~ Since August, Renke Meuwese has spent a total of 10 weeks working at the Calais refugee camp. Renke is a Quaker from the Netherlands, Co-Clerk of the Europe and Middle East Quaker youth organisation, and a QCEA Council member. In this guest blog, Renke exaplains why he believes that following the events of recent days, there is an urgent need for human rights observers in Calais.
– – – – – –
This week the Prefecture of Calais, in cooperation with the CRS (French Riot Police), have been breaking down the southern half of a refugee slum known as Jungle City. It is located just outside of Calais, home of the closest French port to the UK, and entrance for the Channel Tunnel.
The CRS have used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to drive people away from their homes. The Prefecture then claimed that the structures were uninhabited and tore them down.
This is in direct violation of the verdict from the court in Lille last Thursday (25 February). The judge insisted that living spaces should not be destroyed, and that no violence could be used in demolishing the existing houses and tents.
Exercising power without integrity
Only last week the French government committed to evicting the residents with gentle persuasion and to take a period of several weeks to do this. “No bulldozers”, the French Interior Minister had promised.
The Government also provides little alternative to the demolished accommodation. In the court case it claimed there were 800 to 1000 people living in the southern part of the Jungle. Help Refugees and Auberge des Migrants carried out a detailed census, and concluded that over 3000 people actually live there, including 300 unaccompanied minors. The Government provided no explanation for their figures, and no plan for accommodating these minors, nor how they would be made aware of their rights.
Human rights at risk
France risks breaching its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. In particular Article 8, which guarantees a right to family life and a home. Only 8 months ago refugees were told to move to the Jungle area where they were promised they would not be tear-gassed. Now they are being made to flee once more. Families are split apart when fathers and brothers are moved into men’s camps and women and children into women’s camps.
Meanwhile, the volunteer associations are suddenly kept out of the Jungle, reducing the scrutiny of police and Prefecture activity.
Human rights observers are desperately needed to ensure that violence is not used with impunity. They can help create the space for dialogue and the development of non-violent solutions. Similar schemes operate in protracted conflicts in many parts of the world, such as Peace Brigades International in Guatemala or the Ecumenical Accompanier Programme in Palestine and Israel.
If you share the concern about events in Calais, please share this blog with your MP or MEP. The refugee crisis may seem far away, but these events are happening on the UK-France border, and so British and French politicians may be able to exert particular influence.