Police vans in Calais, January 12, 2019 | Photo: Utopia 56
Police vans in Calais, January 12, 2019 | Photo: Utopia 56

At the rate of "two dismantlements per day", there have been hundreds of law enforcement operations to clear informal migrant camps in northern France since January 1, 2019. Activists working there speak of a discouraging routine.

Nearly every day, volunteers from the migrant aid organizations Human Rights Observers, Utopia 56 or Auberge des Migrants document the dismantlement of migrant camps in the north of France. On their Twitter and Facebook accounts, they post photos of destroyed tents, belongings scattered in the mud, and gutted water canisters.

The pace of dismantlement is so rapid in Calais that evacuations from the four main migrant camps* are considered a routine part of life by their occupants and the organizations that work with them, explains Charlotte, a volunteer at Utopia 56. "It's been happening with the same frequency, at the same time of day for several months," she explained. "It's discouraging. Migrants prepare for it every day. At around 7 am, when the police arrive, the migrants are set to go. They wake up early to pick up and sort their things, put away their sleeping bags.” Some disappear at dawn and return a few hours later.

Since the beginning of the year, authorities have been dismantling camps at the rate of two a day, and there have already been at least 300 this year, according to Utopia 56 and Auberge des Migrants. Human Rights Observes, an NGO often present during police operations, puts the tally at more than 340.

Far from resembling the old "jungle" of Calais, the migrant camps in northern France are small now, generally occupied by between 25 and 100 people.

124 dismantlement operations in 4 months, according to police

When contacted by InfoMigrants, the Pas-de-Calais police department said there were 124 operations between January 1 and April 30, 2019 (a little more than one per day). In March, Deputy Commander Michel Tournaire confirmed the high rate of dismantlements in the city, which were occurring “every other day," he said at the time.

"[Operations] to put an end to illegal occupations[...] are carried out calmly, and according to a strict protocol with, in particular, the possibility for the populations concerned to recover their personal belongings**, including blankets and tents," said the Pas-de-Calais prefecture. "During these operations, proposals for shelter are systematically made to the migrants present."

'Not many public spaces left to occupy'

In recent weeks, activists have been complaining that they have been excluded from the dismantlement operations, as the security perimeter imposed by the police during each evacuation has been extended by several meters. "The perimeter around migrant camps is so wide that you can't see what's going on. When the police arrive, they push us further and further away. The police park their vehicles in front of us, so we can't see anything,” said Charlotte from Utopia 56.

This normalization of evacuations is a concern for Utopia 56. In addition to the cold and the more than precarious living conditions, "migrants are exhausted. They don't sleep much, they are constantly awakened around 7 am. They are very anxious,” she said. Many refuse to go to the CAES, the emergency shelters where their administrative situation will be assessed. They prefer to stay in the wild, not too far from the smuggling networks, in the hope of finding a way to reach England.

Looking for new places in Calais to hide from the authorities is futile, according to Utopia 56: "Where could they go? There are more and more police checks in the city center. Almost no one goes there anymore," Charlotte explained.

And on the outskirts, "everything is fenced," she continued. Fences were put up last month near the Verrotières camp on the Chemin du Pont Trouille, where dozens of migrants had settled. "They put barbed wire, fences everywhere, near camps, along highways. There is not much public space left to occupy. So people come back to the same places.”

Auberge des Migrants agrees. "There are fewer and fewer spaces available," says François Guennoc, vice-president of the organization. "They could go much further, but then it would be a very long journey to reach the food distribution points and toilets set up by the city.”

According to estimates by organizations and the police, there are currently between 200 and 300 migrants in Calais.

*There are several migrant camps in Calais:

  • Rue des huttes camp: about 200 people live there
  • Virval camp (near the hospital): about 50 people live there
  • Marcel Doret camp (or BMX): about 30 people live there
  • Old Lidl camp: about 20 people live there

** La Ressourcerie is a charity shop located at 365 Avenue Saint-Exupéry, in Calais, where the police drop off personal belongings found during dismantlement


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