In its annual report published on Tuesday, the Human Rights Watch collective says it recorded 1,226 evictions from migrant camps last year in the northern French city of Calais alone, an average of 25 decommissionings a week. A figure that illustrates the failure of policies aimed at preventing the formation of camps and the famous “fixation points”.
Almost every day, aid workers in Calais helplessly witness the same scenes. Four to seven gendarmes or CRS cars and Border Police (PAF) trucks land in migrant camps to dislodge their inhabitants. Alongside the police, there are members of a private cleaning company (APC) and interpreters mandated by the city hall.
In its annual report published on Tuesday, June 7, the Human Rights Observers (HRO) collective claims to have accounted for no less than 1,226 evictions from informal spaces in Calais last year – against 61 in the nearby town of Grande-Synthe. The migrant camps in Calais, northern France, are evacuated about a hundred times a month, or even twenty times a week.
About 3,000 sleeping bags or blankets seized
And each time, it’s the same modus operandi. Police officers arrive equipped with tonfas (a kind of wooden truncheon), tear gas, firearms, sometimes LBDs, and are protected by bulletproof vests and shields. They set up a security cordon around the camp, wake the exiles and “force those present to leave their living space,” says HRO.
The cleaning company follows the police and seizes the belongings of the migrants, present or not. Anything goes: tents, blankets, tarpaulins, even backpacks that can contain identity documents, money or even cell phones.
Late last year, however, officials said exiles would now have time to collect their belongings before an evacuation. But the HRO believes it has collected “sufficient evidence” to say otherwise. “The police almost never give the evictees time to take their belongings”, assures the collective, which regrets that “this frenetic pace of theft and destruction of goods affects the stock of associations (…) and makes migrants more precarious.
>> To (re)read: In Calais, the state does not fulfill promises made about the evacuation of migrant camps
In 2021, 2,833 sleeping bags or blankets were seized during these operations, according to the HRO, and at least 640 bags.
These objects are then sent to a hangar on the rue des Huttes, where migrants can present themselves spontaneously (between 1 pm and 4 pm). “This unique device” praised by authorities when it opened last January is widely criticized by associations.
Backpacks, phones or identity documents are returned to migrants who are able to prove that they are indeed their personal possessions. But tents, blankets, tarpaulins, or clothes are given to the first who arrives, without these things being named. For the simple and good reason that it is “impossible to name the first owner”, specified at the time François Cordier, president of the Face Valo association, mandated by the state to manage the facilities. Result, according to humanitarians: few people go to the structure.
Only 1.2% of evictions followed by “shelter”
Furthermore, the HRO notes that evacuations from camps generally do not lead to any care for the people involved. In 2021, only 1.2% of evictions were followed by effective “shelters”. Most of the time, migrants find themselves on the street, without their personal belongings. “No accommodation or resettlement solutions are offered,” aid workers say in their report.
And when that happens, exiles are “forced onto buses” that will take them to reception centers located several hundred kilometers from the border. If they refuse, they risk being arrested and placed in an administrative detention center (CRA).
>> To (re)read: In Calais, associations outraged at the difference in treatment between Ukrainians and other exiles
Migrants, who remain in the region in the hope of reaching England, therefore try to return to their place of residence a few hours or a few days later. If it has not been made unfeasible by the authorities.
For several years, the city of Calais has been competing with ideas to stop the renovation of the camps. At the end of September, councilor Natacha Bouchart deforested a 44-hectare plot of land where 800 exiles lived. A deterrent strategy already used in 2020 on another site.
The town of Coquelle, tied to Calais, has also laid stones to prevent migrants from coming for resettlement. Natacha Bouchart did the same in December 2020 in Fort Nieulay, in an area occupied by associations that reach out to exiles.
Another technique used by the city of Calais consisted of installing bicycle hoops in an old encampment, or erecting fences around vacant lots that had been transformed into informal living spaces.
So many practices that contribute to the permanent “harassment” suffered by exiles in northern France, insist the associations. In its report, the HRO denounces a security rather than a humanitarian logic in the way the authorities treat migrants. “The forces of order are not used for protection purposes, but to carry out and supervise the harassment thought and organized by French leaders,” the activists write.
This migratory policy implemented for years advocates the absence of “fixing points” and tries by all means to avoid the (re)formation of encampments. The HRO report shows that this vision is doomed to failure and does not produce the result expected by the authorities.