Crime down but misery persists one year since Calais camp evacuation

For Fabien Sudry, a senior state official in the port of Calais, the evacuation of the squalid "Jungle" migrant camp 12 months ago has changed the lives of security forces and locals.

Crime down but misery persists one year since Calais camp evacuation
Photo: AFP

The number of nightly break-ins into trucks heading for Britain has been divided by three, while intrusions at the tunnel linking France and Britain have stopped. Mass outbreaks of fighting which required police interventions have also ceased.

“The pressure from migration has fallen sharply,” Sudry, who as the local “prefet” is in charge of law and order, told AFP. “There are around 500 migrants today compared with 8,000 a year ago.”

The mass clearance of the Jungle in October last year saw French authorities order its occupants — most of them young men from Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan or Iraq —  to accommodation around France. Then the bulldozers were sent in.

The move was decried as heavy-handed by some critics and activists, while pictures of the destruction were published around the world as a vivid illustration of Europe's struggle to cope with the unprecedented surge of arrivals.

“I continue to think that dismantling the Jungle was a success and a model for cooperation between the state and associations,” said aid worker Stephane Duval, who works for the Vie Active local association, which partnered with the state.

The “Jungle” was the latest of a series of camps which had sprung up on the northern coast of France as a temporary home for migrants who, rather than apply for asylum in France, dreamt of reaching Britain.

But after 18 months, and faced with the growing disruption at the port, an unhappy local population in Calais and criticism from the United Nations and rights groups, the then-Socialist government decided to act.

“The evacuation went very well, they (the migrants) were impatient to be accepted in France somewhere else other than here,” said the head of local charity l'Auberge des Migrants, Christian Salome.

Sending them to temporary accommodation and asylum centres around the country proved controversial, however, with local mayors in some towns and villages saying they had not been consulted.

A far-right major in southern France put up posters featuring the words “The state is imposing them… migrants are coming” over a picture of a crowd of dark-skinned men in front of the town's cathedral.


Of the 7,400 people who left the Jungle, 42 percent have had their asylum request accepted since, 7.0 percent were rejected, while 46 percent are still waiting for a response, official figures show.

The number of arrivals in Europe has fallen sharply over the last 12 months after the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

In 2016, a deal between the European Union and Turkey all but closed down the most popular eastern route for refugees and migrants heading towards the richest northern countries of the bloc.

And a crossing point between Libya and Italy has also been restricted over recent months, with EU President Donald Tusk saying Friday that there was a “real chance” to close this central route.

In Calais, local associations put the number of migrants sleeping rough around the town at around 600-700 and they have sounded the alarm about “catastrophic” conditions.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who took office in the new centrist government in May, has been resolute that no camp should be allowed to spring up again, leading police to be criticised for harassing migrants and restricting the work of local charities.

A few portable toilets and water taps were installed reluctantly on a road near the port, but only after the government was forced by a court order to provide basic sanitation facilities.

Local associations recall a promise to build a permanent centre to house refugees in Calais made by former interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve at the time the Jungle was destroyed.

“We need accommodation in Calais urgently because the majority of the migrants can't be sent back home,” said Jean-Claude Lenoir, the head of the Salam charity which supported the government last year.

READ ALSO: French police clash with migrants in Calais


French police cause misery for migrants in Calais

French police are inflicting misery on migrants in the northern port of Calais, routinely tearing down their tents and forcing them to wander the streets as part of a deterrence policy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published on Thursday.

French police cause misery for migrants in Calais
A migrant camp is evacuated by police forces in Calais in February 2019. Photo: Philippe HUGUEN / AFP.

The 75-page report documents methods used by authorities to prevent the emergence of another major migrant settlement in Calais, five years after the demolition of the sprawling “Jungle” camp which housed up to 10,000 people at its peak.

Calais has for years been a rallying point for migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa trying to sneak across the English Channel to Britain.

Faced with growing public anti-migrant sentiment, President Emmanuel Macron’s government has waged a campaign to prevent new camps emerging.

Police tactics include systematically tearing down migrants’ tents in the woods, on wasteland or under bridges, regularly confiscating their belongings and harassing NGOs trying to provide them with aid, according to New York-based HRW.

“The authorities carry out these abusive practices with the primary purposes of forcing people to move elsewhere, without resolving their
migration status or lack of housing, or of deterring new arrivals,” it said in the report entitled “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France”.

‘Harass and abuse’

NGOs estimate the number of migrants currently living around Calais at between 1,500 and 2,000, including numerous families. Local authorities estimate that only 500 remain in the area.

Last week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered the eviction of a camp housing 400 migrants near a hospital in Calais, which was presented as a danger to the hospital’s patients and staff.

On that occasion the migrants were taken to temporary shelters but often they are left to wander the streets.

“When the police arrive, we have five minutes to get out of the tent before they destroy everything,” a Kurdish woman from Iraq told HRW.

The interior ministry did not respond to AFP’s request for comment on the report.

The government argues that the camps are havens for people smugglers, who command extortionate fees to help migrants cross to Britain, either in a small boat crossing the Channel in the dead of night or stowed away on a truck crossing by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel.

NGOs argue that the tactics do nothing more than make migrants already difficult lives even more miserable.

The report quoted the Calais-based Human Rights Observers group as saying that in some cases cleaning crews cut migrants’ tents while people are still inside, in order to force them out.

“If the aim is to discourage migrants from gathering in northern France, these policies are a manifest failure and result in serious harm,” Benedicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch, said.

French authorities “need a new approach to help people, not repeatedly harass and abuse them,” she added.

A total of 15,400 people attempted to cross the Channel in the first eight months of this year, a increase of 50 percent over the figure for the whole of 2020, according to French coast guard statistics.

“Exiles aren’t travelling to northern France because they’ve heard they can camp in the woods or stay under a bridge…They come because that’s where the border is,” Charlotte Kwantes, national coordinator of the Utopia 56 charity was quoted in the report as saying.