat on the floor and turned away the food I had brought for him. He said “I don’t care anymore.” Not even enough to eat. I never want to see a grown man that despondent again. He had given up all hope. This is just one reason why demolishing their homes is such a cruel thing to do to a refugee. They are here because they lost their homes once. Please don’t let it happen again.
I ask you, as the Home Secretary, and the UK Government to find a sustainable long-term humanitarian solution that takes into account the well-being of all of those involved; the hauliers, the residents of Calais, the holidaymakers and of course, above all the refugees themselves.
I am sending a copy of this letter to Rt Hon Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development as clearly the refugee crisis has enormous implications for her department.
(1) A recent study by MSF on the Calais camp inhabitants identified that 51% of those interviewed had strong family ties to the UK. (Bouhenia M. Description of health problems and violence endured by refugees during their journey across Europe and in Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, France. In: MSF Scientific Day. London: F1000; 2016. Available at: https://f1000research.com/slides/5-928 Accessed September 29, 2016)
(2) A report into the operation of the welcome centres following the February 2016 evictions showed 45% of refugees leaving to return to Calais
(3) Alarcon C. The Unknown Knowns. London: Refugee Rights Data Project; 2016. Available at: http://refugeerights.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/RRDP_TheUnknownKnowns.pdf Accessed September 29, 2016.
(4) Andersson R. Europe’s failed ‘fight’ against irregular migration: ethnographic notes on a counterproductive industry. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 2016;42(7):1055-1075. doi:10.1080/1369183x.2016.1139446. »