November 2015, the first “Respite Centers”, which were not yet called Welcoming and Orientation Centres (CAO – see here, here, here and there), were set up to serve as the answer to a mediatization of the shantytown in Calais that was becoming dangerous for the government. The mayor of the village of Pexonne, in the south of Meurthe-et-Moselle region, was informed that the opening of one of these “respite centers” is planned in a holiday center on the territory of his commune . Fifty exiles, single men, were to be housed there.
In a letter distributed in all the mailboxes, the mayor invited his fellow citizens to a public meeting on November 6, during which he affirms his opposition to the project and threatens to resign. All the reasons are there, from the insecurity to the drought that would prevent the reception of new people on the commune. This “respite center” project will never see the light of day.
December 2015, in the regional elections. While the right (RPR, then UMP, then LR) is traditionaly wins in the commune, the Front National prevails this time with a very large gap (52.6%, against 14.45% for the Republicans).
The great fear that seizes the mayor and the inhabitants of Pexonne in front of the possible arrival of “migrants of Calais” is not only fueled by the videos and the posts that circulate in the extreme right groups on social networks, but also by the official speech which uses the same points to justify the violence of its action.
The arrete – officialized after the meeting in Pexonne – was taken on behalf of the State of emergency, and illustrate this image of the dangerousness of migrants, built and consolidated over time, although in principle it was only about administrative acts. Taken amongst others, the first of these decrees (in French), which aims to charge them with up to 6 months in prison and a 7500 € fine for being on foot along the ring road access to the port of Calais, remains sober. It reads: “the behaviour of people in the adjoining area, known as the” Camp de la Lande “,” who are trying to forcibly enter the trucks in circulation “,” the daily and repeated confrontations between police forces and groups of migrants “. Those same topics recur in the stops prohibiting demonstrations, such as that of July 27, 2016 about a gathering in tribute of an Exile, who had died the day before: “the demonstrators are likely to mobilize the migrants living on the Camp la la Lande called by this association; That the number of them is nearly reaching 4,500 individuals that demonstrate violent behavior “. Or the language of the arrete of 19 February 2016 (in French) about the expulsion of the inhabitants from the southern zone of the shantytown: “CONSIDERING […] that they use violent methods such as throwing projectiles (stones, sticks, pieces of furnitures) on vehicles on the road and on security forces, committing damage to public facilities (fences, safety gates, street lights), and physically assaulting lorry drivers […] “,” CONSIDERING that the residents of the Route de Gravelines and the Chemin des Dunes are also victim of frequent damage of their houses and vehicles […] “,” CONSIDERING that these abuses are the cause of a worsening of the tension between migrants and the Calaisan population […] “,” CONSIDERING that this situation of extreme tension and the serious disturbances of public order committed by migrants … “.
When in September 2016 Le Figaro leaked the government’s plan to create an additional 12,000 CAO spaces for the exiles expelled from Calais and Paris, the right and the extreme right had only to take the government words instrumentalising fears to campaign against the government itself and the dispersion of “mini-jungles of Calais” throughout the territory. And the government destroyed the shantytown to cut short the campaign of the right and the far right.
And at the end of this game, an increased difficulty for the Exiles to find their place in French society when they make the choice to stay in France.