Paris under pressure to improve Calais ‘jungle’

Migrant numbers rocket amid shoddy services, hazards and racist sentiment

Residents have a wash at the “New Jungle” migrant camp in Calais, where thousands live in the hope of crossing the Channel to Britain. Photograph: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

Residents have a wash at the “New Jungle” migrant camp in Calais, where thousands live in the hope of crossing the Channel to Britain. Photograph: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images


Eight hundred film-makers, actors, writers, musicians, artists and intellectuals have launched an urgent plea to the French government to “End the indignity of the Calais jungle.”

At the same time, the Pas-de-Calais prefecture acknowledged that the population of the makeshift encampment on a former dump outside Calais has tripled, from 2,000 last spring to 6,000 at present.

The Appeal of the 800 published on the front page of Libération newspaper, describes the plight of “between 5,000 and 6,000 men, women and children, exhausted by a terrible journey, left to fend for themselves in shacks, with one meagre meal per day, nearly no access to showers or toilets. . .”

The appeal criticises French authorities for failing to provide humane conditions out of fear it would attract more migrants. “The government shifted responsibility to associations and volunteers,” the text says. “This disengagement is shameful in a country which, even in crisis, remains the world’s sixth economic power.”

In response to the appeal, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve travelled to Calais for the seventh time to reiterate the government line of “humanity and firmness”. The inherent contradiction of the policy was writ large in Mr Cazeneuve’s promise to provide housing and medical care while expelling as many migrants as possible. The Jules Ferry centre at the edge of the camp musters only 600 showers and 2,000 meals per day.

The government will house 200 more women and children in heated tents by the end of the week, with that number eventually rising to 400. Work on prefabricated housing for 1,500 migrants will begin on November 2nd, at a cost of €18 million.

“The humanitarian response is not long-term management of the distress in Calais,” Mr Cazeneuve said. “We must permanently diminish the number of migrants in this town.”

Tighter security

The number of police and gendarmes deployed to Calais is to increase from 665 to 1,125. More stringent security around the port and tunnel, combined with the continuing flow of refugees from Syria, have turned Calais into a bottleneck. Dozens manage to cross to England each day, but they are replaced by up to 200 new arrivals.

With night temperatures of five degrees, seas of mud and epidemics of scabies and respiratory infection, conditions in the sand dunes continue to worsen. Nineteen migrants, including three women and four minors, have died this year. A 16-year-old Afghan was torn to pieces by a freight train on October 16th. The previous day, a 26-year-old Syrian woman was run over by a taxi on the approach to the tunnel. Last month, the corpse of a Moroccan who tried to swim to a ferry washed ashore.

There are other dangers. Most of the “jungle” is situated in a Seveso zone, classified as such because of its proximity to the Synthexim and Interor chemical factories. The 2012 departmental risk-prevention plan, quoted by Agence France Presse, notes that “the manufacture and storage of toxic products” could produce “dangerous phenomena in the event of fire, explosions or leaks due to changes in the temperature or pressure of containers”.

At least nine Africans have been beaten up since June, by three thugs who drive around in a black car. An extreme right-wing group called “Let’s Save Calais” was founded in 2013 by Kevin Rèche, a young militant who reportedly has a swastika tattooed on his chest.

Nationalistic chants

A second group, “Angry Calaisians”, is close to the National Front (FN), which wins up to 65 per cent of the vote in poor neighbourhoods of the city. FN leader Marine Le Pen is likely to be elected president of the region in December. At an October 4th rally, the “Angry Calaisians” chanted “Calais for Calaisians”, “France for the French” and “This is our country.”

There’s a whiff of civil war between these anti-immigrant groups and their opponents in “Calais, Open and Humane” and “No Border”. The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, has asked for the army to be deployed in the “jungle” and for its inhabitants to be photographed and fingerprinted.

In the meantime, the government has leased turbo-prop Beechcraft jets to move migrants to refugee centres in Nîmes, Lyon and Bordeaux. Only a dozen can be transported on each flight, and most make their way back to Cal