The biggest eviction of migrants in Calais to date is expected in early April. Here is a brief history of the situation.
1999: The number of migrants in Calais increases. A “residential and humanitarian home” in a hangar away from the city is opened in the municipality of Sangatte. This hangar accommodates up to 2000 people.
2002: Closure of the Sangatte center by Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior, to supposedly resolve the issue of the presence of migrants in Calais. 13 years later, they are still there.
Since late 2002: Migrants have had no place in Calais where they have a right to be. They build their own camps, which are routinely evicted and destroyed. They are stopped by the police regularly, and police violence is a daily occurrence.
Where to live? Survival solutions and self-building
Upon the closure of Sangatte, migrants found their own places to live, which have often been extremely precarious: bunkers, construction pipes, under bridges, abandoned buildings, vacant lots, etc. When these spaces have not been evicted rapidly, collective life has built up and people have adjusted their living spaces to meet their social and spiritual needs, beyond mere survival. It is this self-organisation which is destroyed during the evictions and prevent people developing their own solutions and their autonomy.
2003: Treaty of Le Touquet, which lays out control measures on the UK-French border, including British controls in French ports.
2009: A strong increase that year in the number of migrants, mainly from Afghanistan. Most squats and camps are evicted and destroyed in September and October, with huge media coverage (see “closing the Calais Jungle” 22.09.09, Eric Besson, Minister of Immigration and National Identity). The UK and France sign a new agreement on the sharing of port security costs, border control and policing.
Until autumn 2013: There is a gradual increase in the number of migrants in Calais, reflecting the increased number of people crossing the Mediterranean (200,000 refugees arrived in Italy in 2014, and there have been up to 3000 in Calais since this time).
The authorities’ response to this increase:
- The continuation of police harassment and eviction of squats and camps continues as normal, with no real plan of action or willingness to find other solutions;
- The evicton of three camps located near the centre of Calais takes place on May 28th, 2014. Part of those living there go to the outskirts of Calais, where the authorities tell them that the only solution is to find somewhere to squat. Others occupy the place used for distribution of meals in protest, near the city centre. The place for the distribution of meals and three squats in the city are evicted on July 2nd in a particularly violent way (600 arrests, 200 placed in detention). Most migrants are on the outskirts in existing settlements. No Borders and migrant support organisations open a large squat in the city centre on the 12th of July.
- The authorities decide to combine a number of services for refugees away from the city, beyond the highway (Jules Ferry’s camp) and deposit the refugees in an old landfill site.
2014: Deadliest year on the border
With at least 17 people dying on both sides of the UK / French border, 2014 is the deadliest year since the closure of Sangatte. Because of increased security, crossing becomes more dangerous, competiton over crossing places increases and tensions between migrant communities are exacerbated.
Police violence: a daily reality
Police harassment is an important aspect of the policy to discourage migrants to stay close to the border. There have been a number of reports over the years about this, including:
- 2008 : Report of the National Coordination for Asylum, “The Law of The Jungle”;
- 2012: The french Defender of Rights decision on police harassment in Calais.
- 2015: Human Rights Watch report on police violence in Calais.
September 2014: Announcement by the Mayor and the Government of the opening of a day center for migrants, to concentrate already existing services in one place. Unofficially, the authorities inform migrant support organisations that a migrant camp will be tolerated around the area of the day centre. A new Franco-British agreement is made, providing for the creation of a common fund for the security of the port and the strengthening of joint enforcement policy at a European level.
January 2015: Meal distributions to migrants in the city centre is outlawed, coinciding with the beginning of a meal distribution at the Jules Ferry camp.
March 2015: An ultimatum from the authorities to migrants is served. They are given until March 31st to move “voluntarily” to the former landfill site near the camp Jules Ferry, otherwise they will be evicted by the police.
An unwelcome centre
The Jules Ferry centre is more about isolating people from Calais rather than welcoming them:
- It is a place combining already existing services, where there is no designated place to sit down, to rest, for conviviality or activities
- It is far from the centre of Calais
- There is no accommodation for men
- One meal a day is provided when there are no shops nearby
- Its capacity is limited to 1000 people
The new slum
The land where the authorities impose the settlement of migrants:
- Is in itself uninhabitable; an old landfill site with potentially toxic contents / wetland;
- Has no infrastructure: no lights, water, toilets, etc;
- Is near the smugglers zone of influence (risks of extortion and violence), and at risk from conflicts with hunters who currently use the site, as well as tensions with local residents;
- Is away from Calais centre, and so from the rest of the population and the services offered by associations, shops, administrative services (OFI, post office, sub-prefecture…), etc;
- Has not been the subject of any formal written agreement from the Government allowing migrants to camp there. They can be removed at the discretion of the authorities at any time.
Women displaced again
A women’s house was opened in 2013 by No Borders near the city centre. After 8 months the Government decided that it was to be taken over by an association (Solid’R). The women were moved in July 2014 to a cabin away from the city. They were moved again on March 26th 2015 to the Jules Ferry day centre, another cabin, away from the city, in an area where they are most vulnerable when going in and out.
First half of April 2015: Period of eviction of squats and camps. People begin to move to the site near the Jules Ferry Centre. This is not voluntary, but because people move themselves, appears as such. A visit of the interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve is announced.
April 11, 2015: Complete opening of Jules Ferry’s camp, about 6 km far from the city centre.
From Sangatte to Jules Ferry
13 years after the closure of Sangatte, the authorities are trying to again group migrants away from the city. This creation is done by the destruction of existing living spaces and a worsening of police pressure. If services are grouped as it was in Sangatte, but there is no hangar to shelter people, it is actually replaced by a piece of land where camping is “tolerated”. This approach of isolating and concentrating people is presented by the government as a humanitarian solution.