Fear and violence in Calais' Jungle Camp

Fear and violence in Calais' Jungle Camp
7 min read
29 February, 2016
Refugees have made homes and communities in Calais' Jungle Camp. Now police appear determined to destroy it and fascists intent on humiliating the residents, writes Sophia Akram.
Jungle Camp residents might soon have to find new homes [Getty]

Calais is no longer just a port for cheap cheese and wine but a microcosm of tensions around the European migrant crisis.

On Friday 12 February, Marianne Humbersot of the Calais Legal Centre, situated in Calais' Jungle Camp, announced that they would be calling for action against a rising paradigm of violence in the city against the migrant community - residents of the camps.

While the sentiment toward refugees in Calais has always been salty, it seems that the recorded complaints of violence from camp residents in recent weeks has increased and escalated.

Authorities have already began to dismantle parts of the Jungle Camp. They promised to forcibly relocate the remaining residents making it clear that the presence of the camp is in their eyes a temporary fixture of Calais and a burden for the city.

Fascist attacks

In the past three weeks alone, more than 50 violent incidents have been recorded, some involving hundreds of victims. While details of the incidents cannot be released for legal reasons, Humbersot did say that the incidents are of grave concern, and have involved both police and other civilian militias, often armed.

Many of these have been described as 'fascist groups' and have even included cases of attempted murder.

Marianne says that residents have been attacked in many places around Calais, around the camp, on their way into town and the attacks against them seem to have become more organised and frightening. Vans awaiting refugees to pass for instance are parked and have their doors flung open ready to kidnap residents and attack them.

Other volunteers working around the camp have described worrying incidents as well. One charity worker, Anna, said that in the last fortnight four camp residents have gone missing. While many do disappear in their quest to cross the border into the UK, these incidents she said were of particular concern.

"There was one that was particularly suspect as he told others he was on his way to Lidl during the day and rode off on his bike. He didn't return and after several hours people started to get worried. His bike was found dumped on the side of the road."

Activist group and monitor, Calais Migrant Solidarity (CMS), have reported a number of incidents as well. On 21 January, three refugees from Syria were assaulted in an abandoned field near Impasse des Salines. Assailants were apparently dressed in black boiler suits that looked similar to police suits but without emblems.

One charity worker, Anna, said that in the last fortnight four camp residents have gone missing

Their belongings were also stolen and they were beaten with iron bars, kicked in the face, and their bodies jumped on. The attack stopped when one of the refugees started bleeding from the head. They were taken to the hospital and a complaint made to police.

Police involvement

While police have been linked to these attacks, CMS have stated that members of the Calais police are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fascist groups. Evidence of this is how these gangs have been present when officers moved in to impose riot tactics on the camp.

In January, police moved into the Jungle and teargassed residents, making their lives even more unbearable. More recently, on 31 January there were attempts by some migrants to create a traffic jam, in order to jump aboard lorries that were crossing the Channel to the UK. They were stopped by police with apparent due force but then forces proceeded to take measures on the whole camp, which some called "punitive".

While their actions started at the security fence when some residents tried to cut through, they were retreating back towards the camp when attacked. Residents of the Calais slum as well as aid workers and volunteers, have been hit with rubber bullets, CS gas and concussion grenades. CMS said gas canisters and rubber bullets have been fired directly at residents and one person's hand was broken in one such incident. If one of these missiles hit a head or vital organ of a resident, the result could be fatal.

[Residents] have been hit with rubber bullets, CS gas and concussion grenades

CMS say that the police continue to do nothing about the continued attacks on migrants in Calais and there are speculations that an attack by an 'armed militia' on Thursday, 28 January might be linked to off-duty police.

These 'punitive' measures and increased violence all feed into the mission of arbitrarily removing the Jungle from Calais, which has already began. Authorities want to reduce the number of refugee residents in Calais to only 2,000 people.

The state has already built a container camp that will accommodate 1,500 people, but there are as many as 4,500 residents in the camp leaving the question open about where the thousands of other people who have made a life and home in Calais will go.

Camp Eviction

A continuing eviction of the camp near the Route des Gravellines is in process. Since January, Paris has been slowly clearing land to create a security perimeter or 'no mans land' between a motorway and the camp. Residents living in that area moved to other areas within the camp, leading to overcrowded conditions. On Friday, it was announced that a further 800 evictions from the south part of the camp would be necessary.

Many in the camp believe that this number is understated because the area earmarked for being dismantled will in fact affect closer to 2,000 residents. They will no longer be able to simply move to other areas within the camp as there is just no room and a more wide scale dismantling of the camp appears to be in process.

It is not just home that will be destroyed but the whole infrastructure of the camp, including its nerve centre - the Legal Centre - a medical facility, a women's centre, a school, a youth centre, shops, restaurants, distribution points, the 'dome' theatre and the Eritrean Church, the last church in the camp.

It is not just home that will be destroyed but the whole infrastructure of the camp

These makeshift buildings are part of the community life that refugees and aid workers have built for themselves and are a crucial part in daily life, relations amongst the residents, and their well-being.

Rising Tensions

These actions are increasing tensions within the camp. In already stressful circumstances, refugees are experiencing even greater pressures, something that psychologists believe can have a lasting effect on the psyche of refugees.

Conditions in the camp and in their lives do not lend itself to robust psychological support, which ultimately has an impact on the Jungle and life within it.

Some cases of anti-social behaviour have been reported among residents themselves including a rise in phone thefts, signs of aggression, depression and anxiety.

Two aid workers said that you could simply "feel" the tension in the camp. The vibe is not one of positivity.

The UK is the ultimate destination for nearly all in the Jungle Camp and the now state imposed camp run by La Vie Active.

France and the UK have had a long-standing agreement about the situation in Calais, the 2003 Le Touquet Treaty, which means that no-one can cross the channel through the city unless going through UK border control. Without this they would be free to cross the Channel with no checks.

If it was scrapped - as it would if Brexit was successful - then a Calais Jungle could effectively end in the UK, although France have assured in theory that they would not do that. In any case, until then France are doing everything in their power to reduce the number of refugees in the border town.

The Legal Centre, along with Caritas and Medecins du Monde, have already been successful in pressuring the French government to abide by international law and fulfil their obligations by providing adequate humanitarian support to refugees in Calais.

This resulted in the La Vie Active Day Centre and creation of the temporary camp with shipping containers by order of a high court judgment, and cases collected by the Legal Centre will be handed over to the state prosecutor for further investigations.

Yet for residents of the camp, the daily hardships continue while those making their lives hell appear to be immune from prosecution.

Sophia Akram is a researcher and communications professional with a special interest in human rights particularly across the Middle East. Follow her on Twitter: @mssophiaakram