A court in Lille has heard a lawsuit brought against the French government by aid organizations and decided in favor of the NGOs. Authorities have been ordered to improve conditions in the refugee camp at Calais.
"It is a bit of a victory," says Lisa Veran, press secretary of the aid organization Doctors of the World. In any case, a court has finally ruled that there are universal human rights that are simply being ignored in the so-called "new jungle" refugee camp in Calais. And now it has been acknowledged that there is a state of emergency there.
The camp has been a problem for years, but politicians have consistently failed to do anything to improve conditions, says Veran. So despite the court's decision, aid organizations are skeptical that the government will in fact fulfill the court's orders.
The Catholic group Caritas announced that it will demand a meeting with interior ministers and have them explain exactly how they plan to execute the court order.
Political photo ops
"Prime Minister Valls and Interior Minister Cazeneuve visited the camp, but they didn't look around to see how things really work there," the Doctors of the World press secretary complains.
Now authorities will be forced to supply more toilets and water connections, as well as to pick up trash. The court did not, however, order the state to provide accommodations for refugees, which means that the uncontrolled growth of huts and tents that have sprung up there will be allowed to continue.
The court also determined that food rations were insufficient, as these were only enough for 2,500 refugees, less than half the camp's population.
More than anyone, Prime Minister Valls invited the scorn and derision of the media when he visited the camp in the pouring rain in late August. Valls viewed the small cemented section of the camp and the only accommodations for women and children to be found in the entire place, but avoided venturing into the main part of the camp, consisting of improvised tents and huts, a veritable refugee slum, sinking in a sea of mud. At the time, he promised the construction of a fixed tent camp with space for 1,500 people by January. He did not say why authorities would need half a year for the project. Meanwhile, the situation has gotten worse: "Every day there are new arrivals," reports Lisa Veran. The number of residents has roughly doubled to about 6,000 over the last few months.
Port of Calais, a fortress
Calais has become a dead end for refugees attempting to continue on to Great Britain illegally: The port has been turned into a fortress at the request of the British government. Razor wire fences several meters high cordon off the ferries and freeway access ramps, and the entrance to the Channel Tunnel is essentially blocked. So far, 15 people have died in attempts to overcome these obstacles. Several times this summer, groups of up to 2,000 people tried to storm the port and the tunnel. But no more: Interior Minister Bernard Cazenueve proudly declared that not one single refugee successfully reached Great Britain in October. Prime Minister David Cameron's government strictly refuses to take in refugees from Calais, and is not participating in EU attempts to solve the crisis. The British are making use of one of their "opt-outs."
Authorities are attempting to improve the situation in Calais by redistributing refugees: one group was recently redirected to Lyon, for instance. At interim camps, refugees may apply for asylum, receive temporary residency papers or find out that they will have to leave France. The situation in the Alpes-Maritim department is relaxed: There are nearly 7,000 spaces available, and the prefecture says that they could easily accommodate refugees from Calais.
Paris is counting on processing some 60,000 asylum applications this year. That is a fraction of the number of refugees that were processed in Germany this summer. Although President Francois Hollande stood before the press and pledged solidarity with Chancellor Angela Merkel at the last refugee summit in Brussels, he has been doing everything he can to keep numbers of asylum seekers down, by virtue of a kind of "not welcome culture." For instance, this summer he closed off France's border with Italy when refugees started making their way north from there.
The French don't want refugees
According to a poll conducted this October by the French Institute for Opinion Research, almost half of the French reject having any responsibility to take in people fleeing war zones and disaster areas. A majority believe that there are already too many immigrants living in France. Such negative attitudes toward immigrants are hard to find in other European countries, except for Great Britain. Some 46 percent of French citizens do not believe that their country has enough money or economic might to take in more refugees. This and the anti-immigrant policies of the far-right party National Front (FN) have resulted in the French government essentially ducking out of European discussions on distribution and solving the crisis.
Regional elections will be held in France this December: The National Front is hoping for victory in the northern Pas-de-Calais department. Opinion surveys show that the FN's top candidate and party leader, Marine Le Pen, is just ahead of her conservative rival with a 28 percent approval rating. During a visit to Calais in late October, she said that the city was being overrun by crime and ruled by the law of the jungle. She said that it was time to "declare war on these conditions." That cannot bode well for the future of the refugee camp.