Life in one of the biggest migrant settlement camps in Western Europe in the Calais jungle exemplifies our dysfunctional world, A miniature city of makeshift tents dot the landscape. Men and women of various nationalities undertake their basic day to day activities the best they can while they dream of a better life on the other side of the razor wire fences.
In many ways, the scenes at the settlements conform to many of the dystopian fantasies that permeate the popular culture of many of those, who by nothing more than a simple twist of existential fate, happened to have been born into relative privilege.
These are citizens who, through either business or leisure activities, are able to move freely from the one line of demarcation to the other. Occasionally this might involve confronting the “other” due to the fact that many of their migrant counterparts will be moving in the opposite direction.
As Matt Carr, who travelled from the UK to France recently, eloquently put it:
“There we can find a city that has become a perfect mirror of our dysfunctional world, a place where men and women fuelled by the promise of sanctuary or the hope of a different life collide with the UK’s pitiless and implacable borders, and intersect with the dreams of the citizens of one of the richest countries on earth, heading for their holidays or returning from them.”
The sad reality for the refuges who stay in the camp more than a few days is that they are likely to remain their for the foreseeable future.The Guardian did a very good photo essay of life in the camps which can be seen here. These are the “forgotten” migrants, the poorest of the poor who are near the bottom of the migration food chain because they don’t have neither the sufficient funds to pay the gangs nor the contacts.
The media narrative tends to focus on the migrants who are able to pay the gangs between £1,000 and £4,000 to be put on to lorries bound for the UK hundreds of miles before they reach Calais. If justice prevailed, many of the “forgotten” at the bottom would be at the top, but it doesn’t so they aren’t. The migrants from the horn of Africa country, Eritrea, have a particularly strong case for the top status.
These are people that are fleeing political repression in their home country. A recent UN report outlined systematic human rights violations in Eritrea including torture, imprisonment and forced labour. Many Eritreans come to the UK seeking asylum but there has been a drastic decline in those given refugee status because of a recent change in government guidelines.
Government statistics show that between January and March 2015, 743 Eritrean applications for asylum were made of which 543 were granted. That’s an approval rate of 73%. However, since government guidelines changed in March, the approval rate had dropped to just 34%.
Eritrean’s are the only group, apart from Syrian’s, eligible for re-location from the EU’s bordering states’ because, according to The European Commission, they are deemed “persons in a clear need of international protection.”
So why does the British government appear to be paving the way to send them back to an almost certain death?
It would seem that the government has revised its guidelines on Eritrea based on a report commissioned by the Danish government which suggests that the Eritrean government is reforming. But in June the UN accused Eritrea of crimes against humanity.
According to Dr Lisa Doyle of the Refugee Council,:
“The government are currently basing their decisions on a report that is fundamentally flawed and widely criticised. These are life and death decisions and we need to be giving people the protection that they need”.
The nation who was partly responsible for establishing the boundaries of the present-day Eritrea nation state during the Scramble for Africa in 1869 as part of its imperial ambitions, is the same nation who today is denying fundamental human rights to the people it formerly subjugated.
It’s clear that the government is using the plight of the Eritrean people as a political football in an attempt to hit their immigration target, thereby pandering to a right wing electorate fearful of growing rates of net migration which are currently at record levels. The fact that the British government is playing politics with people’s lives in this way is abhorent but not surprising.