Migrant crisis won’t end with Calais ‘Jungle’ closure

France began the massive clearance of the Jungle migrant camp in Calais on Monday morning, but with thousands of refugees still desperate to reach the UK, what will happen now?

Migrant crisis won't end with Calais 'Jungle' closure
All Photos: AFP

France hopes the clearance of the squalid Jungle migrant camp in Calais will close a sorry chapter in the country’s migrant crisis, but it is unlikely to be the end of the story.

And what chance of a happy ending?

On the day of the clearance there was an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 migrants in the Jungle camp. At around 8.45am the first bus pulled away carrying around 50 Sudanese refugees to a reception centre in Burgundy.

Over the next three to four days scores of buses will take the thousands of other refugees to some 450 reception centres across France.

Some migrants say they are refusing to budge hence the presence of scores of baton-wielding police. But many also predict a significant number of those who have been bused to Burgundy and beyond will simply make their way back to Calais once the riot police and the journalists have moved on.

“After a week everyone will be back to create a new Jungle. We just don't know where yet,” one young migrant told BFM TV on Monday.

How many will head back to Calais?

A wall, stretching one kilometre long and four metres high is currently being built along a stretch of the motorway leading to the port that passes by the Jungle camp. Britain would not have agreed to pay for its construction if authorities really believed the clearing of the Jungle would end the crisis in Calais.

Charities and aid associations say many of those who have been moved out of Calais in previous months, have only returned to the northern port town, so there is no reason to believe anything will be different after this week's official clearance.

They simply refuse to give up on their dream of reaching the UK and Calais, where thousands of lorries that cross to the UK via boat or the Channel Tunnel will remain the best place to risk their lives in the hope of crossing.

Much too will depend on what services are on offer to migrants in the small towns around France.

READ ALSO: No point bulldozing jungle unless solutions found

No translators, no friends

“They find themselves in a department of France where there are no real translators,” Anne-Lise Coury, head of operations for Medecins sans Frontieres in Calais, told The Local recently.

“They can end up far from a town and the administrative offices they need,” said Coury.

“They may be also far from places where they can learn French, or from members of their community,” she added. “And they end up just deciding to go back to Calais.”

The reception they receive will also play a role. The build up to Monday's clearance has seen several reception centres attacked by arsonists and one was sprayed with bullets. And locals in some towns have held anti-migrant protests.

But there have also been pro-migrant protests and much support offered to new arrivals.

While the government insists Calais' migrants crisis is France's problem, the reality is many concerned people in towns across the country, not least the far-right mayor of Beziers, would rather it was just a conundrum for Calais.

(The humanitarian Grande Synthe camp near Dunkirk. AFP)

More camps around the area?

There is also evidence that migrants will just set up other smaller camps around the Calais region or head to another more established shanty town like The Grande Synthe, near Dunkirk.

A Syrian migrant named Sam told AFP that “dozens” had left the Jungle early to avoid being sent elsewhere in France.

“I have been in the Jungle for 13 months and during this time I have learnt not to trust the authorities. So last night I left the Jungle and pitched my tent in another place nearby,” about a dozen kilometres away, he said.

There has been growing evidence that people traffickers have been targeting UK-bound lorries in motorway rest areas well before they reach Calais. The A1 motorway north may soon be dotted with mini-Jungles at strategic points where traffickers believe they can get migrants on board the lorries.

There are also fears that the closure of the Calais camp will just shift the crisis to other ports along the northern French and Belgian coast.

Other Channel ports to come under pressure?

After the closure of the southern part of the Jungle earlier this year, there were reports that the number of attempted illegal ferry crossings at ports such as Ouistreham and Dieppe rose dramatically.

But with the Jungle being completely dismantled the shift could be even greater this time and French authorities and the UK might have to start strengthening security and building four-metre high fences at other Channel ports.

For many migrants however the clearance of the camp could be positive. London says it is willing to take in scores of unaccompanied refugee children. Some have already arrived while others be shipped or put on a train to the UK in the coming days.

And for the many who do want to stay?

Hundreds of migrants headed to Calais in recent months just to be there for the official evacuation.

They are the ones who have decided that being moved to a reception centre in rural France is better than risking their lives each night to get to the UK.

“Anywhere in France would be better than the Jungle”, said one Sudanese migrant on Monday as he boarded a bus to Burgundy.

Aid associations say a growing number of migrants have decided to seek asylum in France.

Pascal Brice, head of the Ofpra asylum agency, said his staff were trying to convince migrants that their asylum requests in France would be processed “very quickly”.

Around 70 percent of migrants evicted from other camps in Calais in the past had been given French residency, he said.

And what will become of those migrants who are given asylum? For them the task of learning French and trying to find work and permanent lodging won’t be easy in a country with record unemployment and not a great record of successfully integrating immigrants.

But charities are doing their best to help them, as seen by the open-air French lessons in Paris.

The challenge of settling in France is one that many will gratefully accept given what they have already gone through to get here.

(Around 100 migrants learn French in Paris. Photo: The Local)



How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.