With these words the Lord of the Old Testament gave Moses instructions on how to deal with foreigners and migrants. At times of distress, such as the one that the city of Calais, France is experiencing, these words also highlight the difficulties and implications of hosting the biggest refugee camp in Europe. The Jungle, the nickname given to this refugee camp, is not an inappropriate epithet. Indeed it is a bidonville, with really poor hygienic conditions.
The camp is made of thousands of illegal shacks and hovels surrounding the official refugee camp set by the French authorities. An official camp managed by the French authorities where legal asylum seekers are hosted versus the unofficial camp, populated by more than seven thousand illegal migrants, among which are hundreds of children, that refuse to apply for asylum in France because they want to cross the Channel and apply for asylum in the UK.
From this contrast stems the debate on how to face the problem. Since they are illegal, should they all be subject to law enforcement decisions? Should they be allowed to live there in those conditions? Should they all be allowed to enter the UK? Or should they all be deported back to their countries? Considering that these immigrants are ready to pay more than 2000€ to cross the Channel, should they really be entitled to government aid? These and many more are the questions and considerations that surround the issue.
From time to time the camp is raided by police officers that close shops and any other type of business set by these immigrants on the rationale that they do not meet the proper safety and fiscal requirements. Other times the officers enact evictions and literally destroy premises. These decisions have been often criticised by charities as they will only worsen the crisis and leave these immigrants in a poorer condition.
These immigrants survive through the help offered by charities, NGOs, and volunteers. Particularly L’Auberge des Migrants, Médecins Sans Frontières, Gynécologie Sans Frontières, Help Refugees, and the French Red Cross. They offer services and help concerning food and shelter, healthcare and first aid, counselling, teaching. From time to time these charities and NGOs are joined by volunteers and organizations coming from abroad.
At the beginning of August an interesting building project took place. A Facebook group called Care 4 Humanity, financed by an American sponsor, built a gym in the camp with the purpose of giving immigrants the opportunity to access other type of activities. The project initially, especially from the immigrants’ side, was perceived as not important to meet their basic needs. Through time though, some of them understood that it could be an opportunity and started to help and bond with the volunteers. Only time will say whether this gym was used as gym or as shelter.
The situation in the Jungle also representsa magnifying glass for the position that the EU has taken on immigration. It sparks the debate concerning the real applicability of the UNHCR’s and Dublin Conventions.
A peculiar unofficial status is granted to Syrian refugees: their war is on every newspaper. For more than five years we have been flooded with news, articles, pictures, and videos from Syria. Because of the political and strategic role that the Syrian crisis plays in the Middle East, this has led to open arm resettlement initiatives in Western countries for Syrian refugees. But what about those from Darfur? Mali? Somalia? Nigeria? Eritrea? Never as now, are Bertoldt Brecht’s words so proven to be true:
“The passport is the most noble part of a man. Besides, a passport is not made as easily as a man. A man can be made anywhere, in the most thoughtless way and without any reasonable cause. But not a passport. Never. So we recognize the value of a good passport, while the value of a man, however great he may be, is not necessarily recognized. ” (Flüchtlingsgespräche, Bertoldt Brecht, 1940)
The situation in Calais is dramatic and desperate. The protest against the campthat took place in Calais on September the 5th and organized by the civil society shows how tense the situation is. In the meantime the immigrants live in a very poor and dreary condition and the population of Calais faces difficulties as well. Unfortunately racist attacks often take place. While waiting, probably in vain for a political and social solution, only the migrants’ resilience will keep them alive.