Wednesday, 9 December 2009

MailWatch #7 - 'Sangatte II' or Not 'Sangatte II', That Is The Question

It seemed like old times when the Mail (together with the Telegraph and the Evening Standard*) published yet another tedious Calais migrants scare story courtesy of their 'Paris correspondent' and well-known fantasist Peter Allen.** So we thought we'd take a bit of time out to systematically demolish his tissue of lies and innuendo.

Take the headline 'French to open another Sangatte as Calais prepares new centre for illegal migrants'. Even in the wildest fantasies of the most bigoted Mail reader (who by any measurement would be so far to the right of Genghis Khan as to still be in the Stone Age) could the new Day Centre be compared to a giant converted warehouse previously used for storing equipment used in building the Channel Tunnel. A building that regularly housed more than a thousand people sleeping on camp beds in tents pitched inside the structure, with its own medical centre and canteen. Talk about hyperbole!***

Allen then goes on to claim that the plans for the centre had "closely-guarded", yet the centre has been discussed openly for most of this year in the local papers and open local authority and migrant council meetings.

"It is already being dubbed Sangatte II after the former Red Cross centre which attracted thousands of illegal foreigners before it demolished in 2002." By whom? It is certainly true that the yellow press label any building since 2002 where humanitarian aid is provided for migrants in northern France as Sangatte II, and Allen even labelled the 'Jungle' a 'mini-Sangatte'. All you have to do is look back in the archives. [e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4.]**** Therefore we'll take that as meaning "We are already dubbing it Sangatte II." Oh, and how can a "foreigner" be "illegal"?

Then we get the usual rent-a-quote, this time from Damien Green (what, Alan Green not answering his phone?): "This is another gesture of contempt from France to Britain. The only result of this will be to encourage more potential illegal immigrants to try to break our laws." i.e. sod the French laws. Not particularly in the spirit of the old Entente-cordiale Damien. "The most humane reaction would be for the French authorities to deal with the asylum applications themselves." Which is precisely what they are and have been doing! You really shouldn't believe everything that you read in the Mail and Telegraph you know.

Of course he doesn't really believe that, it all part of the public posturing that all politicians do, blame the other side before you get blamed. So we have the mayor of Calais blaming "Britain's lax asylum policies for the influx of migrants." And of course the media are willing dupes in this blame game, as it stops them from really having to engage with the reality of the situation and find a proper solution (more on this later).

"Officials say the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that both the French government and Calais council feel they have no option to build the centre." What else do they expect when the whole demolition of the Pashtun 'Jungle' was a massive PR exercise that wasn't really designed to cure anything. The thing that was meant to 'cure the problem' was the massive wave of repression that followed, where the migrants were subjected to a rising tide harassment: with the CRS being given increased quotas for the numbers of daily arrests; constat destruction of shelters; tents, sleeping bags and blankets being confiscated or destroyed; increased intimidation at the daily food distribution. The list is endless and all this now that winter is here.*****

Then we finally get a couple of sentences about what the centre plans actually entail, not the deranged fantasies of a tabloid hack, "Yesterday local officials insisted it would only be a 'day centre' for foreigners who are in a particularly bad way - including the sick, pregnant women and minors under the age of 18." Doesn't sound too bad after all, but that doesn't fit in with the picture Allen wants to paint, so he goes on: "But the plans agreed by the administrative court of Lille include central heating, hot showers, and a kitchen." Shock horror! Clearly Peter thinks that the French shouldn't be providing these 'dregs of humanity' with any form of humanitarian aid, let alone food and the odd shower. And just in case you had not divined his position he follows it with the following, "The facilities will be made available to those trying to board ferries and trains to England."

"Officials defended the plan as a humanitarian response." Bloody French, eh Peter. And bureaucrats to boot!

According to one of these unnamed bureaucrats: "There are more than 1,000 migrants sleeping rough in the town, and with temperatures dropping their living conditions are getting worse." So the situation is more or less exactly the same as it has been for the last 6 winter then, except that there are no 'Jungles' and very few squats and the migrants' situations are even more marginal.

"He (the same unnamed bureaucrat) said September's destruction of The Jungle, an illegal shanty town full of mainly Afghan young men, had not had the desired effect. "It did not persuade them to leave, so we have to offer them a basic level of support."" Doh! Having given the inhabitants of the 'Jungle' months of warning it was inevitable that those who couldn't go anywhere else stayed and that most of those were juveniles who should already have been given protection (that very same 'basic level of support') under a whole raft of international treaties and accords.

Next we have a named bureaucrat in the guise of the Mail's favourite French mayor Natacha Bouchart who, as mentioned earlier, blames it all on les Rost Bifs. According to her "the council had been forced to accept the new building as part of a compromise deal with refugee charity Secours Catholique."

The truth is that she and her council had prevaricated over plans to replace the showers that the council forced to be closed earlier on in the year and demanded that Secours Catholique could only build new ones if they were well out of town and therefore out of reach of most of the migrants. She was hardly forced into agreeing the deal, after all she had unilaterally moved the site where the food distribution happens and has systematically prevented any attempts to provide aid to the migrants in Calais, even taking part in the hijacking of the joint Medicins du Monde and Medecins sans Frontiers anti-scabies effort. She even created a Migrants' Council without any migrants on it!

"The charity, which will run the centre, had wanted to build one in another part of town, but agreed to remove their planning application in return for the smaller structure." So there we have who it was that really had to compromise?

"Since the closure of The Jungle further migrant camps have sprung up in nearby Steenvoorde, Bailleul and St Omer, with all providing beds, food, clothing shops, medical care and advice on how to claim asylum." You've also missed the Steenvoorde camp you ranted about back in October and as you well know these temporary winter aid efforts have happen for a number of years. But why miss a chance to have another rant.

"But the Calais centre is likely to cause particular outrage, as Mr Besson has insisted there would no official welcome centre in the town." - only amongst you and your reactionary fellow-travellers. By the way, maybe you should take that 'be' out of your bonnet and put it back in the sentence where it will at least make it grammatically correct.

Which thankfully brings us to the end of the article and the only part of the piece that actually makes any sense: "Tory South East MEP Richard Ashworth said: "It is clear that the closure of the Calais "jungle" in September was conducted without an adequate strategy in place to deal with the situation.""

And in typical fashion, the rest of the media world, from Channel 4 to the Scottish Daily Post, has fastened on to this fantasy and have repeated it almost verbatim desperate as they are to fill those column inches and air time and none of them have bother to check their facts.

* And probably getting paid three times for the same rubbish.
** Author of that renown fantasy 'Police arrest 47 anarchists threatening to lead swarms of illegal migrants through Channel tunnel to Britain' during the Calais No Borders Camp and numerous other inventions.
*** Allen even knew himself that this reception centre was going to be built, after all he wrote about it back in March. He also already knew that there was going to be no beds in the centre. See in the Standard article: "A journalist asked him: "So you're constructing mini-Sangattes?" The minister replied: "They won't be permanent sleeping centres."
**** Strangely all written by someone called Peter Allen.
***** See the Calais Migrant Solidarity blog for details of the police operations.

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