Calais’ “Jungle” refugee camp was always squalid and unsanitary: now it’s gone

A tear gas cannister on the outskirts of the Calais camp. Image: Thom Davies/author provided.

Among the detritus of the squalid Calais camp lie empty tear gas shells, recently fired by the police. They signify the physical violence that some refugees were to suffer in the coming days as the so-called “Jungle” was forcibly dismantled.

“It’s a big problem, the gas gets into the tent,” explains an Afghan resident who lives on the edge of Europe’s largest makeshift encampment. But beyond the cuts and bruises that residents of the camp have suffered at the hands of the police and racist thugs, other hidden forms of violence have slowly brutalised refugees since the camp was created in early 2015.

Our research and visits to the camp have revealed the invisible public health dangers that refugees have suffered, and the microbiological threats of living in such squalid conditions – conditions that the state could easily have chosen to improve. For months now, French authorities have failed to provide enough hygiene facilities, food and toilets. They have even failed to meet the minimum standards for refugee camps set out by the UNHCR and the Sphere Project, which works to set basic standards for humanitarian emergencies. A failure to meet such public health requirements thereby deliberately enforced squalor and misery for the camp’s inhabitants.

In 2015, a fifth of the camp’s residents seen by health-related NGOs presented with scabies, and many of its population was suffering from various gastrointestinal illnesses as a result of a lack of access to adequate sanitation, and safe storage of food or water. As one resident of the Calais camp who had lived there for several months reflected: “A quick bullet through the head in Afghanistan would be better than this slow death here.” The comment was a testament to how miserable things had become.


Security over sanitation

In the 18 months that this camp has existed on the French-UK border, both governments have consistently done the bare minimum to protect the lives of refugees in Calais – from a failure to ensure minimum health standards, to the lack of food and shelter provision. Meanwhile, millions of pounds have been spent by the UK to enforce the border, with elaborate security architecture. Yet the evident humanitarian crisis in Calais has been met with state indifference.

These decisions to do as little as possible in the face of an unfolding crisis now also extend to the British commitment to only rehouse a small fraction of the children living in the camp. The British government is currently relocating a small group of child refugees – six months after a parliamentary amendment to bring them to the UK. This amounts to the weakest of political actions at the eleventh hour of an 18-month long emergency.

This state negligence also stands in stark contrast to the efforts of volunteers, aid agencies and activists working tirelessly in the face of government inertia, including MSF, Help Refugees, Care 4 Calais, Doctors of the World, Secours Catholique and the Kitchen In Calais among many others, who have worked hard to ensure some level of humanitarian support.

The informal Calais camp will now gradually be dismantled by French authorities, and refugees are being relocated to asylum centres in other parts of France. This is to be welcomed to the extent that it may provide shelter, food and access to asylum processes for migrants who have previously been denied these material and political provisions. But with many camp residents reluctant to give up on their desire to reach the UK, and with more than a thousand riot police having been drafted into Calais for the dismantling process, it is inconceivable that this operation will be completed without the sustained use of force.

A violent place to call home. Image: Thom Davies/author provided.

Too little, too late

As British authorities are unwilling to take all but small numbers of child refugees with family connections in the UK, many adult asylum seekers with similar connections will seek to remain in northern France, living informally in smaller sub-camps to sustain their chances of making it across the Channel. Some refugees left before the dismantlement started on 24 October for other informal encampments, or simply to sleep on the streets; but others simply have no Plan B, so determined are they to reach the UK.

Research by the Refugee Rights Data Project in Calais indicates that 40 per cent of the Calais camp residents want to get to the UK principally to reunite with friends or family. “It is the UK or back to Afghanistan,” said one resident in his 40s who has lived in the camp for a full year.

If the current French response amounts to too little, too late, the UK’s response has been weaker still. It is telling that, rather than a debate about the extent to which Britain should be assisting in the resettlement of refugees, such is the popular mood and toxic political landscape, that even the rehousing of minors from war-zones – with close relatives in the UK – is attacked by the political right and tabloid press.

As the media covers the overt violence of the camp’s demolition, the persistence of less visible forms of violence will continue to threaten the lives of refugees. As long as European states cannot agree a more systematic, equitable and just method of distributing displaced populations, informal camps will remain a constant fixture on the European landscape. The Conversation

Arshad Isakjee is a research fellow in migration, identity and belonging at the University of Birmingham. Thom Davies, is a research fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Is Britain’s housing crisis a myth?

Council housing in Lambeth, south London. Image: Getty.

