A Response to Clashes in Calais, 1st February 2018

Initially posted on Refugee Info Bus’ Medium blog, 5th February 2018.

Clashes between refugees and smugglers in Calais | Media reaction oversimplifies complex situation | The latest in a string of incidents | Response to Natacha Bouchart’s rhetoric | Call for legal and safe passage to disrupt smuggler networks

Thursday 1st February 2018

  • Fights broke out in Calais on Thursday in two different locations
  • The first was a shooting in which 4 young men were critically injured, and over the course of the day and evening fighting continued at other locations around Calais.
  • Reportedly between Ethiopian refugees and Afghan smugglers
  • There are 22 people in hospital, reportedly including a 16 and 18 year old, with 4 people fighting for their lives
  • Tensions in Calais have been increasing in recent months. Although the population of refugees is considerably less than at the height of the 2016 jungle, conditions are far worse.

As you will have seen on the news, there are 22 young people in hospital (reportedly including a 16 and 18 year old) with 4 people fighting for their lives following two separate clashes in Calais on Thursday 1st February 2018.

Emergency services tend to the injured following Thursday’s clashes. Image: BBC News

We agree with Interior Minister Gérard Collomb who attributes the instigation of these clashes to smuggler gangs, linked to tensions over territory. The first incident began as a stand-off between a group of Afghan smugglers and Eritrean refugees. Rocks thrown between the two groups escalated quickly to five Eritreans getting shot by a smuggler. Four have required surgery and are in critical condition in hospital. This clash escalated further over the course of the day and evening, at two locations around the city. As an association working on the ground in Calais, we strongly denounce this spate of violence and call for legal and safe passage in order to disrupt these smuggler networks.

Smuggling networks are a huge danger to refugees in Calais, as well as displaced people all over Europe and the world. They are organised crime syndicates of multiple nationalities — Middle Eastern, African, European — and this has been the case for many years. Migration is big business for a few, while millions of men, women and children around the world fleeing unimaginable problems struggle to survive in the inhumane conditions that this causes, caught between exploitative smuggler networks, unwelcoming authorities, hostile citizens, and an inability to return home.

In the past few weeks since Emmanuel Macron met with Theresa May, numbers have grown in Calais as a result of false rumours spreading in the refugee community about changing migration policy between the UK and France. Around 200 additional young people arrived in Calais in the immediate aftermath of the Sandhurst Treaty being signed, essentially overnight. These rumours included that the UK would provide buses for minors, or that changes to the family reunification policy or the Dubs Amendment would be enacted immediately. Obviously, this is not the case, and has led to increased tensions among the community for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, tensions between new and existing refugees in the area; tensions towards various smuggler networks and groups for spreading rumours; tensions towards the police and their practices, particularly among those who had not previously experienced the extent of Calais’ police violence; and tensions towards aid organisations for seemingly not having enough material or food to meet the demand.

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-30 at 09.38.39
CRS officers clear tents from a slag heap in the industrial zone of Calais

The police’s default response to the refugee community in Calais is demolition and violence, and the state upholds a policy of attrition, which has been proven to fail time and time again. In the past six/seven weeks, 3 individuals have died (including a 15 year old boy) and 3 others have been grievously injured in road accidents in the past month alone — at least two of which were deliberate hit and runs. Last week, a 16 year old boy lost his eye when shot in the face by the police with a tear gas canister. It is a desperate and bleak situation all round for the 800+ people sleeping rough in Calais’ harsh winter, many of whom are children with a legal right to be in the UK, or who should be under state protection in France. While the news focuses on the severity of Thursday’s incident, to associations on the ground and to displaced people in the area it is *just* the latest in a string of horrific incidents to occur in Calais. That is not to diminish its severity, but the reaction of worldwide media and politicians this week has oversimplified an enormously complex situation.

The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, accuses associations and volunteers of being complicit in the clashes which have left many seriously injured. We strongly denounce this damaging rhetoric, which not only misses the point completely, but also increases the power that criminal gangs have in generating violence and despair. Calais continues to avoid tackling its problems, instead choosing to throw blame in the wrong directions and avoiding putting resources into tackling organised crime or actually helping destitute people in the city. The state has vowed to begin its own food distributions in as little as 15 days, but these will be outside the city, and we expect that police pressure will increase against associations such as Refugee Community Kitchen and Salam who currently provide regular daily meals. Deterring people from being in the city appears to be high on the agenda, rather than being seen to help those who are already here. Pierre Laurent, national secretary of the PCF (French Communist Party) calls for the creation of reception centres in Calais to disrupt smuggler networks and enable integration in light of these fights, and Gérard Collomb is expected to unveil changes to migration policy next month with the aim of speeding up both the application process and removal of unsuccessful applicants.

Gérard Collomb meets with security forces in Calais on Thursday evening. Image: Help Refugees

Legal pathways to asylum are the only way to disrupt these otherwise deeply rooted and established smuggler networks, and to actually protect hugely vulnerable people. Alongside Help Refugees, and other associations on the ground, we call for procedures and reception centres to be put in place which enable safe passage for the many people with a legal right to claim asylum in the UK, and loosen the hold that smuggler networks have over people’s lives.


Further reading:

The only mass media article I’ve read which actually even begins to get to grips with the situation: Border treaty blamed for Calais migrant surge that has led to violence

Displaced people in Calais respond to the situation on their own blog

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