Calais: understanding the ‘post-Jungle’ era

In October 2016, the refugee and migrant camp in Calais previously known as ‘the Jungle’ was destroyed and evacuated by French authorities. Despite being buried under layers of rubble, the Jungle has once again become a hotspot for people wanting to cross to the UK.

French riot police (CRS) look on as a tent burns in Calais, France.

Over the past year, trickles of refugees and migrants – primarily from Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea – have temporarily settled in and around Calais. As of today, there are roughly close to a thousand people in the area, and their situation has significantly worsened since the destruction of the camp.

Here’s what you need to know.

What’s changed?

  1. There are now 5 different distribution points for refugees.

Five relatively small clusters of refugee and migrant populations have emerged around Calais, loosely divided by ethnicity. Volunteers have called these sites ‘Old Lidl’, ‘Covoit’, ‘Jungle’, ‘L’hôpital’, ‘Norveige’.  After the demolition of the Jungle, it was easier for migrants to scatter given the constant police evictions breaking them up.

  1. Volunteers now have to provide drinking water.

There used to be several water points for the Jungle’s population of 12,000. These also doubled up as a place to wash. These no longer exist. Volunteers drive around with a water truck, providing water for everyone at the five distribution points.

  1. CRS burn and slash tents on a regular basis.

Officially, no structures of any form are permitted in Calais anymore. This includes tents. The CRS (French riot police) often forcefully evict people if they see any tents pitched. According to Human Rights Watch, police slash and burn tents, rendering them unusable .

A former Calais CRS officer of fifteen years openly discussed the allegations with Help Refugees, stating “I have destroyed many encampments, I have emptied canisters of tear gas to contaminate people’s sleeping bags…I [have] colleagues who set tents on fire so badly that the fire brigade had to be called.”

However, according to Help Refugees, French President Emmanuel Macron is threatening to take charities to court for “defamation” of the police force. Macron attributed the claims of police brutality to the “lies and manipulations” of these charities, according to The Guardian.

  1. Pepper spray, tear gas and excessive violence often interrupt migrants sleeping rough.

This includes children. The idea is to ‘evict’ people by any means and drive them away from Calais. There are countless reports of physical abuse every single day. Talking to the New York Times Michael Bochenek of Human RIghts Watch reported that CRS routinely confiscate and pepper spray donations so they are unusable, as well as disrupting food distributions.

  1. Women are so scared of sexual assault that they no longer sleep in tents.

For many women in the makeshift encampments, going to the toilet at night is too frightening. This is why in Dunkirk – where one of the camps has formed to the east of Calais – volunteers hand out nappies so women  don’t have to leave their beds.

In Calais, there is no such provision. It is actually safer to sleep rough, as very few people have the luxury of sleeping in a tent. According to long-term volunteer Sarah, tents are obvious targets for abuse, and women feel even more vulnerable in them for fear of attracting other migrant men or CRS officers. Sarah estimated that there are only between 5-10 women in Calais. Unlike in Dunkirk – where there is a large Kurdish population of women who have travelled with their families – the women of Calais are alone. They are primarily from Eritrea and Ethiopia – none are from Afghanistan – and usually have male friends from home who will ‘protect’ them, often pretending to be their husbands.

  1. Volunteers can’t distribute tents unless there’s enough for everyone.

Due to constant shortages, there are two effective distribution methods which are used to fairly determine who receives a tent:

1.) Individually according to vulnerability: This involves going to each community asking if people need a tent. This method is difficult to get right, though, according to long-term volunteer Beth*, as “you never really know if someone truly needs one”. For a migrant, a spare tent could be sold for money, or swapped for other valuable provisions.

2.) En masse: This involves a large distribution from a set point at a set time with a van full of tents. But there is never enough for everybody, which causes problems between and within communities that are exacerbated by criminal gangs and smugglers. Recent clashes in Calais leaving 22 in hospital and 2 fighting for their lives is a prime example of this, supposedly instigated by smuggler gangs as suggested by the French Interior Minister. People queue for hours and walk away empty-handed. When this inevitably happens, they are reduced to stealing from other communities, causing violence and an ‘alpha-male’ hierarchy. Volunteers are blamed for withholding tents.

Unpredictable police evictions makes this harder. Tents are sometimes distributed only to be destroyed the next day. Volunteers speak to communities every day, who alert them if there has been an eviction. Stock of tents and sleeping bags are counted for each of the five communities. The Help Refugees/L’Auberge des Migrants warehouse has emergency tents packed in case of an eviction.

…and what hasn’t changed

  1. There is still no government aid.

Not one of the numerous organisations based in Calais during the Jungle period was government funded. Today, most NGOs are gone, leaving few charities such as Help Refugees, Utopia 56, Refugee Community Kitchen and L’Auberge des Migrants as the only aid in Calais. Britain has put £100 million into Channel border security; funding CRS, building a 1km wall to prevent migrants getting close to the motorways and extensive barbed wire and CCTV around the port.

