On October 24, 2016, the French interior minister announced the dismantling of the 'Calais Jungle'. This huge informal settlement had housed up to 10,000 migrants. Five years later, the Calais area is still a key departure point for the United Kingdom, and living conditions of migrants there remain precarious.
There is nothing left of the old "Jungle", dismantled five years ago. On the dunes, outside the city center of Calais, vegetation has grown and the signs forbidding anyone to settle, posted after the expulsion of nearly 10,000 people, are still there, the letters washed away by the rain.
Like every other day in Calais, on October 24 2021, a convoy of gendarmerie arrive at 8 am to carry out another round of evictions from makeshift living quarters. At the time of the "Jungle", the name given by the migrants themselves to the dunes on the outskirts of the city, more than 10,000 people survived in an informal encampment that extended over several hectares.
Daily evictions and tent confiscations
Today, the public authorities have a clear goal: to avoid the installation of camps, which they call "fixation points". To do so, they carry out almost daily evictions. Although there are no longer any established settlements as such, several small camps have sprung up on the wastelands between Coquelles, Calais and Marck, currently sheltering two thousand exiles waiting to cross to England. During these evictions, tents are confiscated and often, with them, migrants' personal belongings.
Emma, coordinator of the Human Rights Observer project supported by the Auberge des Migrants, notes an increase in the rate of evictions. "For the past few months, the pace of evictions has been different, they no longer come every other day like last year, but really every day, in the morning and sometimes even a second time in the afternoon," says the activist, who does not want her last name to be published.
This incessant pace aims to discourage migrants from settling in Calais. "It causes a real weariness and fatigue for migratns, but people always come back a few minutes after the eviction, even if they don't even have a tent anymore. There is not always an accommodation solution and often they do not get back the things that are seized from them after the evictions. This year, 72% of people have not been able to recover their personal belongings," says Emma.
"In concrete terms, Calais is a lawless zone," says Wela Ouertani of La Cabane Juridique, an association which provides legal assistance to migrants in Calais. "Everything that happens is illegal, but the State always manages to justify everything with legal prowess. It's a very well-honed machine. We only ask the State to respect the law".
"In the context of Calais, the sheltering of people after evictions is a forced action, and therefore illegal. The evictions are carried out in flagrante delicto and normally this procedure does not allow for the eviction from land. But the State justifies itself by saying, 'we have noticed an offence, the occupation of land, so we went to ask the people to leave the land and the people left voluntarily'. This is how they can do it every day," she explains.
Surge in attempted boat crossings
As a result of this daily practice of eviction, since the dismantling of the Jungle, the number of attempted boat crossings has exploded. Loan Torondel, an aid worker, is the author of an independent report on these crossings between 2018 and 2021. "[Boat crossings] were very rare at the time of the Jungle, there were mostly individual attempts. In 2018, the phenomenon of group crossings really started and then took on a considerable scale," he observes.
"One of the causes is the securing of all the parking lots and the port. Trucks have become a more difficult route to access," explains Torondel. "Today, people try by boat and truck, depending on the weather or the day. The deterioration of the living conditions in the camps also causes great stress for the people because they never feel safe. It pushes them to take risks to cross."
Avoiding 'fixation points'
Since September 2020, a controversial prefectural order has also been renewed each month by the authorities, prohibiting all distribution of food and drink by associations not mandated by the state in a very large section of downtown Calais.
Other measures have been taken by the authorities to avoid "fixation points". In one of the camps near Coquelles, the prefecture's services installed several tons of rocks to prevent access to food distribution points and the filling of a 1,000-liter water tank that was benefiting nearly 600 people. The first time they were moved by the exiles and some associations, larger rocks were driven into the ground in one night, a few days later.
Daily life in the Calais camps is very different today than it was in 2016, when the informal settlement was first established. Living conditions have deteriorated and the near-daily evictions have even been denounced in a lengthy report by the NGO Human Rights Watch published this month. After its publication and to denounce this "harassment" by the authorities against the migrants, three people have been on hunger strike since October 11, 2021.