Demolitions in the Calais refugee camp

Posted on 25th September, 2016.

Sign the petition: Amber Rudd MP: Stop The Demolition of the Calais Jungle

There are now more than 9,000 people living in unacceptably squalid conditions in the Calais refugee camp. Increasingly violent tactics are being employed by people smugglers on the roads entering the Calais port, disrupting important transport links. Local residents, politicians and hauliers from both sides of the Channel are making loud calls for their respective governments to take action. In the run up to the French elections the French government is keen to be seen to act definitively in the short term.

In response, the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, has said that the camp will be dismantled and reduced down to 2,000 people as soon as possible. Recent reports have suggested mid October.

The French authorities have said they will create up to 12,000 places in temporary welcome centres around France for people to be moved to. These are small centres that will each hold 200 to 400 refugees. While it is possible that these centers could be a viable alternative for those wishing to claim asylum in France, many refugees in Calais have strong reasons for wanting to get the UK and will simply return to Calais (1). In addition there have been reports of serious failings at the welcome centres and dispersal of refugees around France will make monitoring of this, and delivery of aid, extremely difficult if not impossible(2).

In February this year over 50% of the camp was demolished and yet six months later the camp is bigger than it has ever been before. This is clear evidence that demolitions do not act as a deterrent and that refugees will not stop coming to Calais. Destroying the basic infrastructure will achieve nothing more than making living conditions so much more inhumane.

In the six months since the February demolitions we have seen an increase in people living in the smaller camps along the northern coast and in northern France. If the Calais camp is closed to new arrivals then it is likely that these camps will grow. While the Calais camp is far from ideal these smaller camps have no running water at all, no showers, toilets or medical facilities and are much more difficult for aid organisations to access with basic aid(3). Destroying the thousands of pounds worth of basic infrastructure that is present in Calais, due to the donations of UK and other volunteers, is tragic and purposeless.

The escalation of problems in Calais, and the fact that we know that more, not fewer, refugees are on their way, means that a longer term solution than demolitions is required. It is very clear that something needs to be done, however and we need a sustainable, long term solution that will help the refugees, the hauliers and the Calais townspeople. Demolitions are not the answer until a longer term solution is in place.

Work has also started on a wall costing c.£2m between the Calais camp and the motorway, in a bid to reduce the smugglers access to transport links. It is strange that, while plans are being put in place for demolitions in October, £2m is being spent on a wall. This suggests an acknowledgement by the French authorities that the demolitions will achieve nothing and that the refugees will continue coming to Calais. This makes wonton destruction of the existing camp facilities even more tragic.

Case Study

“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 any more.” 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. Don’t let it happen again.

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