Thursday, 24 September 2009

An update on the plight of migrants in Calais

Since I last wrote on the migrants gathered in Calais, desperately seeking a better life, the "Jungle" of campsites that housed them has been destroyed. What follows is an on-the-ground report published online by No Borders Brighton;
Well it happened as anticipated. The massive PR event kicked off at 7:30 this morning as 600 police officers moved into action. The CRS surrounded the camp, forcing press and onlookers back, and ordinary Gendarmes went in to carry out the actual arrests. Most of the migrants who had remained in the 'Jungle' over the past few days had gathered before dawn around a fire with their improvised banners in English and Pashtu. "We need shelter and protection. We want asylum and peace. Jungle is our home", proclaimed one. They stood in silence as the police arrived. Few put up any resistance and some were even pulled from their beds.

Some No Borders activists and volunteers from the migrant solidarity groups in Calais (A vociferous and passionate group of human rights protesters chanted: "No border, no nation, stop deportation", as the BBC website put it), using a length of rope, had formed a human shield around a large group of traumatised teenage migrants. The CRS cut the rope and rushed them, knocking activists and migrants to the ground and it was then that the injuries seen in all the film and photo coverage occurred. The migrants were then led away to the waiting coaches and the bulldozers fired up to level the camp.

A total of 278 migrants, including 132 bewildered minors, were arrested along with one No Borders activist. The numbers of those injured have not been released yet. The adults taken away are believed to have been taken to various local police stations for processing. Those with take-able fingerprints will be check against Eurodac. If they have been registered in a 'Safe Third Country' (which, for some reason, Home Office ministers continue to call 'safe first country' - safe third country = first country of asylum under international law), they will be removed to a detention centre prior to deportation. If not, they will be offered the alternative of apply for asylum or take the International Organisation for Migration relocation grant bribe (this is paid to a third party, either to provide education in the country of return or as business start-up capital - no money is given directly to the migrant despite what the Daily Mail and BNP would have you believe).

Those without identifiable fingerprints will probably be dispersed to detention centres around the country* and held till their fingerprints can be taken and checked against the Eurodac database. The minors will be sent to the Metz-Queuleu detention centre, notorious for its high attempted suicide rate long before 16-year-old Nabil L. hanged himself in September 2008. In fact the detention of minors in France has become a bit of a cause célèbre in recent months.

So what will happen to those migrants that left the 'Jungle' before it was deforested today? Many have gone to other 'Jungles' and squats and some reports are of a large number near the Tunnel entrance earlier today. Some may well have also been detained during the raids at Grand Synthe and Graveline or have tries their luck further up and down the coast. Some too will no doubt start to drift back into Calais, once the media storm has died down, to find the dunes fenced off with razor wire and set up camp elsewhere. No doubt also the CRS will make every effort to keep them off balance with raids and arrests, but we all know that those migrants, together with the hundreds already en-route, will be there in an ever-shifting underground population as long as the border exists.

Oh, and we've had the usual hypocrisy and cant from British politicians. We've had Alan Johnson saying he was "delighted" that the 'Jungle' was gone, this from a man who has said that Britain would help genuine asylum seekers (as opposed to taking any of the migrants from Calais) knowing that they have little or no chance of reaching the UK's shores and that almost all would have come through Greece and Italy and have next to no chance of being granted refugee status in either country. Woolas was also doing the rounds of the TV and radio studios at lunchtime today, trotting out the old "these people have no right to claim asylum in the UK, in fact I seriously doubt if they are genuine asylum seekers anyway" argument and trying to blame everything on the people-traffickers. Then, to add insult to injury, he smugly trotted out this line: "Don't try to get in unless you are a genuine asylum seeker, which we work with the UN to look after"!

* The norm for mass arrests in Calais has been for the Coquelles detention centre to be used once it has been emptied (with the migrants currently held there being transferred to other centres) . This has not happened this time.
There is little need for further comment on this issue, as my thoughts on the matter have already been summed up much better by others. I will close by quoting at length the joint statement on the matter issued by La Belle Etoile, French Coalition for the Right of Asylum, GISTI, Secours Catholique, C’Sur, Salam, Migrants Fraternity Collective (Angres), Terre d’Errances Norrent-Fontes, Terre d’Errances Steenvoorde, Calais Migrant Solidarity, The Exiles of 10 ° (Paris), The Ligue de Droits de l’Homme (Pas-de-Calais Regional Federation), Medecins du Monde, Cimade, the Greens, NPA Calais, and Amnesty International;
We, associations engaged daily with migrants, are convinced that the government plan to destroy jungles is ineffective and exacerbates the situation.

Smashing the shelters causes the scattering of camps, delivering migrants into the hands of criminal networks and does not settle anything at all . It is persisting in the error of 2002 (the closure of the Sangatte camp).

Since the speech of Mr. Besson at Calais in April, the visible number of migrants in Calais has fallen. Some went to England. Few were those able to apply for asylum in France. Most have fled the Police threats to Belgium and Holland, the others were scattered into nature. Forced to hide, they are more vulnerable than ever, without access to health care and food and delivered, against their will, into the only law of the mafias.

What will happen to those who are arrested in the coming days? Deported to their country of origin? Released into the wild without any information or help? Returned to Italy or Greece where the living conditions of refugees are dramatic?

The government offers assistance for voluntary return to countries at war and dictatorships. How many will agree to return to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea ... Knowing that in addition either voluntary return or forced return to some of these countries will prove diplomatically impossible ?

The government communicates a lot about the tradition of asylum in France but a small part of migrants had the opportunity to seek asylum. Most are prevented by the European Dublin II Regulation that France applies with zeal, without using the power it has to suspend its application. Since last April, only 170 asylum applications were filed in the sub-prefecture of Calais. Only 50 of them will be processed. The other applicants were sent back to the jungle and can be arrested at any moment and be deported by force, mainly to Italy and Greece where the living conditions of refugees are dramatic. In Greece, access to asylum is virtually impossible.

Mr Barrot, the European Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the recent failures of EU policy on asylum.

It is necessary that the European states no longer abdicate responsibility to their neighbours. European solidarity must become a reality. The Dublin II Regulation has to change, it traps the refugees in a deadlock and leaves them unprotected.

To break the ‘law of the jungle’, we must put the European asylum system on its feet in stopping the denial of the protection needs of individuals and providing a mechanism enabling them to seek asylum in the country of their choice or where they have family, linguistic or cultural ties. Whatever their choice, we must also ensure their reception conditions consistent with the dignity of people by providing accommodation facilities open to all.
The only way to end mass immigration is to end the systematic injustice and inequality that Western policies create. Until such a thing happens, then we must show solidarity with ever person displaced by that injustice, and protest every act of oppression against them by the very people whose actions brought about their plight.