10 Impasse Des Salines, Calais – France. With the impending mass eviction of over 800 migrants in the newly opened Fort Galoo squat and the migrant jungles that surround Calais also under threat of imminent eviction the situation is at crisis point. The migrants, travelling from Syria to Eritrea and everywhere in between, arrive in Calais hoping to cross the border to eventually claim asylum in the UK. Each one of them has a harrowing tale of deportation, death and persecution to tell. Yet the desire to cross the border into, what is for most, the promised land burns strong in their hearts, with every man, woman and child risking their lives on a daily basis not only to make the crossing but simply to stay alive.
Due to conflict and a lack of connections most migrants cannot go back to their home country even if offered voluntary deportation. On the other hand, if they manage to cross the border and make it into the UK they won’t be much better off, with the asylum process notoriously difficult and often brutal. An estimated 23,507 appplications for asylum were made in 2013, however the real number is almost certainly higher with many choosing to live and work illegally to avoid hassle from authorities they have spent much of their lives under the watch of. There is, however, a third option. Asylum can be granted in France, yet for most this is not an option and instead they have to play a game of cat and mouse with border guards and riot police every day.
Recent clashes between Eritrean and Sudanese groups living at both the jungle and the squat have attracted further police attention and exacerbated the problem. Over 150 were involved in the rioting with many injured and one seriously wounded. Whilst tensions are bound to rise in such a dire situation, solidarity has to be found amongst all groups living there, with the only positive outcome of the fighting being to provide stronger resistance against the state.
The attitude of the French has been mixed. Local mayor Natacha Buchart has come down strongly on both migrants and the activist group NoBorders, claiming the latter treat Calais as a playground. Yet without NoBorders help the migrants would be in an even worse situation then they are now. It is thanks to the continued support of activists, local groups and aid organisations such as Médecins du Monde that the migrants are able to survive, being provided with water, blankets and supplies. Buchart’s attitude, however, is shared by Sauvons Calais, a right wing fascist group that deliberately targets all involved in the struggle, having previously attacked aid workers and a migrant squat on Rue Du Colonge. A demonstration organised on Saturday July 12 that led to the opening of Fort Galoo provided the latest show of support and proof that Sauvons Calais are as unpopular as Buchart’s policies.
The failure of Buchart to provide a solution to the growing humanitarian crisis in Calais highlights an important problem faced by the wider world when dealing with migrants. The idea of a migrant is someone that is kept in the shadows for the reason that they are viewed as exiles shunned from their home country. In the eyes of Britain’s right and neoliberal politicians across Europe having the additional label “illegal” automatically means bad. Yet in Calais and in the views of Buchart the term illegal exists without meaning. If trying to cross the border to claim asylum through the outdated Dublin Regulation and demanding the basic human rights denied by both governments is illegal, then yes, illegality is rife. Therefore, before a long term solution can be found—such as altering the convention and easing both countries’ border restrictions—the idea of the migrant in the popular imagination has to change to better reflect reality and the needs of the migrants themselves.
Growing worse every day, support and more importantly people are needed urgently in Calais. Police brutality needs highlighting and more UK press coverage is required if these people are to gain the attention they require. People have the power to change the situation through solidarity and resistance and to end finally the suffering that should never have been experienced.
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