Five years after the dismantling of the jungle, nearly twenty years after the closure of Sangatte, Calais still occupies a place in the news that no city contests with it. On Tuesday, the government sent the director general of the OFII (French Office for Immigration and Integration) there for a mediation mission with religious and members of associations who, since October 11, have been on strike. hunger to protest against the conditions made to migrants. Regularly also, the rescue of the candidates for exile in the English Channel makes the headlines, unless it is the reciprocal reproaches which the French and British governments exchange around their liquid border. As if the years passed and nothing changed.
Calais, for ten years, I have been there many times for L’Express. Sometimes to deal with subjects linked to the migratory question, sometimes for other themes, the economy, the new port … I saw the “Jungle” grow there, I saw it destroyed, I saw barbed wire climbing around the Channel Tunnel – this was the first passageway – then around the port, a wall, fences, increasingly tight controls of the trucks before access to the ferries. Now on the coast, patrol cars are constantly patrolling, drones and thermal cameras fly over the beaches. The border to the United Kingdom is undoubtedly the most closely guarded in France and yet … Migrants in search of England no longer attempt to pass by train, almost no longer by truck, they take small boats to cross the Channel. The smugglers are constantly improving the roads so as not to lose the thousands of euros that the traffic brings them: yesterday, faced with the blockage of the port, they would increase their “customers” in trucks from motorway parking lots to hundreds of. kilometers from Calais, from now on, they send their boats to the sea from Picardy less supervised than Calaisis.
For the inhabitants of the city, the pressure has certainly diminished since the dismantling of the jungle in 2016. But the daily rest is marked by this migratory history, with 1500 candidates for permanent exile. Mini-camps take place regularly, immediately dismantled by the police and reconstituted a few tens of meters away. And it is enough to walk at daybreak in the parks of the city center, the one in front of the town hall or in the Richelieu park which shelters a statue of Churchill and de Gaulle holding hands, to see silhouettes come out of the bushes and fold up their quilts before the city wakes up. They are often new arrivals, sometimes the oldest with nothing left, with no hope of crossing, on the verge of madness. Some are temporarily housed by the state in shelters nearby or further away, but keep coming back.
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And the battle between the municipality led by the LR Natacha Bouchart, the State and migrant aid associations is resumed: the first criticism of the latter of promoting the anchoring of migrants in the territory; the latter accusing the State of at least inertia; the State prides itself on avoiding at all costs the reconstitution of a large-scale camp which, from Sangatte to the “Jungle”, has always recorded an imbroglio impossible to disentangle. Tensions have been so strong and for so long – often mornings of political ulterior motives on all sides – that these actors end up not speaking to each other.
More seriously, no one knows what the political and diplomatic outcome of this never-ending crisis may be. Of course, police and judicial action against smugglers is progressing, but it is painstaking work in the face of networks that are reconstituted extremely quickly. For the rest, successive governments have until now, more or less, followed the same policy: to respect the commitments made with regard to the United Kingdom in 2004 within the framework of the Touquet agreements. That is to say, control the border crossing on the French side, before crossing the Channel, in return for millions of euros (62 for 2021-2022) paid by the British government to confirm the crossing points . But the last few months have shown that the British have chosen to overbid. Thus the English executive, and in particular Priti Patel, the Minister of the Interior, regularly lashes out against the small boats and France’s inaction. Much more visible to public opinion than the arrivals of the past by sea and rail, they are proof of the failure of a government which was elected by promising a hardening of its migration policy.
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By threatening at the beginning of September to proceed to the return to France of the boats having reached the English coasts, in defiance of international maritime law, and not to pay the sums due, the Conservative government of Boris Johnson put new pressure on the executive French. This one reacted, but what will he choose? To continue to negotiate more resources with our neighbors across the Channel or to enter into negotiations on other bases to try to break the deadlock in which France is locked? Attractive on paper, this last option is not as simple as the “yakafokon” of the presidential candidates wanting to believe, advocating a “renegotiation of the Touquet agreements”. In contrast, the approach of the presidential election, the French presidency of the European Union, the risk of new arrivals from Afghanistan come urgently a new strategy. Because the United Kingdom will always be forty kilometers from Calais, because despite its harsher immigration policy, the country continues to make exiles dream, because no one is ready to give up when he sees the cliffs of Dover almost within reach.
L’Express think tank