By Marta Welander, RRE Executive Director & Founder
As the border violence in Calais continues to intensify, with authorities carrying out repeated evictions and building walls topped with razor wire, new tragedies unfold and much-needed supplies are exhausted. Apart from civil society organisations working tirelessly to support displaced individuals in the area, the long absence of an official and much needed humanitarian response is brutally visible.
The past two weeks appear to have been particularly heavy in Calais. On 18th March, a 19-year-old Ethiopian boy named Kiyar lost his life in a lorry in Calais, desperately having tried to reach the UK where he had extended family. While Kiyar is the first known person to have tragically died at the border this year, border deaths are unfortunately far from a rare occurrence in Calais. Reportedly, at least 197 deaths occurred on the border between 1999 and 2017. It is likely that the numbers were much higher, as many deaths risk going unreported. Similarly, in RRE’s research study in the Calais camp in 2016, some 66.6% of respondents said they had known of deaths in the camp. They cited various causes including police and citizen violence, fights, unhealthy living conditions, chronic disease, old age, and road traffic accidents while attempting to cross to the UK.
As a painfully tangible reminder of the lives lost, in a row near Kiyar’s tomb, several graves remain labelled without any name; with only a number representing the tragic deaths which have occurred as a result of displaced people’s attempts to reach safety in Britain via the Channel.
Only a few days earlier, on 12th March, the largest current-day encampment in Calais was evicted by French authorities. Local organisations reported that the authorities circled off the area and gave displaced individuals two alternatives: either they could get on a coach to reception centres somewhere in France where they would be encouraged to seek asylum in France, or they would face arrest. According to reports from the ground, all tents, sleeping bags and blankets on the site were cleared and the site was subsequently blocked off.
While many individuals were hence sent to reception centres around France, several hundred are reported to have since returned to Calais and are now staying more hidden, out of sight of the authorities.
Higher walls and sharper fences
The construction of a new wall continues to unfold, with razor wire wrapped around the top. The policy of securitisation does nothing to resolve the situation of hundreds of displaced individuals in the area, but rather pushes them temporarily elsewhere before they make their way back to Calais in a bid to reach Britain.
As part of the Sandhurst agreement of January 2018, Britain promised another £44.5 million for fencing, CCTV and detection technology in Calais and other Channel ports.
As such, the British government continues contributing staggering amounts of funding towards security in the border zone, without taking any accompanying further steps towards a sustainable and humane solution. Indeed, the effects of this funding are highly visible, contributing to the continuation of a deeply deplorable situation in Calais.
Exhaustion of aid
Meanwhile, the aid groups working ceaselessly to provide tents, sleeping bags and hot meals to the individuals in the area are being stretched to their limits. The ongoing evictions and confiscation of belongings means that their supplies are being increasingly depleted and they require continual renewal of supplies and donations.
This form of bottle-neck scenario has been unfolding in Northern France for decades, characterised by precarity, rough-sleeping, dangerous and unauthorised border-crossings, and a heavy-handed police response. The tried and tested approach on the French side, combined with an undeniable failure on part of the British government to meaningfully facilitate safe and legal passage for prospective asylum-seekers and those looking to be reunited with family in Britain, directly hinders an effective resolution to a detrimental and decades-long situation.
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 Agier, M et al (2019) The Jungle: Calais’s Camps and Migrants, Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 139.
 Refugee Info Bus Facebook feed, 13/03/2019.