European readers of this blog will no doubt know about the unofficial refugee camp at Calais. For those of us based in the UK, it’s the nearest such encampment to our borders. Calais has long been a place where migrants gather – for some, it’s the last point on a perilous journey to their intended destination of the UK. Conditions are, as one might imagine, horrendous. Astonishingly (or perhaps not, given Europe’s general, long-standing reluctance to deal adequately with forced migration), the first report into conditions in the Jungle – the largest migrant shanty town in Calais – was only carried out this year. It makes for an upsetting read. Around 3,000 people – men, women, and children (some of the women are pregnant) – live in ‘diabolical [conditions], with cramped makeshift tents plagued by rats, water sources contaminated by faeces and inhabitants suffering from tuberculosis, scabies and post-traumatic stress disorder… in conditions far below any minimum standards for refugee camps’. There is insufficient food, insufficient drinking water, and a lack of washing facilities. You can read the Guardian write-up here.
In addition, refugees are continually subject to police violence. A friend who has volunteered as a doctor in the Jungle reported that many of the people coming to her had wounds from police dogs that were set upon them. Other friends doing migrant support in the Jungle report that the police use tear gas daily. They are also using rubber bullets and concussion grenades. One such night of police violence occurred on November 9th:
Without the slightest sense of concern for the 60 or 70 families resident in this area of the camp the police’s barrage of tear gas and flash balls scattered over the camp, setting light to a tent, a pile of rubbish, trees, and bushes.
Mothers stood by while the police attacked, shouting in French that there were children in the camp. Groups of families returning from another part of jungle were caught by a plume of tear gas blowing across the area. Many of the protestors on the road used signs to protect themselves but the police continued to attack from several angles.
Late into the night, the police begin patrols to find migrants who had hidden in bushes by the road. At one point at least 20 cops shot tear gas for a full 5 mintues into an area until it was covered in smoke.
As the night continued, the intesnsity of the tear gas increased. The wind spread the cloud of caustic vapour around the entire west side of the camp. This was a clear message from the police, if you protest we will punish all of you. During the night there was also many injuries from tear gas canisters hitting people, causing burns and bleeding.
The injuries from this assault are difficult to quantify, it is easy to count the scores of respiratory problems, skin and eye irritations but the psychological trauma is harder to see. Women, children, and men fleeing conflict are treated to the best of French hospitality, a night of indiscriminate chemical repression exacted on the entire population of the camp.
You can read more here.
This is no way to treat people. Write to your governments. There needs to be a humane, European-wide response to the refugee crisis. We should not tolerate people living in these conditions on our shores.