Calais and Dunkirk: Demolition and forced evictions from refugee camps will make things worse
“They seem to believe if they make the Calais jungle ‘disappear’ this will all go away. They do not have the means to compensate for the destruction of ten thousand homes—there isn’t nearly enough alternative accommodation.”
Breakthrough research, released earlier this month, has shown how forceful evictions are not a viable solution to tackling the refugee crisis in France.
The research was conducted by the Refugee Rights Data Project (RRDP) and constitutes the largest research effort around refugees and displaced people in Northern France to date. Their report highlights how officials are yet to find a feasible solution to the situation, and that relocation, forcefulness and destroying refugee homes won’t alleviate the crisis in any way.
RRDP compiled the data by surveying both the larger camps—Calais and Dunkirk—and the smaller ones. In Calais, a total of 32% of residents were living there in hope of reaching the United Kingdom because they were able to speak English. A number of them (28.7%) also thought they would have better education in the UK than elsewhere. At least 21% of refugees had refused to apply for asylum in France because they had family waiting for them in the UK.
In Dunkirk, the living experience was different. More than 40% of refugees at the Grande-Synthe camp said that they had experienced police violence in France. At least 47% of those below the age of 18 said they had been detained during their stay in France, alongside 28% of all respondents who said they had been detained.
Unsurprisingly, the study found a correlation between the refugees’ length of stay in Calais and Dunkirk and their experience of police brutality and detention.
Police Brutality at Calais and Dunkirk
RRDP data suggests that refugees from Calais and Dunkirk are often victims of brutal treatment—both from citizens and the French authorities. In February, 49.2% of respondents in Calais had been subjected to citizen violence—usually by groups of men, both directly outside the camp and dotted around the Calais area. For some, this took the form of verbal abuse from cars or house windows. Others had been badly beaten, and there were even rumours of killings in the camp at the hands of far-right militias.
A further 75.9% of respondents reported experiencing violence from police since arriving in the Calais camp and 42.3% in Dunkirk. An alarming number of respondents described the force used as excessive.
Natalie Stanton, Deputy Director of RRDP, said:
“[We] met people who received broken bones, or lost several teeth—one woman even reported losing her unborn baby due to the effects of police tear gas while seeking to reach the UK.”
“Others reported being targeted when they were within the camp, walking to the shops, or even on their way for treatment at the local hospital.”
Natalie believed there were many ways in which French officials could better support refugee communities in Calais and Dunkirk. She said that the Bar Human Rights Committee suggested the French government should launch an independent investigation into allegations of excessive violence, as well as clarify that “force, including tear gas, should only be used in a proportionate fashion and as a last resort.”
A viable option would also be for police officers to wear body cameras and be trained to “safeguard the wellbeing of children in the camps”. She said:
“This would be a great start—not only helping to protect vulnerable people, but ensuring that the authorities are held accountable for their actions.”
According to Natalie, there is also a critical lack of advice available for displaced people in Calais and Dunkirk.
“We found that 79.3% of respondents in Calais don’t have access to information about their rights and opportunities to change their situation,” she noted. “This could be avoided if the French and British governments provided legal advice centres in northern France, including translations and interpreters to ensure that all residents can access the information and guidance they need to make informed decisions about their futures.”
Volunteers Pick up the pieces
When refugee camps are destroyed, it’s the volunteers who step in, working endless hours in an attempt to rebuild what has been demolished. Cécile Burton, human resources manager of the Help Refugees Calais, believes that relocation and eviction of the Jungle was not a solution, and said it was a highly frustrating issue for volunteers.
“We find ourselves amidst the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Figures are constantly being reported and everyone keeps talking about how it’s getting worse and our governments (both French and English) are playing dumb.”
She continued: “They seem to believe if they make the jungle ‘disappear’ this will all go away. They do not have the means to compensate for the destruction of ten thousand homes—there isn’t nearly enough alternative accommodation.”
Cécile believed destroying the Calais Jungle created a bigger mess, as it encouraged smaller camps to emerge with less infrastructure and less support. This meant that refugees’ desperation would increase, driving them to dangerous measures—causing an even bigger sense of unrest and dissatisfaction with authorities.
“I had to laugh when I heard the news of the future wall!” Cécile exclaimed. “A group of educated people truly have faith that this is a good investment and constructive solution.
“If they evict the camp it is simply because they have no clue what to do and they want to make the public think they are taking some kind of action. There is nothing human about this response.”
Photo: Infrastructure where refugees live at Calais camp. Source: Refugee Rights Data Project. Source: International Political Forum (IPF).