The PJ Tatler

'Migrants' Rights Now Topic A in Calais

France Forgotten Migrants

They’re piling up on the French coast, hoping to hitch a ride to Britain and its pot-of-gold welfare state but the Brits, sensibly, don’t want them. And with the weather starting to turn colder… now what?

They are in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. Basic rights, and sympathy, are in short supply for thousands of migrants around the northern French city of Calais, even though the travelers — many fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere — live in what may be the European Union’s biggest and most squalid ghetto.

They dream of ending their long journey in Britain by illegally crossing the English Channel, but Britain doesn’t want them and France has been hoping for more than a decade that the migrants would just stop coming. With the world’s eyes on the more than half-million migrants flooding into Europe this year, France is finally beginning to take notice of the filthy Calais camp and the plight of those forced to bide their time in what they call “the jungle” — a network of makeshift shelters without water or other basic amenities.

With winter approaching, the government is sending a medical mission to Calais on Wednesday to evaluate the situation because “health protection is a fundamental right for each person on French territory,” said a statement signed by the Interior and Health ministries.

Well, it may be, but who’s going to pay for it? It’s not as if the French suddenly herded a bunch of newly arrived Muslims into a ghetto — the “migrants” freely chose to do that to themselves, and did so without a by-your-leave from the authorities.

“Some people die here, some people break legs,” a 19-year-old from Darfour, in Sudan, Mustafa Ali, said recently, assessing his situation after a life-threatening journey to reach Calais. “This jungle is not good.” He said he would forego his British dream and apply for asylum in France if the government could put a roof over his head. But many of those who have been granted refugee status, and should by law be housed, must live outdoors — long the lot of migrants in Calais. 

Jacky Veringan of Secours Catholique, who helps asylum seekers process their requests, says the migrant influx has prompted the state to speed up the normally long waiting time to rush Calais candidates through the system. The process is becoming so fast that some migrants receive their prized refugee status without ever having been housed. With the process complete, “they are like the homeless French,” Veringan said. “There are refugees living in the jungle.”

And nobody seems to know who’s to blame… Meanwhile, in Holland:

Villagers who a year ago grudgingly accepted the arrival of 700 migrants reacted furiously last week when the government announced it was sending up to 700 more, turning Oranje into the latest flashpoint in an increasingly polarized debate about how this densely populated nation of 17 million can accommodate thousands of migrants pouring into the country.

Similar frictions are emerging elsewhere in Europe as the continent struggles to absorb hundreds of thousands of people. Villagers and townsfolk in some parts of Germany also have protested against the arrival of asylum seeker centers, though many others in the country also do plenty to help migrants.

So far, according to locals, problems caused by the massive influx in Oranje are confined to asylum seekers riding bicycles on the wrong side of the road or walking in the middle of streets at night, posing a risk to themselves and local motorists. But Mayor Ton Baas acknowledged that their arrival has radically changed the sleepy rural village.

“The people, refugees, come from another culture. They walk on the street more, they are outside. They have nothing to do. There’s nothing to do,” he said. “So they are on the street and that gives (the village) a totally different appearance.”

How about that.