Socialist Worker

Britain’s border shame one year after Calais ‘jungle’ demolished

The humanitarian crisis caused by Britain’s border in France has been pushed out of sight—but it’s as bad as it’s ever been. Refugees trapped at Grande-Synthe near Dunkirk spoke to Dave Sewell about their lives. Pictures by Guy Smallman

Issue No. 2576

Refugees line up to use facilities near to Dunkirk

Refugees line up to use facilities near to Dunkirk (Pic: Guy Smallman)


A year ago this week the refugee crisis at Britain’s border in northern France was declared over with the demolition of the Calais “jungle” shantytown.

But it didn’t take long for the refugees to start returning. Up to 1,500 people are scattered around the region, and hundreds more at roads and cities deeper inside France and Belgium.

They desperately struggle to cross the border—and to survive without even the limited protection of the squalid jungle.

Hwan, Omar and their children left their homes in Iraq a year and a half ago. Hwan said, “There are six of us, including four children, in one tent. It’s so hard for the children, there is no place for them.”

She added, “I’ve been here for a month, and in that month I haven’t been able to wash or shower. All we want is to be safe—to live in a house and get the children back to school.”

Omar said, “Sometimes the police come and say, ‘You can’t stay here’. But where are we supposed to go? There is nowhere.”

The family are staying in the Dunkirk suburb of Grande-Synthe, one of the biggest concentrations of refugees.

Unlike the visually overwhelming Calais jungle, there’s almost no visible sign of a “camp”. Its residents hide their meagre shelters in the wooded groves around a small lake.

Different

Refugees from different countries and language groups gravitate to different settlements. The majority in Grande-Synthe are Iraqi Kurds, caught between two monsters created by the west’s war.

On the one hand are the atrocities of Isis, on the other the Western-backed statelet of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Kazi, who worked as a journalist in Iraqi Kurdistan, explained, “Kurdistan is under monopoly rule by the Barzani family.

One camp destroyed by the cops

One camp destroyed by the cops (Pic: Guy Smallman)


“It’s a dictatorship protected by the US, Israel and Britain because of the oil in Kurdistan. But all the people are poor.”

The hypocrisy of the West trashing Iraq then locking out its people is lost on no-one.

Kazi said, “Kurdistan’s oil goes to Britain and the US. But people want to go there too. People want to live.”

The police came to Grande-Synthe the night before Socialist Worker—and left a trail of destruction.

Iraqi Kurdish refugee Kamo pointed to a burnt out square of grass under the trees, charred fragments of a sleeping mat and a shoe still visible. “The police set fire to where we sleep,” he said.

“Three people lived here. The police burnt our tent with everything inside—all our clothes, blankets, shoes and passports.

“We had to stay on the street all last night with no blankets. It was very cold.”

Flimsy

Syrian refugee Yassir’s journey has taken him through Turkey, Greece and Italy—on a flimsy dinghy, a larger boat, the back of a truck and a train.

Now his only shelter is a sheet of tarpaulin just big enough to cover the blankets he shares with three other men. That morning it had big gashes cut into it.

“The police came and they cut it here,” he said. “They took us into the police station, and one is still there.

“Sometimes organisations bring us blankets, but the police throw them away.

“Or they spray them with a sort of foam that clings to them and has such a strong smell you can’t use them any more.”

Kamo and his friend Umit both have injuries they got running away from police.

Umit said, “They were here last night on horses. They come every week. I’ve been in the police station twice. They don’t give you any food or water, they just say ‘stay inside’.”

Daoud from Pakistan was walking round on crutches. “Police pushed me,” he said.

This is a deliberate campaign to brush the refugee crisis under the carpet.

Clare Moseley runs charity Care4Calais, taking aid to the refugees. She explained, “People are much more dispersed in small camps, around Calais and up the roads wherever the lorries stop. The reason is the police are being far more aggressive than before.

“The French authorities don’t want any big groups of refugees to be visible.

“It’s come full circle to where it was around 2014—the situation that led to them moving people to the site of the jungle.

“The demolition of the jungle solved nothing, and it was never supposed to solve anything. It was just a very short term plan to look in control in the run-up to the French election.”

Many are men on their own, a world away from both the home they left behind and the new one they want to make.

Ayaz’s wife and children are in Pakistan. Trying to join other relatives in Britain, he has spent a year in Calais and four months in Dunkirk.

Shelter

“Life is very bad here,” he said. “Getting food is a problem, getting shelter is a problem, and there is fighting every day.”

Refugees huddled round Care4Calais’s generator to charge their phones or get dignity-preserving haircuts.

People gather around a generator to charge their phones

People gather around a generator to charge their phones (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Aid brought by charities and individuals is a vital source of supplies and support for refugees, and it’s harder than ever to source since the crisis fell from the headlines.

That’s why Stand Up To Racism and Care4Calais are organising a new autumn-winter appeal, and organising to take supplies and volunteers next week.

