Enayatollah walks slowly on an earthen path, wet with the early morning dew, where a year ago the muddy ground shook with the passing of bulldozers. An Afghan migrant, he knows the history of this place very well.
He was here 360 days ago, when the French government razed the “Jungle” of Calais, the largest shanty town in Europe, hosting up to 10,000 people.
At the dawn of Oct. 24 last year, the spectacular clearing operations started. Hundreds of CRS (Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité) agents were mobilized. More than 7,400 people, including around 2,000 minors, were moved to the CAOs (Centers for Reception and Orientation) scattered throughout France. According to OFII, the government agency that handles applications for asylum, 46 percent of the then-inhabitants of the shanty town are still waiting for a definitive answer, 42 percent have been granted asylum and 7 percent have been refused.
But what has become of the “Calais Jungle” a year later? The Prefect of Pas-de-Calais, Fabien Sudry, tries to explain, claiming that “migratory pressure has dropped sharply. Today there are 500 migrants, last year there were 8,000. There are no more squats, or camps, or intruders in the Eurotunnel.”
Yet the real situation seems to be different. In fact, the migrants have never really gone away. No more than two months after the evacuation, the first of those exiled began to reappear in the city, the point closest to the United Kingdom. From Oct. 24, 2016, according to an NGO estimate, more than 236,000 items of clothing, more than 7,000 pairs of shoes and around 8,000 sleeping bags were distributed here.
“I was here a year ago. I am here again a year later. At first, it was difficult to pass through, but now it’s practically impossible. The police are on the hunt every day,” says Enayatollah with a deep sigh, walking toward the new migrant camp on the rue des Verrotières, in the Dune area, a few hundred meters from the old shanty town.
They are already calling it “the new Jungle.” According to NGOs, 700 migrants have found shelter in the woodland here, in the industrial area of Calais.
After clearing out the shanty town, the French state was the only one that actually vanished from the area. It does not offer any facilities, despite the requests of the State Council (France’s highest administrative authority) and the United Nations, which in a harsh recent report adds that migrants have “limited access to clean water, showers and other sanitation.”
Migrants rely on the NGOs for their daily survival. Funded by the government, “La vie active” distributes drinking water every day, flowing from a dozen taps carried on a truck, placed just a few centimeters off the ground and accessible for only six hours a day. “I’m ashamed that I’m not able to do more for them,” whispers Juliette, a volunteer with “La vie active.” Regarding showers, which are installed a few kilometers away from the camp, they are available four days a week through a shuttle system. A group of NGOs — Refugee Community Kitchen, Utopia56, Auberge des migrants and Salam — are taking care of their daily sustenance.
After the hot meal, with their backpacks on, a small group of Ethiopian migrants heads toward the canal that runs through the city center. They kneel on its bank, and, Marseille soap in hand, they begin to scrub pants, sweatshirts and jackets. While one of them dunks a pair of jeans into the canal, a large gasoline slick floats on the surface of the polluted water.
“The attempts to climb onto trucks have decreased 3.5 times,” says the prefect, thanks to the growing number of security devices installed throughout the city. Hundreds of meters of fencing and barbed wire run through the streets. A kilometer-long, four-meter-tall wall, funded by London and costing €2.7 million, extends the grids already present along the ring road leading to the port. The parking lots at the entrance of the city and the suburbs, such as the Polley Secured Lorry Park, are replete with surveillance cameras and barbed wire, installed around the places where the trucks stop, waiting to take the long Eurotunnel which runs under the waters of the English Channel, linking Calais with Cheriton in Kent.
At night, under the cover of darkness, some Eritrean kids defy the security measures and try to climb in the back of a truck, in a clearing not far from the woods where they take shelter. Using the light from a mobile phone, they light up the large vehicle, searching for a gap in the metal body. They look like they just found one, when the driver’s flashlight shines on them from behind. His angry voice breaks the silence: “Go away, I’m calling the police,” he shouts in English, enough to make them flee. “We’ll try again until we get to London. Here we are treated like animals. After all, what have we got to lose?” says Tamir, a young Eritrean man, a little over 18, still out of breath and with his heart thumping in his chest.
But the tension-filled approach to security takes other forms as well. “The police are seizing tents and sleeping bags. Sometimes even shoes, and it’s beginning to get cold,” complains Asrat, who started off last year from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the icy, biting cold of northern France is nipping at him like a hungry dog. Under the pretext of carrying out cleaning operations in connection with the unsanitary conditions, the law enforcement agents “don’t allow time for migrants to recover their belongings,” says Youssef, a volunteer with Utopia56. “According to our calculations, 76 percent of migrants have even had their sleeping bags seized.” In recent weeks, the NGOs have distributed 400 sleeping bags per week to 700 migrants in Calais.
This summer, during a visit to the port city, Gerard Collomb, the interior minister, declared: “I don’t want another ‘Jungle’ to develop,” calling on the police to prevent the emergence of any “gathering point.” The ministerial Newspeak has resulted in a strategy of permanent tension on the part of law enforcement.
To prevent the formation of new camps, the police are not shy about using batons and tear gas, and they’re present every day at Calais station, in the city, and in the vicinity of the “new Jungle.” “The task of the government seems to be discouraging migrants. It looks like we’ve gone back 15 years,” said François Guennoc, vice-president of Auberge des migrants, referring to the time in 2002 when the first shanty town formed. He is echoed by Vincent de Coninck, director of Secours Catholique de Calais: ”In effect, the state is denying the presence of exiles and is mistreating them. I am very pessimistic, nothing will change here in Calais.”
“I do not want anyone living on the street by the end of the year,” President Emmanuel Macron declared in late July, in a speech about the reception of refugees. Just as “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” Macron’s promises never reached Calais.