Hundreds of refugees return to “secret camps” near Calais in bid to reach the UK
[Calais Region, France] One of six hidden camps in the Calais region is seeing ‘several dozen’ new arrivals each week as former ‘Jungle’ residents return to northern France.
Hundreds of refugees have returned to live in secret camps in the Calais region in the hope of travelling to the UK, The Independent can reveal, just weeks after the demolition of the ‘Jungle’ shantytown.
There are at least six informal settlements in rural parts of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, each housing scores of refugees and migrants, with numbers growing steadily in recent weeks.
It comes two months after the closure of the Jungle, which was intended to bring an end to the refugee situation in Calais by destroying the camp and dispersing its residents to reception centres (CAOs) across France — an operation the authorities hailed as a “success”. However, scores of refugees and migrants who were taken on buses to CAO centres have now started making the journey back to the north of France.
What is the Calais Jungle?
The Calais Jungle was a refugee and migrant encampment in the vicinity of Calais, France. Many who lived in this camp attempted to illegally enter the United Kingdom via the Port of Calais or the Eurotunnel by stowing away on lorries, ferries, cars, or trains travelling to the UK. The camp gained global attention during the European refugee and migrant crisis when the population of the camp grew and French authorities carried out evictions. The French evacuated 6,400 migrants from the encampment in 170 buses, starting on 24 October 2016, with the intent of resettling the migrants in different regions of France.
On 26 October 2016, French authorities announced that the camp had been cleared.
A brief history of the camps.
A reception facility named Sangatte, opened and administered by the French Red Cross, was founded near the Port of Calais in 1999 but rapidly became overcrowded. The original “jungle” was established in the woods around the Port after Sangatte was closed in November 2002 by Nicolas Sarkozy, then the French Minister of the Interior.
In an April 2009 raid on a migrant camp, the French authorities arrested 190 and used bulldozers to destroy tents, but by July 2009 a new camp had been established which the BBC estimated had 800 inhabitants. In a dawn raid in September 2009, the French authorities closed down a camp occupied by 700–800 migrants and detained 276 people.
The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, threatened in September 2014 to block the port because, although it was an illegal action and would bring down upon her lawsuits and opprobrium, she thought it would send a “strong message” to the UK authorities. Also in September 2014, The Guardian estimated that there were 1,300 migrants in Calais, mostly from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria, and in July 2015, The Telegraph reported that the current jungle had 3,000 inhabitants. As of November 2015, there were an estimated 6,000 migrants living in the jungle. At the end of February 2016, the BBC noted: “[the] Total camp population is disputed – Calais officials say it houses 3,700, while Help Refugees puts it at 5,497”
In January 2016, French authorities opened a shelter in the northeastern part of the camp. Authorities had earlier cleared tents and shacks from this area and erected 125 metal shipping containers in their place, converting the containers into shelters for up to 1,500 migrants. Shipping containers, rather than more permanent structures, were chosen because the sand dunes are unfit for permanent foundations. The container shelters were painted white and were furnished with bunk beds, windows, and heaters, but no running water or sanitary facilities (toilets and showers were made available at an existing nearby facility). At the time, Reuters described the “Jungle” as “squalid” and “unsanitary” and estimated its total population to be 4,000.
Many migrants subsequently moved into the container housing, but some resisted the French’s government ultimatum to leave the Jungle and go to the container area, citing the area’s spartan setup, lack of communal areas, and fears that once in the new housing area, they will be blocked from going to Britain.
On 25 February 2016, the French government received approval from a court in Lille to evict 1,000 migrants from the camp; the group Help Refugees estimated that 3,455 refugees were living in the eviction area. During the evictions the southern side of the camp was demolished. There was some resistance; riot police used teargas and stones were thrown. At least 12 huts were set on fire.
In March 2016, French Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron warned that should the UK vote leave the EU in June 2016, the juxtaposed controls arrangements that allow British immigration officials to operate in Calais might be threatened, and that as a consequence the Calais jungle might transfer to Britain.
In February 2016, a petition by charities to stop a planned demolition of the southern half of the “Jungle” camp was rejected by a French court. In early March 2016, workers under heavy police guard began to demolish shacks in the encampment; police clashed with migrants and British activists of the “No Borders” group, who set fire to structures. Three “No Borders” members and one migrant were arrested. As of March 2016, local authorities estimate the population of the camp at 3,700 (of whom about 800 to 1,000 would be affected by the eviction); aid groups put the number higher, saying that according to a census conducted by them, there were “at least 3,450 people in the southern part alone, including 300 unaccompanied children.”
In late May 2016, a “massive brawl” with unclear causes broke out at the “Jungle” encampment, resulting in 40 injuries (33 migrants, 5 aid workers, and 2 police officers), of which 3 were serious (including a stabbing). Two hundred police officers, seventy firefighters, and eleven ambulances responded to the scene; French authorities opened an investigation. At the time, Deutsche Welle estimated that 4,000 to 5,000 people lived in the camp. As of October 2016, Help Refugees put the number at 8,143.
In September 2016, workers began building a barrier, dubbed “The Great Wall Of Calais”, to block refugees from accessing a highway where they could stow away on vehicles bound for Britain.
On 26 October 2016 the prefect of Pas-de-Calais, Fabienne Buccio, announced that the camp had been cleared. About 6,000 migrants were bused to temporary reception centers, while many others relocated to a camp in Grande-Synthe or to informal settlements near the ports of northern France. Aid groups reported that thousands of former Calais residents moved to the streets of Paris.
Calais refugees children sue UK government for neglect.
Amber Rudd, Home Secretary of the British Government, faces legal action from the children, aged 14 to 17, after allegedly neglecting her responsibility to provide a safe haven for minors fleeing conflict and destitution, as enshrined under section 67 of the Immigration Act.
Twenty-eight of the youngsters bringing the case have had their asylum applications refused, while the rest are still awaiting a decision from the Home Office.
According to the child refugees’ legal team, the British government, and the Home Office in particular, failed to allow the relocation of most of Calais’ vulnerable children to the UK.