Monday 24th October marked the beginning of the mass evacuation of the infamous “Calais Jungle” – with more than 5,600 residents having been placed in over 450 different refugee camps and reception centres across France. Queues for the departing coaches began at 05:00 in the morning, 3 hours before clearance operations were due to start, with further numbers of buses being sent to the camp in upcoming days. The dire context in which people have found themselves living in the Calais Jungle has now been continued further with the uncertainty and increased anxiety that comes with being moved to places elsewhere in France. Even though it is clear that the camp could never have been used as a long-term solution, issues such as missing children and the possibility of deportation if refugees do not claim asylum are constant and very real threats for everyone involved. Additionally, after thousands of leaflets were distributed in several languages explaining the workings of the evacuation, aid workers from Care for Calais are warning residents that if they refuse to move then they will be arrested immediately.
French authorities have said they want the mass evacuation to be a swift and efficient operation, stating that everything is technically in place and that the police, NGOs and asylum services have had weeks to prepare. Their aim is to have demolished the entire camp by Friday, and they predict that around 200 people will try and stay there at the end of the process. The squalid conditions of the site have consistently made headline news, with the French President Francois Hollande facing criticism for the unacceptable conditions in Calais, but departing residents have expressed an array of different opinions on their near future. For example, BBC reporters have told the stories of Ethiopian men physically shaking in fear of the possibility of being deported back to their home country but have also seen a group of Afghan men expressing their delight in leaving the Jungle by singing “I want to Break Free” by Queen.
In his first set of detailed plans Hollande stated that residents of the Jungle will be allowed four months to claim asylum, but some of the most pressing concerns currently facing the refugee crisis in Calais surrounds the physical removal of people and the almost looming issue of missing children. With this being the first compulsory eviction of the camp French police have been told by the interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, to use force to intervene with migrants or NGOs that refuse to leave. Such statements provide us with more than a passive aggressive element to the attitudes of the French government in regards to the lighting pace of the mass eviction, and the use of tear gas and armed police officers have allowed them assert their dominance throughout the camp. The swiftness of the operation is also linked to the worrying idea of missing children. Liz Clegg, the director of an unofficial women and children’s centre in the Jungle for the past year, has expressed her concerns about the lateness of the operation and thinks that it will lead to utter chaos. Children as young as eight years old will be herded out of the camp in the next few days, and the previous demolition of the camp (which lasted three days) saw over 100 children reported missing by the end of the process. Around 300 children are eligible to come to the UK, but if they go missing before they even have the opportunity to be recognised by the state as possible citizens then we have failed them. If the French government does not learn from its previous mistakes, and ensure that their safety is guaranteed, then it is likely that even more innocent children will go missing by the end of the entire process. With the camp now fully evacuated there are around 1,500 unaccompanied minors still being kept in an on-site container. Caroline Gregor of Calais Action stated that there were over 100 unaccompanied children left alone overnight in the Calais Jungle after the final day of eviction, and that no action was taken by the French authorities to fix this issue after she begged them for a resolution.
With over a million a migrants arriving in Europe in the past year – mainly fleeing the eruptions of civil war in Syria – the Jungle instantly became a symbol and metaphor for the general lack of cohesion and compassion shown by some of the richer and more powerful countries of the continent. The building of a UK-funded wall as an attempt to deter possible stowaways and British politicians publicly targeting asylum seekers, entering the country to join their families, who they deem to not “look like ‘children’ to me” represent a constant stream of ungracious and damning attitudes taken towards the urgent humanitarian crisis happening right outside our doorstep. The Refugee Council have already expressed their dislike for the way in which the British media has questioned those admitted into the country, with Judith Dennis (the charity’s policy manager) stating that “It is impossible to judge how old someone is by looking at them”. If we look back at past evacuations of the 16-year old camp, then we would see that numbers of missing children throughout such processes are an extremely worrying aspect of the operation. It is particularly vulgar behaviour of the British media, politicians and public to almost trivialise the question of whether or not certain refugees are below the age of sixteen in such a “black and white” discussion. Regardless of the age of these unfortunate and desperate people, it is our duty as human beings to recognise when people are in need and do everything within our ability and power to help them. Simply not being able to see an issue in the flesh does not mean that it does not exist, and the lack of a common European line of action in providing physical and political aid has only added to the never-ending issues these refugees currently face. Instead of simply ignoring and contesting this issue, governmental and EU officials throughout the continent should be checking the conditions of the camps refugees are being sent to and asking themselves exactly what they can do to soften the humanitarian blow currently facing France. Even though it was clear that the unsanitary and dire conditions of the Jungle could never have provided Europe with a long-term fix for its migrant crisis, this does not exempt us from coming together to help each other solve the wider issue of how these genuine victims of such atrocities can continue to be helped in the future.
Ellie Davies 27/11/2016