I’ve been banging on about the need for Britain to build more houses for so long that I can no longer remember how or when it started. But at some point over the last few years, the need to build more homes has become My Thing. People ask me to speak at housing events, or @ me into arguments they’re having on Twitter on a Sunday morning in the hope I’ll help them out. You can even buy a me-inspired “Build More Bloody Houses” t-shirt.

It’s thus with trepidation about the damage I’m about to do to my #personal #brand that I ask:

Does Britain actually have enough houses? Is it possible I’ve been wrong all this time?

This question has been niggling away at me for some time. As far back as 2015, certain right-wing economists were publishing blogs claiming that the housing crisis was actually a myth. Generally the people who wrote those have taken similarly reality-resistant positions on all sorts of other things, so I wasn’t too worried.

But then, similar arguments started to appear from more credible sources. And today, the Financial Times published an excellent essay on the subject under the headline: “Hammond’s housebuilding budget fix will not repair market”.

All these articles draw on the data to make similar arguments: that the number of new homes built has consistently been larger than the number of new households; that focusing on new home numbers alone is misleading, and we should look at net supply; and that the real villain of the piece is the financialisation of housing, in which the old and rich have poured capital into housing for investment reasons, thus bidding up prices.

In other words, the data seems to suggest we don’t need to build vast numbers of houses at all. Have I been living a lie?

Well, the people who’ve been making this argument are by and large very clever economists trawling through the data, whereas I, by contrast, am a jumped-up internet troll with a blog. And I’m not dismissing the argument that the housing crisis is not entirely about supply of homes, but also about supply of money: it feels pretty clear to me that financialisation is a big factor in getting us into this mess.

Nonetheless, for three reasons, I stand by my belief that there is housing crisis, that it is in large part one of supply, and consequently that building more houses is still a big part of the solution.

Firstly I’m not sold on some of the data – or rather, on the interpretation of it. “There is no housing crisis!” takes tend to go big on household formation figures, and the fact they’ve consistently run behind dwelling numbers. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? By definition you can’t form a household if you don’t have a house.

So “a household” is not a useful measure. It doesn’t tell you if everyone can afford their own space, or whether they are being forced to bunk up with friends or family. In the latter situation, there is still a housing crisis, whatever the household formation figures say. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that’s the one we’re living in.

In the same way I’m not quite convinced that average rents is a useful number. Sure, it’s reassuring – and surprising – to know they have grown slower than general prices (although not in London). But all that figure tells you is the price being paid: it doesn’t tell you what is being purchased for that payment. A world in which renters each have their own property may have higher rents than one in which everyone gets one room in an over-crowded shared flat. It’s still the latter which better fits the label “housing crisis”.

Secondly, I’m entirely prepared to believe we’ve been building enough homes in this country to meet housing demand in the aggregate: there are parts of the country where housing is still strikingly affordable.

But that’s no use, because we don’t live in an aggregate UK: we live and work in specific places. Housing demand from one city can be met by building in another, because commuting is a thing – but that’s not always great for quality of life, and more to the point there are limits on how far we can realistically take it. It’s little comfort that Barnsley is building more than enough homes, when the shortage is most acute in Oxford.

So: perhaps there is no national housing crisis. That doesn’t mean there is not a housing crisis, in the sense that large numbers of people cannot access affordable housing in a place convenient for their place of work. National targets are not always helpful.


Thirdly, at risk of going all “anecdote trumps data”, the argument that there is no housing crisis – that, even if young people are priced out of buying by low interest rates, we have enough homes, and rents are reasonable – just doesn’t seem to fit with the lived experience reported by basically every millennial I’ve ever met. Witness the gentrification of previously unfashionable areas, or the gradual takeover of council estates by private renters in their 20s. 

A growing share of the population aren’t just whining about being priced out of ownership: they actively feel that housing costs are crushing them. Perhaps that’s because rents have risen relative to wages; perhaps it’s because there’s something that the data isn’t capturing. But either way, that, to me, sounds like a housing crisis.

To come back to our original question – will building more houses make this better?

Well, it depends where. National targets met by building vast numbers of homes in cities that don’t need them probably won’t make a dent in the places where the crisis is felt. But I still struggle to see how building more homes in, say, Oxford wouldn’t improve the lot of those at the sharp end there: either bringing rents down, or meaning you get more for your money.

There is a housing crisis. It is not a myth. Building more houses may not be sufficient to solve it – but that doesn’t meant it isn’t necessary.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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