Part 2 of Sonja’s Blog from Calais
It’s now a couple of weeks since my trip to Calais to interview migrants shortly after the destruction of the Afghani encampment. I’ve stayed in touch via French charity workers and activists on the ground , such as Calais Migrant Solidarity and No Borders. Since I was there, the French minister of Immigration, Eric Besson, has declared his intention of making Calais a ‘migrant- free zone’. To this end he has brought about the destruction of all the other ‘jungles’, leaving the Iraqis, Iranians, Somalis, Eritreans, Palestinians and Darfuris as well as the Afghanis entirely without shelter from the night rain and cold. Now forced to sleep in the open, under bridges or huddled beside derelict warehouses, they continued to be harassed by the French police who frequently arrest them only to release them within hours having deposited them an hour’s walking distance from Calais. Sometimes they give them a document stating that if they wish to claim asylum they must do so within 48 hours or be deported, but this is a document they cannot read because they do not speak the language.
Anyway, since most of them have been fingerprinted in Greece or Italy, the first European country they entered, under a European law called the Dublin II Convention, they are only entitled to apply for asylum in these countries. If they were to apply to France , their fingerprints would show up on the Eurodac computer and they would be shunted back to Greece or Italy with their zero tolerance polices towards migrants, be they asylum seekers or not. Worse still they may be threatened with deportation to the countries from which they have fled, which for those amongst them who are asylum seekers, would be a flagrant violation of international law regarding the protection of refugees.
As for the young Afghanis boys we managed to put in a B&B one night, our French friend, Michel, had arranged to meet them the next morning in the park to take them to UNHCR to be briefed through an interpreter about their prospects of getting asylum in France. It had already been made clear to them by an official the previous day that there was no way they could be helped to get asylum in the UK and that even if Ahmed’s uncle could be found, family reunions could only take place if the uncle had refugee status and even then, it could take years. I believe it was this unwelcome news that propelled Ahmed to seek out a smuggler the following day. Whereas earlier he had insisted that he was too young and his life too precious to risk climbing onto or under a lorry, I heard via Michel, who heard it from a French activist known as ‘Moustache’ that he and his cousins tried to cross into the UK the following night. He has my phone number and my e-mail address but as yet I’ve heard nothing.
When I phoned Michel at l’Auberge des Migrants to see what had happened to the boys at UNHCR, he said they never got there. While he was on his way to meet them in the park, they were picked up by the police and dispersed to various reception centres for young people. In theory, a good thing for minors, one would think. However within days they had escaped and one of them at least I recognised in a photograph in the Daily Mail two days later, emerging from under a coach heading for the UK. Had he and his friend remained undiscovered, they would not have arrived in the UK alive. They would have been killed by the carbon monoxide fumes from a broken exhaust pipe. These are the risks facing this vulnerable group of people.
Now back in the disturbing comfort of my north London home, I remained haunted by the memory of these boys and of the other, mostly young people I met, homeless, insecure, frightened. Trapped in a small French town that doesn’t want them, they survive on the slender hope of making it to the UK and the equally slender hope of being made welcome here. Their plight and the plight of others I met in jungles in small villages an hour from Calais, will be the subject of my next documentary play for iceandfire, to be perfomed in French and in English on both sides of the channel, in a bid to urge our governments to rethink their current policies. There has to a more humane way of meeting the needs of migrants whilst reassuring our own populations that their own needs will not suffer as a result.
By Sonja Linden, Founder and Associate Writer