Hundreds of riot cops descended on Calais as the clearance of the refugee camp got underway this week.
Supporters and charity workers reported “lines of police” everywhere as refugees queued for hours in the cold to leave.
On Monday and Tuesday the media presented an image of calm in Calais. Le Monde newspaper wrote, “When, on Thursday or Friday, all the volunteer migrants will have taken the bus, only the ones who refuse to go will remain.
“‘Then, we will be finished with the humanitarian operation,’ said one official. ‘The police operation will begin’.”
Clare Moseley from the group Care 4 Calais was in the camp as the clearance began on Monday.
She told Socialist Worker, “There was a massive crowd of people waiting who had been stood around since 6am. Everybody was very tired, cold and hungry. Most of them were children.”
The Help Refugees group said, “The most vulnerable group, the under 13s, were forced to remain in Calais amid all the confusion and chaos. Our latest census shows there are at least 49 unaccompanied children in the Calais camp who are 13 years old or under. All are eligible under the Dubs Amendment for resettlement in Britain.”
Refugees living in shipping containers in the camp were evicted on Monday and unaccompanied children were supposed to take their place.
But minors living in the containers were also asked to leave. Some were told to queue up to register to be sent back to the containers.
Others were told registration had stopped for the day.
Help Refugees said this was “extremely distressing and confusing” for children.
All of this could have been avoided if the Tories had allowed refugees into Britain. Debs Gwynn is a teacher and NUT union member volunteering in Calais to support refugees. She told Socialist Worker, “The British government has dragged its heels.
“Some children could now end up being placed with foster families before they can join their own relatives.
“The government knew they were coming and should’ve done something about it earlier.”
Up to 1,000 children are expected to be housed in the shipping containers with little official support. Others may disappear in the chaos.
Christian Salome is president of the refugee aid L’Auberge des Migrants (Migrants’ Hostel) group.
He said, “In the camp there are about 2,000 people who don’t want to leave” and want to keep trying to reach Britain. And French newspaper Le Monde reported, “We heard many refugees say they had not given up trying to enter Britain.”
Clare said many people in Calais didn’t want to leave the camp and had strong reasons for wanting to come to Britain.
“The biggest reason is family ties,” she said. “If you lose your home and maybe some of your family, you have to go somewhere that is foreign to you.
“It’s very understandable that you’d want to be with any remaining family that you have.”
The Tories should let in the refugees
Around 150 people protested outside the French embassy in London on Monday night.
It was called by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) and Help 4 Refugee Children in response to French authorities clearing the Calais camp.
Mustafa Mohammed, a college student, told Socialist Worker, “I’ve come to say shame on the French government for what they’re doing in Calais.”
But many were also furious at the Tories for blocking refugees at Britain’s border in Calais.
Roisin, a student from Queen Mary University of London, told Socialist Worker, “The government has the money to build a wall to keep refugees out so they’ve got money to let people in. There are enough resources for everyone—if the wealth was spread.”
Nahella Ashraf from SUTR told the crowd, “One in three people have done something to help refugees because people do care—unlike the government.
“We need to build the biggest anti-racist movement this country has ever seen. We need local groups in every town and city to push back this government.”
Paula, a Goldsmiths College student, said, “I think they should open the borders—and we’ve got to come together in this country, defend refugees and say that they’re welcome.”
Get organised in your area
Weyman Bennett, co-convenor of Stand Up To Racism, said, “People don’t try to come here to claim benefits—they’re escaping hardship and horror.
“The horror is in leaving child refugees where they don’t have to be because of the idea that you have to chase Ukip votes.
“We want the biggest possible demonstration on 18 March in support of refugees and against Islamophobia, antisemitism and xenophobic attacks.
“We need to make sure our voices are heard. Join us—take badges, stickers, organise in your colleges and areas.”
Clearances don’t deal with reasons people seek refuge
The clearance of the Calais “jungle” won’t solve the refugee crisis.
The camp grew out of the Sangatte centre, run by the Red Cross, which opened in 1999. It housed around 1,000 migrants outside Calais.
The British government attacked Sangatte, claiming it encouraged refugees to come to Britain.
Nicolas Sarkozy, then France’s minister of the interior, closed Sangatte in 2002.
Refugees then built temporary accommodation or lived under bridges and in woods.
Outside Calais an area they called the “jungle” began to emerge.
There have been various “jungle” camps around Calais since then. Refugees set up camp and move elsewhere when the authorities close them down.
The authorities bulldozed one camp in April 2009. By July a new camp was set up.
Clampdowns don’t stop people from seeking refuge because they don’t deal with the reasons people seek refuge.
Most of those in Calais come from wartorn, poor countries—including Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan.
The clearance of Calais won’t help refugees. The real solution is to open the borders.
‘We have to pressure the authorities to do more’
Over 400 people demonstrated in Paris outside the interior ministry on Monday to support refugees and oppose the dismantling of the camp.
The New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France said, “As long as the borders are closed, whether at Calais or Ventimiglia (Italian border), migrants will end up in slums.
“The solution is freedom of movement and settlement for all.”
A group gathered to welcome child refugees arriving from Calais in Croydon, south London, on Thursday of last week.
Calais volunteer Debs Gwynn said campaigning has “definitely” made a difference.
“It has put pressure on the authorities to do more,” she said. “It has shown that refugees are human beings.”
Fascists grab an opportunity
Racists and right wingers have seized on the demolition to demand yet more repression.
Nicolas Bay from the fascist Front National said, “The solution to Calais is not the redistribution of such people, it is expulsion.
“The place for illegals is on flights out of France.”
Front National MP Marion Le Pen tried to blame migrants for poverty in France.
Around 100 fascists marched through the town of La Tour-d’Aigues in Provence, southern France, in protest at the relocation of 60 Calais refugees.
But around 300 pro-refugee protesters opposed them on a counter demonstration organised to welcome the refugees to the town.