By clearing the "Jungle" camp in Calais, the French government and President Hollande are ridding themselves of an embarrassment that has been festering for years.
Suddenly, it seemed, the impossible became possible. After French President Francois Hollande announced a month ago that he intended to close the refugee slum in Calais known as the "Jungle," the French authorities quickly found some 7,000 additional spots to house camp residents in various parts of the country. For years, Paris did nothing to offer halfway decent accommodation to the migrants who found themselves stuck on France's northern coast in the hope of traveling on to the UK. There's no room for them, was the answer given time and again.
Calais a symbol of political cowardice
The "Jungle" of Calais was the result of a French migration policy well-practiced in the art of looking the other way. The camp showed the failure of Hollande's government, which refused to face up to its responsibility out of political cowardice. The conditions in Calais have been well-known for years. The massive slum-like camp emerged at the edge of the port after authorities closed former camps without offering the people anyplace to go.
This refugee slum was a disgrace. It stank in summer, and turned into a muddy mess in winter.
London and Paris acted as though they had nothing to do with it.
Britain moved its border control to French soil, so it was up to France to deal with the people gathered there. But Paris saw the migrants as a British problem and also did nothing. Only the election campaign now getting underway prompted any movement. The radical right-wing National Front successfully used the "Jungle" to attack the government.
A disgrace for Europe
Early on in the refugee crisis, Britain took cover behind the English Channel. As usual, there was zero solidarity from London. And because of its radical right, France refused to consider any form of humane refugee policy, and looked the other way. But the relentless media attention helped turn the "Jungle" into a political embarrassment that could no longer be ignored.
Unfortunately, this is not one of those stories with a happy ending. The migrants are being deposited all across France, without any certainty as to their future. They were not informed about their rights, and there haven't been any humanitarian concessions apart from the promise of a few quiet weeks in the French countryside.
Many will likely find their way back to the northern coast in a few months and again try to leave France. Others have gone underground in the area around Calais because they haven't yet given up hope of crossing the Channel to Britain. In these new impromptu camps, their lives will be even more difficult than they were in the "Jungle."
Off the table, for now
The French government will be satisfied once it has cleared the camp and dispatched the migrants around the country. But they haven't solved the problem of the "Jungle" - they have merely redistributed it. But for Paris, it's likely to be a case of out of sight, out of mind. When the media stop reporting about the humanitarian disaster in Calais, it will soon be forgotten. That's hardly a responsible, humanitarian migration policy.
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