CALAIS, France – Police intervention in the form of tear gas has struggled to contain the escalating frustrations between Sudanese and Eritrean migrants in the French port city of Calais. Over 1,300 migrants have swarmed upon Calais this summer, aiming to voyage across the English Channel to illegally reach Britain. During a charitable evening meal distribution, the migrants’ third conflict in 48 hours, 51 people were wounded.
To curb waves of asylum-seeking illegal immigrants from touching British soil, the British border was relocated to France as part of an agreement to shut down the notorious Sangatte refugee camp in 2003. The deal also included the presence of British border guards in France who check passports before passengers can board ferries or use Channel Tunnel services.
Following the violent discord in Calais’ illegal refugee camp, French officials have written to British Prime Minister David Cameron withdrawing their support for British border officials operating in French territory. The Prime Minister has been further warned that, unless he pledges to tackle the new immigration crisis, measures to shut out illegal immigrants from Britain will fail.
The deputy mayor and immigration chief at Calais, Philippe Mignonet, expressed his quickly dwindling patience with the current Franco-Britain arrangement that places extreme pressure on the city.
“Calais has been taken hostage. We are suffering in Calais. Calais is a city, not a country,” said Mignonet. “We are suffering by having the English border on its territory. We have to renegotiate the agreements whereby the English border is in Calais, so that the English border is moved back to Dover. There are migrants who arrive each day and each day some who succeed in getting to Britain.”
Though migrant-detecting measures have been put in place, there are many who still manage to slip past scanners, carbon dioxide detectors and other technologies that are fixed throughout the Channel Tunnel.
Fights have broken out in the migrant camp between 150 rival group members. Weapons like iron bars, sticks and stones were used in the clash that required the attention of dozens of French riot police, increasing the number of police officers in the city to 600.
Migrants often sneak into lorry parks during the night to climb onto trucks that board ferries going to Dover. Tempers exploded from frustration as Albanian gangs demanded payment for access to an overnight lorry park, and Eritrean migrants complained that only Sudanese were granted access. The gangsters were allegedly charging between 2,000 to 3,000 euros for entry into the park.
The violence stems from the competitive fight for space in the overcrowded camps that teem full of people from Africa and the Middle East hoping to cross into Britain by sneaking on ferries or cargo trucks. As a result of its more humane treatment of asylum seekers than European neighbors like France, Britain is seen as a dream destination for those who have fled war and poverty.
The battles among migrants are a new experience; the apexes of ongoing struggle for space between migrants and Calais. In May, the city bulldozed several migrant camps, but new camps immediately pop up elsewhere. Previous encampments were razed due to being overrun with racketeering by mafia groups and criminal activity.
The state prefect of the area, Denis Robin, said that the number of migrants have soared by about 50 percent in just a matter of months, greatly increasing insecurity for migrants that live in makeshift camps and squats. He spoke of how further plans to demolish the camps have been repeatedly postponed due to their unsustainable and ineffective nature.
“We dismantled one last month, and within days they were all back in Calais,” said Robin. “I am taking time to see if there are solutions to this problem other than putting them out on the street.”
– Annie Jung