The Jungle. The French move toward evacuating the Calais “Jungle,” the refugee camp in northern France, would have far-reaching consequences.

Chaos in Calais

The destruction of the southern part of the Calais “Jungle” — France’s makeshift refugee camp along the English Channel — was suspended mid-afternoon Monday, after two huts and a trailer caught fire. This came after a brief clash with police (tear gas was fired and stones were thrown) in which three people were detained (two activists and a migrant).

The bulldozing operation had begun in the morning, despite appeals from the various advocacy organizations to the French government. Police initiated the operation after an ambiguous judgment by the Administrative Court of Lille last week, which gave the green light for evacuation but required that it had to respect “living places,” plus the school, library, places of worship and shelters for women and minors (more than 300 minors are isolated in the southern area).

Nothing but ‘humanity’

The government did not keep its promise to act with “humanity” and to conduct a “progressive evacuation.” Hence the reaction of the activists. In a visit to the site Monday morning, prefect Fabienne Buccio accused them of being “extremists” who “pushed migrants to refuse the reception proposals.” Buccio says that brokers sent into the “Jungle” last weekend to persuade migrants to accept alternative accommodations were victims of “verbal and physical attacks.”

The government is flexing its muscles against the weakest, without waiting for the conclusion of the legal proceedings, because again Monday it was forced to brake sharply on labor reform. In the face of growing protests and the threat of student demonstrations (which terrorize the powerful in France), Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri’s proposal will not be presented in the Council of Ministers on March 9, as expected, but — perhaps — on March 24, after two more weeks of discussions with trade unions. The French Democratic Confederation of Labor requested the delay specifically. Meanwhile, a petition against the reform, which would make it easier for companies to lay off employees, continues to grow toward 1 million signatures.

On Monday morning, “the associations were forbidden to enter the camp between 7:30 and 10:30,” according to Magalie Bourgoin, of association Utopia 56, who denounced the restriction. This was done “to avoid any witnesses,” she said.

An hour to leave the tents

A hundred agents entered the southern part of the “Jungle” and warned the migrants they had an hour to move out of their tents.

Officially, this was in order “to allow the company in charge of the withdrawal of the unoccupied tents and huts to carry out the work.” The Prefecture had indeed promised that the empty tents would be destroyed, only after the occupants had accepted a proposal to move elsewhere. But for François Guennoc, of Auberge des Migrants, instead they chose “a hasty operation that contradicts the peacemaking efforts declared by the prefect and government,” without proposing alternative accommodations. “It’s surprising that they destroyed the huts considering the capacity in the containers is limited to 100 [people],” he said.

The containers, which are located in an area surrounded by barbed wire and can only be accessed with a palm hand screening (that is, after fingerprints are provided), are in fact already almost full. The other alternative proposal is the CAO, the 102 reception and guidance centers, far away from Calais.

20 years of chaos

Where will the migrants who refuse to be registered go? Those who do not want to apply for asylum in France and hope to cross the English Channel (and therefore want to stay near Calais)?

“They will flee into the woods and the police will chase after them again,” says François Guennoc. The chaos in Calais has lasted for almost 20 years. In 1999, the Red Cross opened the center in Sangatte, which was closed in 2002. Britain has shifted its border at Calais, by sending agents and a financial contribution to France, which acts as a watchdog to prevent migrants from going across the Channel.

Mafias thrive there, and now Belgium has put border controls in place, fearing an evacuation of the “Jungle” would result in the invasion of Zeebruges. According to a survey by the Sofres Institute, 49 percent of the French think refugees have become the most important E.U. issue (terrorism is second with 27 percent, and unemployment third with 22 percent). Sixty-four percent expect a European solution.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!