But no amount of aid can solve the root problem—that people are trapped. Hwan said, “Organisations come and help us. But I don’t want to stay here.”

Hwan’s brother is in England, and Omar speaks fluent English after working as an English teacher and a translator.

Many refugees have similar reasons for wanting to get to Britain, rather than a country where they don’t know anyone or speak the language.

And while France did grant asylum to some refugees taken from the Calais jungle, it slammed the door shut on many others.

Claire explained, “The big problem is the Dublin Convention, which says asylum seekers must be deported to the first ‘safe country’ they entered. It means people here can’t claim asylum in France.

“France has hugely increased the number of people it deports, usually to Italy, under this rules, and says it plans to do it even more still.

“But however much France does wrong—and it’s a lot—the bottom line is that it does far more for the refugees than Britain does. Britain just pulled up its border.”

Crossing that border defines people’s lives in Grande-Synthe.

Omar said, “They make it very difficult. There are lots of guards. There are smugglers, but they want lots of money—£5,000 for each person. It’s too much.

“My seven-year-old son has missed two years of school. He needs to be in class. But we can do nothing, because we don’t have lots of money. We want the British government to accept us.”

For them and for so many others it’s vital that socialists and anti-racists stop the refugee crisis falling off the political agenda—and fight to lift the barriers.

Bringing aid is important, but the only solution is to build an anti-racist movement that can force the Tory government to open Britain’s border.

Donate to the appeal online at mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/sutr or bring donations in person to the Stand Up To Racism conference on Saturday. 

A solidarity appeal from Stand Up To Racism

Stand Up To Racism and Care4Calais are working together to organise an appeal for refugees still living in Calais, the surrounding area, Dunkirk, and Paris and Brussels.

As the weather gets worse we want to make sure that those who have fled poverty and war do not face even worse conditions in France.

The British government has failed miserably to carry out its responsibilities to refugees, taking only a fraction of the unaccompanied refugee children under the Dubs amendment.

While making donations to help refugees we call on Theresa May to act responsibility and take in the 3,000 child refugees suggested by Lord Alf Dubs, himself a survivor of the Holocaust thanks to the Kinder transport.

You can donate to the fundraiser directly by clicking here

We are asking people to bring items and collections to the conference on Saturday 21 October. We will have a room to store donations and will be organising for them to be taken over to France the next day or over the next week.

They will be taken to the Care4Calais warehouse in Calais where they are sorted by volunteers and distributed.

The list of items Care4Calais are calling to be collected is here

To joint he volunteers going over there, please email mandybrowncow@yahoo.com It is half term week for many from 22 October and during that week our supporters will be going over to help.

Stand Up To Racism


Freedom of movement for all would end refugee crisis

There’s a simple solution to the refugee crisis—freedom of movement for all.

In the age of railways and aviation no-one should have to risk their lives to the elements and the ruthless people smugglers.

Lift the border controls and no-one will.

Yet this is made to seem unrealistic, even dangerous.

Currently freedom of movement only exists, in a very conditional form, for people from European Union countries.

The Tories plan to end even this after Brexit—and it’s one

of the only Tory policies that much of the Labour Party agrees with.

But most trade unions have positions to defend freedom of movement—and should be pushed to actively defend them.

Nationalist

While the right uses more-or-less overtly racist and nationalist arguments, the argument on the left is generally couched in economics.

Migrants are supposedly either a drain on society as a whole or on the working class.

But it’s a lie. Migrant labour generated much of the wealth in British society—and could offer the only solution to the challenges of an ageing population.

Selling and demolishing council homes and putting the market in control means it’s hard to get a home.

It’s nothing to do with migrants—it’s the rich who are hoarding housing.

The working class draws its strength from solidarity. That means resisting the lies and laws used to divide us.

Migrants don’t drive down wages. Bosses do.

Immigration controls that force some workers to live under the radar illegally, or to jump through bureaucratic hoops, make them more vulnerable. They only help the bosses pay less.

Immigration controls create a two-tier workforce and come with divisive scapegoating.

This division makes it harder for workers to organise and push pay up.

Many people accept that there needs to be some immigration—as long as it’s controlled.

That sounds innocuous enough.

But what does control mean? It means increasing the state’s powers over ordinary people.

Deserving

It means putting in place machinery that can halt refugees to test how “deserving” they are.

It means demanding from anyone who says they need safety proof that they often won’t have.

It means creating a system to keep tabs on workers to check whether they have the right visa or the right skills to stay—and tearing up their lives if not.

It means treating anyone whose name, accent or skin colour marks them out as potentially foreign as a suspect.

Such a system is inherently discriminatory, repressive and racist.

Immigration controls are part of a system of class rule.

The flight of money and capital faces few barriers. The rich can buy their way across borders.

But there’s no such right for workers or the poor.

That’s not a protection for our class—it’s a weapon used against it.

The working class draws its strength from solidarity. That means resisting the lies and laws used to divide us.

Unions and the left must defend freedom of movement—and fight to extend it to everyone.


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