French authorities announced their operation to demolish “the Jungle”, the makeshift refugee settlement in the northern French port of Calais, was completed on October 26, with refugees bussed to government-controlled centres dispersed throughout France.
But this claim was contradicted by chaotic scenes of the camp in flames and more than 1600 unaccompanied minors being excluded from the transfer to other camps. All the while, British and French politicians bickered over whose responsibility they were.
Most of the unaccompanied minors are teenagers but some are as young as eight, the October 30 Guardian said.
More than a week later, riot police were still being deployed against the unaccompanied minors. Some had been housed in shipping containers on the edge of the camp and some slept rough in the vicinity.
Volunteer Michael McHugh told the November 1 Guardian that “he was dismayed to find more riot police on site than social workers, teachers or therapists”.
“These are some of the most vulnerable children in Europe,” he said.
Eventually, most of the minors were bussed away to undisclosed locations on November 2 and 3, but some disappeared. As with the adult refugees, those bussed away were taken to dispersed centres and no provision was made to allow refugees to remain with friends from the Jungle, or even with other refugees speaking the same language.
Meanwhile, on November 3 and 4, two boats capsized in the Mediterranean, killing more than 240 refugees. So far this year, 4220 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean, the highest number ever. This is despite considerably fewer refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe than last year.
Last year, more than 1 million refugees made the crossing, but so far this year fewer than 330,000 have, TeleSUR English said on October 26.
The much higher death rate is due to the European Union’s anti-refugee policies. One cause is the closure, through an agreement signed in March between the EU and Turkey and increased naval patrols, of the crossing between Turkey and Greece. This has forced more refugees to make the more dangerous crossing between Libya and Italy.
A second cause is the European nations adopting Australia’s policy of destroying boats used by people smugglers.
“Military missions from several European countries, including Britain, have tried to curb the Libyan smuggling industry by intercepting and destroying the smugglers’ repurposed fishing trawlers after they leave Libyan waters,” the November 4 Guardian said.
“In response, the smugglers have simply turned to flimsy inflatable boats, which can be piloted by refugees themselves, and which are even more dangerous than the wooden trawlers.”
The chaotic scenes as the Jungle was closed down were also the result of European governments’ anti-refugee policies, as was the existence of the Jungle in the first place.
The Jungle is one of many refugee settlements in Europe that have sprung up in bottlenecks created by individual European governments trying to keep refugees out of their country.
As the port of cross-channel ferries and terminal of the Channel Tunnel, Calais became a bottleneck of refugees trying to reach Britain. Those in the Jungle generally spent their nights trying to stow away on trucks, trains and ferries, often getting injured in the attempt, some killed. French police routinely beat and tear gassed those caught, including children.
Only a small proportion of refugees entering Europe want to settle in Britain specifically, mainly because they have family or friends already there.
However, as was evident in this year’s Brexit referendum, English politicians have adopted the Australian practice of creating a false perception of their country being in danger of overrun by hordes of refugees. It serves as a scapegoating exercise to draw attention way from neoliberal policies that reduce living standards.
Of course, Britain is hardly unique in Europe in this regard. Even those countries such as Sweden and Germany that have reputations for generosity towards refugees take low numbers by global standards. Other European countries have taken a harsher line and the EU as a whole treats the arrival of refugees as a crisis — for Europe, not the refugees.
However, the overwhelming majority of the world’s more than 20 million refugees are in poor Third World countries. Even this figure defines “refugee” narrowly. There are three times as many “internally displaced people” who are in the same situation as refugees, except that they fled without crossing any international border.
The Jungle was actually the third such camp to spring up in the vicinity of Calais. The squalor that resulted from the refusal of the French government to provide sanitation or other services was used by British politicians and tabloid media to fuel negative stereotypes and the perception of a threat from refugees.
As in Australia, the anti-refugee narrative has been contested. The plight of the unaccompanied minors has attracted some sympathy. In May, an amendment to refugee legislation moved by a Labour member of the House of Lords, Alf Dubs — who was himself a child refugee from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia — committed Britain to taking child refugees from Europe.
However, the “Dubs Amendment” did not specify a number. In the week leading up to the demolishing of the Jungle, Britain took 274 unaccompanied minors. Whether this had anything to do with the “Dubs Ammendment” is debatable as most of the unaccompanied minors in Calais have family in Britain so were already eligible for settlement under European law.
The October 29 Guardian reported that British government ministers had told the French government that Britain would take no more. This was after tabloid newspapers such as the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express waged a campaign claiming, without evidence, that the unaccompanied minors were actually adults in disguise.
“According to official figures, 5596 people were evacuated from Calais,” Al Jazeera said on October 30. However, a census by NGOs Help Refugees and l’Auberge des Migrants, conducted a census of the settlement shortly before its destruction that put the total population at 10,188.
TeleSUR English reported on October 29 “that about 3,000 people have arrived seeking shelter on the streets of two districts in the north of Paris near the Stalingrad metro station, which is very close [to the] Gare du Nord. French President Francois Hollande wants them cleared.”
Reuters reported on November 4 that 600 French police “moved in at daybreak” to clear 3000 homeless refugees from the vicinity of Stalingrad railway station. About half the refugees there had arrived from Calais during the previous week.
Other former residents of the Jungle are reported to be staying closer to Calais, still intending to reach Britain.
One factor deterring refugees from registering to be taken to the government run centres is fear of deportation. On October 2, the EU signed a deal with Afghanistan allowing refugees to be deported and obliging the Afghan government to accept them. The rationale was that the EU considered the country safe.
“Afghans constituted the second-largest group of asylum seekers in Europe,” the October 3 Guardian said.
Liza Schuster, Reader in Sociology at the University of London disputed that Afghanistan was safe in an October 14 article in The Conversation.
“The Afghan capital, Kabul, has recently seen more horrific attacks targeting Shia worshippers,” she wrote. “On October 11, gunmen killed 14 people and injured dozens at Karte Sakhi, the site of an important shrine — and a temporary home for thousands of people displaced from the city of Baghlan, where Afghan government forces have been battling the Taliban for months.
“All in all, more than 1.2 million people have been internally displaced in Afghanistan … Kabul itself is bursting at the seams with displaced people. The city’s vast northern suburb of Kheir Khanna hosts thousands who’ve fled a week-long battle in the city of Kunduz, which displaced 24,000 people in the week before the attacks alone.”
Proving this point, and also underlining the role Western governments play in creating the refugees who they refuse to give sanctuary to, on November 3, at least “30 Afghan civilians were killed … in US airstrikes that were called in to support troops under fire by Taliban snipers,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Safety is a relative thing. The deal signed between the EU and Turkey in March allows for Syrian refugees to be sent back to Turkey on the basis that it is safe. This is despite the brutal war waged by the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the largely Kurdish areas of the country, and the regime’s growing crackdown on all opposition.
Leaving aside that many Syrian refugees are Kurdish and the Turkish state is waging war against Kurds in both Turkey and Syria, Syrian refugees are open to various forms of exploitation in Turkey.
“Syrian refugee children have been working in sweatshops in Turkey making clothes for British high-end retailers Marks & Spencer, Next, and online store Asos,” TeleSUR English said on October 24. The children were working 12 hour shifts for about $1 an hour.
It is easy to see why the West’s ruling classes are happy to see those displaced by their wars and predatory policies used as cheap labour outside the fortified borders of the West.