Friday, 18 September 2009

Calais: Latest News II

According to the Nord Littoral, the main Pashtun 'Jungle' will begin to be dismantled next Tuesday, when Ramadan has ended. This is backed-up by the arrival of major police reinforcements in the area along with a number of bulldozers. So far however, the mobilisation of medical, interpreters and immigration department workers has not been observed. Already the Ethiopian 'Jungle' is empty and the police have thrown all the bedding and other equipment into the street. No one knows where the 30-40 people that were living there are.

Today volunteers from the various humanitarian associations have been in the main 'Jungles' giving what advice they can. Besson says that an "individual solution"* would be found for each and every migrant but that is of not comfort to the migrants, they are as desperate to get out of the 'Jungle' as Besson is to get rid of it. Needless to say as the migrants' situation gets ever more precarious those that prey on the, the traffickers, have upped their prices.

Also today, the Immigration Department released the text of a letter Besson sent to his European counterparts urging "the elaboration of a new doctrine of engagement for maritime operations", conducted in the Mediterranean by Frontex, that stopped all migrants from reaching European shores. Maybe he is aiming for a job in the Italian Government now?

There has been a lot of rhetoric flying around recently, most of it unedifying and some of it definitely contradictory. For example, what ever happened to 'Opération à Blanc' (Operation in White i.e. with health workers), the October dress rehearsal for the full scale dismantlement of the camps that was announced by Besson at the beginning of the month? Where is the evidence to back up the constant references to violence from the migrants that has apparently turned Calais into a "zone of lawlessness"?

Besson on Tuesday repeated these allegations on Tuesday as has Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, on repeated occasions but no one seems able to come up with any verifiable reports of such violence. However one thing is abundantly clear, the only people that appear to be being terrorised at the moment are the migrants being driven into hiding for fear of being returned to war-zones across the world or trying one last desperate attempt to cross the Channel.

Someone also needs to get their figure right. Besson on Wednesday: About 170 people had made requests for asylum in France this year and been issued with temporary leave to remain and accommodation, plus a further 180 had accepted voluntary return to their country of origin. prefect of Pas-de-Calais, Pierre de Bousquet de Florian on 25 August: 152 cases of asylum applications have been filed since the beginning of May, but only one agreed with 43 temporary residence permits. Surely M. Besson is being 'economic with the truth'? As the latest CFDA (Coordination Française pour le Droit d'Asile) press statement says, "How could Eritreans accept a "voluntary" repatriation to their country? Why would Afghans or Sudanese accept, under ... Dublin II, their transfer to Greece, regularly denounced and condemned for repeated abuse and bad treatment of asylum seekers and migrants in general?"

Here's something else that it looks as though the French authorities have not been too frank about either; whilst many of those in the 'Jungles' have slipped away out of sight, a lot of those who remain in there have already made asylum applications and are waiting for the current two and a half months Office Français d’Immigration et d’Intégration backlog in processing applications, having refused the offer of accommodation in a government hostel. Also many migrants who already have their 'green cards' chose to stay in the 'Jungle' rather than anywhere else.

A few other thoughts: if Calais' 'Jungles' and squats are cleared all at the same time, where will they put everyone? There just aren't enough paces in the French detention estate to accommodate all the Calais migrants? Maybe that is why they left it so long before going into action, hoping that the numbers would be lower as people had disappeared? Maybe they are going to revert to mass deportation after all, without processing papers and asylum applications? Deporting people without processing fully any applications or without checking to see if they have been in a 'safe third country' prior to arriving in France happens far more often that the French authorities will admit. Alternatively, they could just destroy all the camps and leave the migrants 'homeless' as they did after Sangatte was closed.

In other news on Calais, the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has said the UK government should consider granting entry to those who already have large families here. Inevitably, the UK Borders Agency stock reply was that the closure of the camps were "matters for the French government". Now that's a surprise isn't it? Sounds just like the UK Government line in 2002 before they agreed to take the majority of the migrants when the Sangatte camp was closed.

* This may just be PR as France has fallen foul of EU human right legislation over attempts that fall foul of Article 4 forbidding the "collective expulsion of foreigners". [See: Nov 08]

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