Bericht über die Improvisationen nach der Zerstörung der Camps in Calais.
In early 2017, just three months after the demolition of the Jungle, asylum seekers started to return to Calais. For the past year, there have been 400–700 migrants living informally in the area at any given time. Yet the Jungle has not reappeared.
There is no physical camp in Calais. Newcomers play an absurd game of cat and mouse with authorities, building makeshift shelters that are then destroyed by police. In response, volunteer humanitarians reclaim the camp in the only way they can: They publicly “perform” a recreation of the protective space that the Jungle provided for asylum seekers, challenging the police’s attempts to criminalize everybody involved.
In August 2017, the authorities carried out 26 camp demolitions in Calais: 103 shelters were dismantled and 31 tonnes of material destroyed. Such massive action requires manpower, and in January 2018 Macron boasted of 1,130 police officers stationed in the area. That is close to two officers per asylum seeker.
Sleep has become a political matter in Calais; shelter is a constant uncertainty. The threat of destruction forces migrants to hide as best they can. They rest in sleeping bags in dark nooks under bridges, or in scattered encampments on the fringes of the city, out of sight in forests or on industrial waste sites.
Asylum seekers build shelters out of tarp and blankets, nestled in bushes. But police drones and constant detection operations make concealment nearly impossible. Migrants report that their makeshift shelters can be destroyed at any time of day or night. Shelters are slashed with knives, sleeping bags are tear-gassed, possessions are confiscated.
These interventions often go beyond destroying sleeping arrangements: Migrants complain of being tear-gassed at close quarters by police, of being intimidated, chased and beaten. The psychological effect is devastating.
Despite the prevailing conditions, twice every day the camp is “performed” in Calais. Several organizations that formerly had a presence in the Jungle have adapted to the asylum seekers’ new, transitory situation. They have made their aid provisions mobile: Warm meals, water, clothing and items for rebuilding shelters are distributed from vans, which also offer Wi-Fi, electricity, information and legal aid.
The battered vans pull up at five sites around the city for 90-minute windows twice daily, despite being barely tolerated by the authorities. In these instances, humanitarian acts of care associated with the camp are performed by volunteers and fellow asylum seekers who take on the role of aid workers.
When distribution time is up, hoodies are pulled back up and asylum seekers disappear in groups of four or five. Just as quickly as the camp had emerged, it vanishes. Humanitarians and asylum seekers part ways until the next distribution comes around and the camp may again be recreated.