The Jungle Books building functioned as a classroom and library during the Jungle.
  1. Charities are still arguing over the best distribution methods.

As ever, there are ongoing tensions between charities. A number of volunteers from Help Refugees consider Care4Calais’ distribution methods “undignified”; blowing a whistle and handing out donations from the back of a van on a first come first serve basis. Meetings to re-evaluate the effectiveness of these methods and how to adapt to volatile situations are ongoing, new rules and regulations are introduced every day. Volunteers, on call around the clock, are still burnt out.

  1. Donations still aren’t enough

The lack of stock has forced charities to come up with distribution methods aimed at not making people feel undignified. There are ticketing systems, which seems like the fairest option; people don’t have to queue for hours only to be disappointed due to the inevitable lack of stock, instead their name is called and they come up and collect their item. But still, because there isn’t enough, it promotes a hierarchy where the youngest and weakest often end up with nothing unless they have a deal with someone to ‘protect’ them.

      4. There is still no guarantee that vulnerable children will be safe at night.

In the Jungle, ‘Salaam’ was a (relatively) safe place where unaccompanied children could go to sleep at night. It was built to keep vulnerable migrants – primarily women and children – safe at night, doubling up as a place for migrants to shower and receive legal information. However, space was limited, so Salaam tended to prioritise younger, more vulnerable children aged 14 and under.

‘There is temporary accommodation which opens subject to weather conditions, where there is space for 60 kids. There are well over 100 in Calais.’

This meant that unaccompanied minors between the ages of 15 and 18 were sleeping alone. Not only is this still the case, but children even younger are being forced to sleep rough. There is temporary accommodation which opens subject to weather conditions, where there is space for 60 kids. There are well over 100 in Calais.

  1. People are still risking their lives to get across the border.

Five children with a legal right to be in the UK have died attempting to cross the border over the past two years. Since December 2017, two people have been put in intensive care after accidents trying to get to the UK. One, hit by a train, has lost his legs. Three more people have died, including a 15-year-old boy trying to reach his sister in the UK. His 13-year-old friend had to call for an ambulance.

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By Molly Whitmey

France: Mélenchon compares Macron’s government to the Nazi regime

Jean-Luc Mélenchon comes under fire for comparing Macron’s government to the Nazi regime, writes Lauren Joffrin in Libération.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Mélenchon – who is now French President’s main opponent – spoke at a protest march against Emmanuel Macron’s new labour reforms last Saturday. He stated to the audience that ‘it was the streets that beat the Nazis.’

In the face of ensuing criticism, he has since justified his comments as a direct response to Macron’s statement on CNN International: ‘democracy doesn’t take place in the streets.’ Joffrin argues this is an ambiguous phrase: ‘the right to protest… against elected representatives… is a fundamental one. The government can heed this or not, but history shows that… this type of expression has an effect.’

‘The streets’ in French history

Mélenchon is right to remind us that public protest has often contested the arbitrary within politics, or been the first indicator of forthcoming change, says Joffrin.

It was ‘the streets’ that forced the Juppé government of 1995 to back down on proposed reforms, and likewise the Mitterand administration on educational reform in 1984. From the barricades of the Fronde during the 17th century French Civil War to the uprising of the 1848 Revolution, French history is a record of the power of the public voice. Though it is not always the progressive voice, as was clear from the anti-Semitic protests during the Dreyfus Affair, or the far-right anti-parliamentary riot of 1934.

A clumsy comment

Nonetheless, Joffrin considers Mélenchon’s comment somewhat misjudged. It was the allied forces, he asserts, and not the people, that drove back the Nazis. It was not a question of protest by the streets, but of bloody combat in the streets.

Joffrin adds that the march on the Champs-Elysées during the Liberation of Paris had little to do with the insurrection. In what he terms ‘a little extra irony’, the uprising was initiated not by the masses but by the local police. ‘So Mélenchon was more or less right,’ concludes Joffrin, ‘but he will doubtless choose his examples with more care next time.’

France: hundreds of thousands unite in protest against reforms

Over 223,000 people united on Tuesday in protest against French Employment Law reforms. Philippe Martinez, of the French General Confederation of Labour, proclaimed the rally a success, wrote Le Monde.

Philippe Martinez, Secretary General of the French General Confederation of Labour

‘We are off to a promising start,’ declared Martinez, who spearheaded the rally alongside several other unions. Reported turnout figures across the country varied widely; in Marseille, 7,500 according to local authorities or 60,000 according to the organisers; in Nantes, 6,200 compared to 15,000; and in Havre, 3,400 compared to 10,000.

