By Elisabeth Weisswange, Sciences Po
During the last week of October, about 5,500 refugees were evicted from the refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais known as the Jungle. Over the course of the demolition, access to the camp was restricted to 500 journalists and 500 aid workers - the numbers alone indicate - from humanitarian perspective - a rather questionable approach to the eviction.
The demolition of the camp lasted from Monday to Friday, and could be accurately described as a chaos, lacking an over-arching structure, any semblance of organisation and most of all a sense of humanity, on the part of the French authorities, and on the part of the international press who swarmed to Calais from across the world.
It soon turned out that the only objective was to tear down the jungle - humans did not play any role in the pursuit of this aim. Indeed, human rights were ignored from beginning to end; towards the end of the week hundreds of minors where forced to sleep outside without a roof above their heads, as by this point most of the Jungle had already been burned down. Volunteers and aid workers were left alone to provide food, drinks and basic supplies such as blankets and socks, receiving no support from the French state or the EU.
On the spot age assessment and the threat of/actual use of violence are only some illustrations of the atrocious scenes that occurred right in the heart of Europe. Calais suddenly became a sad example of ‘Fortress Europe’, seemingly inaccessible to thousands of people who had fled their homes. Europe, working hard to promote human rights and democracy abroad, showed little signs of humanity and democracy within its own borders.
Unfortunately, these circumstances were reported only when it became impossible to ignore. Those who should have been reporting on what was occurring were in fact contributing to the inhumane situations, filming minors when they were crying, and indicating that they did not want to be caught on camera and telling volunteers helping refugees with their luggage to “get out of the way” because they were “working on their story”. Worse still, they stood idle, filming the huge fires when help was needed to rescue remaining refugees.
Luckily, many journalists who had hoped for more dramatic scenes of unrest left after a couple of days, leaving some rather more committed journalists on the ground, who were finally able to report on what was actually happening during the last two days of the eviction.
Nonetheless, it is a disgrace that hundreds of minors were left unaccompanied in an area threatened by recurring fires and people traffickers over the course of two days and nights. It is a disgrace that people were treated like animals, forced to sit on the cold, wet ground for several hours. It is a disgrace that force was used when all was needed was some good organisation and a degree of structure. It is a disgrace that all of this is happening in the heart of Europe and nobody seems to want to talk about it. Indeed, those who were hoping for a response on behalf of the EU are still waiting...
It is time the EU acted in accordance to its own standards regarding human rights and the protection of refugees, so diligently imposed elsewhere but somehow found lacking in its own back yard. A simple start would be the distribution of food. Another action to directly improve the situation is the provision of social workers as contact persons for the refugees and translators to facilitate communication between authorities and refugees. Otherwise, the EU will face criticism of hypocrisy and double-standards, and refugees inside its territory will continue to suffer.
Sadly, the eviction of Calais remains no exception in France. In Paris, thousands of refugees are camping on the sidewalks, without any sanitary facilities or food. Similar scenes as in Calais are visible when police once again try to end the situation by means of force. Unsurprisingly, the focus is not on humanity, it is rather the image of the city of Paris that needs to be protected.
Instead of waiting for the EU to take action, France should finally take responsibility and treat the refugees arriving in their country like humans by providing appropriate accommodation, sanitary facilities and access to food. Indeed, the equipment of some of the so-called ‘welcome centres’ where refugees are brought to after the evictions seem questionable. Reports about a lack of beds, showers, translators and no provision of halal food in several centres are more than worrying.
It might be worth seeking advice from Germany, where no refugees are left behind on the streets despite the immense flow of migrants. Claiming the development of these camps are due to a lack of accommodation available, clearly demonstrates absence of any political will. If France does not decide to change its policies soon, refugee camps like the Jungle will emerge again before we know it and inhuman conditions will continue to be part of France’s everyday life.