Photo Gallery: Forced displacement in Calais Jungle
(Above) Around 200 riot police officers entered Calais ‘Jungle’ at 7am on 29 February and began evicting refugees from the southern half of the camp. They told residents that they had one hour to leave their shelters or they would be arrested. Some were escorted from their homes by police and taken on buses to undisclosed winter shelters across France. A total of 3,455 people including 445 children – 281 of these unaccompanied minors – will be made homeless over the coming days.
Forty-five-year-old Arash watched as his home was bulldozed early on 1 March. He doesn’t know where he will go, he says, as he warms his hands by a small fire that offers no defence against the heavy rain and biting wind. ‘This is my situation,’ he shrugs, kicking burning embers that land near his feet back into the fire. Many of the 6,000 refugees in Calais’ camp have lived there for months, some even years.
As a football game gets underway between volunteers and Sudanese refugees, Issa and five of his friends sit on the two small beds in Issa’s wooden hut (top right). From the Darfur region of Sudan, Issa has been living in the camp for four or six months; he can no longer remember. ‘We will sleep here tonight,’ he says, gesturing outside, where police stand protecting bulldozers dumping the contents of his neighour’s home into a skip. ‘Europe is so generous!’ he says sarcastically. ‘Thank you for your hospitality in destroying our homes.’
‘Living space’ in the Calais Jungle
Lawyers appealed against the Prefecture’s [regional government] decision to destroy the southern half of Calais on 23 February, on the grounds that forced eviction would leave much of the 3,455 population of the southern half of the camp without shelter – a violation of a fundamental human right. Despite confirmation from the court that only 1,156 alternative accommodation places were available across France, the court gave the go-ahead for the demolition on 25 February, on the conditions that no living or communal spaces be destroyed and no force was to be used against refugees. In a press conference, the French Minister for the Interior assured journalists and volunteers that the clearing of the area would be gradual, respectful and humane.
’The police are robots, I think’
On 29 February, police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and used water cannons against residents and volunteers. On the second day of evictions, the police beat a pregnant woman and her husband from the roof of a shelter with a baton. ‘The police don’t look at you or talk to you,’ says Issa. ‘They are robots, machines, I think’. On 2 March, five Iranian men sewed their lips together and are on hunger strike to protest the violation of their human rights.
‘Do you want to die?’ shout police officers to a small group of refugees and volunteers, as a fire quickly spread from a nearby hut. ‘We’re already dead,’ answers Iranian-born Arash. The police prevented volunteers from using fire extinguishers on the fire that destroyed three shelters that were still being lived in, with the residents’ belongings inside. A fire engine parked outside the camp arrived on the scene 20 minutes later.
Volunteers run to pull a tent away from the fire believing it to have gas inside. Gas, petrol and oil are used in high quantities by refugees for heating and cooking in the absence of a better option. Four police officers were taking selfies in front of the fire, said a volunteer who asked not to be identified. Witnesses believe that the police started the fire and prevented it from being extinguished, both to destroy shelters and in an attempt to provoke a response from the crowd to justify the use of further violence.
Helpers from around Europe and beyond are doing what they can to find shelter for refugees who are being displaced. ‘We have the dome [the camp’s theatre] that people are going to stay in tonight, says Francesca Davis. ‘Our priority is unaccompanied minors and families that we are trying to find homes for in the northern part of the camp. We bought 900 tents in at 5 this morning [on 1 March], before the police started their shift at 8am,’ adds the volunteer, who works with French-English organization L’auberge des Migrants. ‘We have brought unaccompanied minors phones and loaded $7.00 onto sim cards with the numbers of long-term volunteers to make sure that the kids are safe.’ Most refugees living in northern France have not felt safe for some time.
Some of the 1,155 alternative accommodation spaces for refugees evicted from their homes inside Calais refugee camp are in containers adjacent to the camp. Entry is only possible after giving a palm-print scan and passing through turnstiles. A high barbed wire fence separates these residents from the camp. In comparison to the prison-like feel of the containers, the ‘jungle’ represents community, freedom and dignity. On 7-9 March, the nearby refugee camp in the Dunkirk suburb of Grande-Synthe will also be evicted. Residents have another camp to move to based on assurances by the local authorities that it will be an open camp. But as seen in Calais, promises are easily broken.