The Calais Camp is Gone: What Next?

On 24 October a fleet of 150 buses arrived at the makeshift refugee and migrant camp in Calais with the task of moving some of the approximately 7000 remaining residents to sheltered accommodation across France. Two days later, the camp, often referred to as ‘the Jungle’ in the media, was set ablaze as demolition crews moved in to dismantle it once and for all. Fabienne Buccio, the regional official overseeing the clearance, told reporters, ‘Mission accomplished…There are no more migrants in the camp.’

So, if there is no one left in the camp, where are they now? Some have been temporarily re-homed while others, it appears, have had to relocate to new makeshift camps. One month after Buccio’s statement, it remains unclear exactly how many of Calais’ former residents have been provided with sufficient alternative shelter for the harshest months of the French winter.

Considering the complexity of the operation, the clearance of the Calais camp ran relatively smoothly. Assisted by NGO workers and police, nearly 2000 refugees and migrants were taken by bus to more than 400 Welcome and Orientation Centres (CAOs) across France. These CAOs range from old hospitals and barracks to out of use holiday accommodation. The refugees and migrants will be able to stay at these centres temporarily while those who wish to can file asylum applications. Once their application is submitted, asylum seekers will be moved to more permanent housing in Reception Centres for Asylum Seekers (CADAs) to await a response. It was intended that those who resisted the evacuation to CAOs would instead be taken to administrative centres from where they may face deportation. However, there has been no official statement released on how many campers this measure was applied to, and the vast majority of those evacuated did so peacefully.


Image courtesy of malachybrowne, © 2016, some rights reserved.

While this sounds like promising progress, with only 2000 moved to CAOs, over 5000 former Calais residents are left unaccounted for. As demolition began on the night of 26 October, over 1000 refugees and migrants who had still been living at the camp, most of whom were single young men, were forced to flee. With no safe place to flee to, French authorities are concerned that large numbers may return to the site of the old camp in a matter of weeks to start rebuilding settlements. This would mirror the events surrounding the clearance of the Sangette Camp, a few miles south of Calais, in December 2002. With no effective follow-up operation in place, new temporary camps began to spring up around the original evacuated camp. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve insists that there are steps in place to prevent a similar outcome this time around, including a higher police presence and the blocking of key immigration routes and settlement areas.

Whether these actions prevent resettlement remains to be seen, but for now it does mean that those not lucky enough to have been moved to CAOs must seek shelter elsewhere this winter. Subsequently, the dismantling of the camp appears to have had a considerable effect on the numbers of homeless migrants and refugees arriving in the cities and towns of Northern France. Paris, a city with an already significant homelessness problem, has provided shelter for 18000 displaced people since early 2015. In recent weeks, however, aid groups speculate that as many as 100 refugees and migrants, including former Calais residents, are arriving in the city each day. Local governments have not been able to keep up with these numbers, and in the days that followed the destruction of the Calais Camp, there was growing concern that new camps would spring up on the streets of the capital. On 4 November police broke up a settlement of hundreds of tents and makeshift shelters in northern Paris. Mayor Anne Hidalgo was in attendance and spoke of the, ‘desperate humanitarian and sanitary situation’ on her city’s streets. She has recently arranged for the creation of a new 400 person shelter— a small but positive step to housing those in need.

The demolition of the Calais camp has also put a spotlight onto the British role in processing migrants and refugees at the British-French border after Brexit. President Hollande made clear in September his belief that the UK has ‘responsibilities to France’ in regards to the migrant crisis, and many French authority figures do not feel these responsibilities are being met. Alain Juppé, the favourite to replace Hollande as President, has expressed a desire that the 2003 Le Touquet Treaty be renegotiated. This would potentially endanger the ability of British authorities to carry out border checks on French soil, and increase the numbers crossing the Channel to the UK. While these developments put a strain on French-British relations, the real concern is that refugees may face an even longer and more dangerous process of seeking asylum.

Since 24 October, more than 300 children from the Calais camp have been relocated to the UK. ‘Several hundred’ more are expected to be granted refugee status under the Dubs Amendment, which recognises the need to offer unaccompanied children refuge in the UK. The issue with the amendment is that it doesn’t specify how many children should be helped, and additional government criteria make this number much smaller. Children need to be at high risk of sexual exploitation or fit the age criteria of being 15 or younger if from Sudan or Syria, and 12 or younger if from elsewhere. This leaves a lot of unaccompanied and at-risk young people ineligible for help. With tensions high between the French and British governments, it is not clear who will be there to support them, which has led to mounting fears that many may slip through the cracks and receive no aid from either state.

Just as concerning is the political climate of the strengthening far-right in France coupled with popular anti-migrant rhetoric in both France and the UK. There has been local hostility in areas around CAOs and CADAs, and resentment at the growth of these centres will likely increase the popularity of parties like Marine Le Pen’s National Front. French national elections will take place next spring, as may the triggering of Article 50 (which begins the process of the UK leaving the European Union). At around the same time, aid groups are concerned large numbers of migrants and refugees will be cleared from some CAOs so that the centres can return to serving their other functions.

The Calais camp may be gone, but most of its former residents remain vulnerable to present or future homelessness and abuse of their human rights. Rebecca Hoffman, a University of St Andrews student who volunteered at the Calais camp this summer, said when asked about the impact of the demolition that ‘For many men, women and children the Calais camp was the small piece of stability that remained a constant in their lives. With the demolition of the camp, many have lost their homes, their communities and even their sense of hope. I just hope that the government can deal with the aftermath of the demolition and support the misplaced refugees adequately as these are real people with real lives, just like you and I.’