Minor clashes in Paris

The Parisian procession marched from La Place de la Bastille – accompanied by a fairground brass band – to La Place d’Italie. Despite the celebratory atmosphere, the rally was marred by several incidents. Protesters threw projectiles at police, who retaliated with tear gas and water cannons, as observed by a journalist from Le Monde.

Police stated that 300 people in balaclavas were present at the march and reported ‘several acts of vandalism’, including the damaging of windows and defacing of adverts. One person was taken to hospital.

Political personalities mobilised

Amongst the crowd were several political figures such as Benoît Hamon, Socialist Party candidate in the last election, Pierre Laurent, National Secretary of the French Communist Party.

In Marseille, leader of ‘La France Insoumise’ Jean-Luc Mélenchon promised to ‘make the President back down’. In Strasbourg, five European MPs participated in the protest.

‘La France Insoumise’ supporters

Placards bore messages targeting Macron for recent remarks in which he promised ‘to make no concessions to absconders, cynics or extremists’. One banner read, ‘You’re in trouble Macron, the slackers are marching on.’

Strikes and blockades

The day was also marked by strikes and deliberate travel disruptions. Several schools in Paris and surrounding areas were partially or momentarily blocked off by students, but without violence.

Tens of fairground lorries disrupted morning traffic in Paris and the rest of France, in response to a call to protest by the ‘Fairground King’ Marcel Campion. According to Campion, ‘around 10,000 trucks were mobilised throughout France, of which between 400 and 500 were in Paris.’

Divided trade unions

The proposed reforms go against many of Macron’s electoral promises: a cap on compensation awarded by industrial tribunals, the merging of independent staff representatives into companies, reform of the CPPP (safeguard against ‘difficult working conditions’) and greater power accorded to intra-company agreements.

Yet the unions are divided. The Worker’s Force did not publicly align itself with the movement, though some members decided independently to protest. The same was true for the Democratic Confederation of Labour, the Confederation of Management, the Confederation of Christian Workers and the National Union of Autonomous Unions.

The General Confederation of Labour has already called for another protest on the 21st September, the day before the reforms are presented at a Cabinet meeting.

 

France: is Macron’s government backsliding on gender equality?

Emmanuel Macron has yet to follow through on his promise to appoint a dedicated minister for women’s rights. Cécile Bouanchaud in Le Monde argues that, alongside drastic cuts to the gender equality budget, the proposed changes to employment law have led to further disenchantment with the new President. 

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron

In an opinion piece published on Wednesday 6th September, various feminist groups laid out their concerns over the reforms. Around fifty associations have united to denounce ‘an apparently neutral text’ which, in reality, has ‘consequences specific to women’.

Professional equality no longer a concern

Those opposed to the legislation are critical of government back-pedalling on measures to safeguard professional equality. Once the reforms are approved, the dedicated body for identifying sources of workplace inequality (introduced in 2015) will be co-financed by company boards. Sophie Binet, head of gender equality at the General Confederation of Labour, anticipates that ‘Work councils with limited budgets will prefer to finance economic expertise…gender equality will fall off the radar.’

According to the societies and unions comprising the opposition to the reforms, ‘all tools for negotiating professional equality’ are damaged by the legislation. Employers will no longer face sanctions for flouting the Rudy law, which prevents discrimination against women, promotes gender parity in the workplace and enforces transparency for male and female salaries. An intra-company agreement, rather than a branch agreement as before, will allow employers to hold meetings every four years rather than annually, and the right to choose which figures, if any, to make public.

Skewed balance of power

Signatories of the document also assert that women will be in a weakened position to negotiate family rights, such as prolonged maternity leave or taking time off to care for an ill child – ‘these issues will once again be subject to an intra-company agreement where the power balance is less favourable to women.’

Another cause for concern is the disappearance of the CHSCT (Committee for Hygiene, Safety and Work Conditions) which helps to prevent sexual violence in the workplace. According to Sophie Binet, ‘20% of women claim to have suffered sexual harassment in their place of work. We were just starting to realise the psycho-social risks of this kind of abuse… Now that will go down the drain.’

Criticism of Secretary of State Schiappa

On Tuesday, in a meeting of the council for professional equality, all representatives of labour unions bar one voted against the reforms. Employers associations, however, were in favour.

Binet, who was present at the meeting, stated that Marlène Schiappa (Secretary of State for Equality between Women and Men), ‘did not see where the problem lay with the points we had raised…without really answering our questions.’

Marlène Schiappa

When contacted, Schiappa promised ‘vigilance’ on matters of professional equality affected by the new legislation, but failed to really address the issues called to light by signatories of the critique.

Feminist representatives unanimously doubt Schiappa’s ability to ‘carry weight in government’ and denounce the discrepancy between Macron’s electoral promises and the measures taken these last few months. ‘We feel that this subject is being used as a public relations tool,’ says Binet.