The main outcome of UK Home Secretary Priti Patel’s £33.6m investment in border control measures is to fill the pockets of human smugglers operating in northern France. Meanwhile, the situation in France continues to deteriorate, with withdrawal of protection statuses, new evictions in Calais, and expulsions and illegal detention at the border with Italy.

Based on interviews with people on the move, NGOs and former human smugglers the Guardian describes what could be understood as a ‘weapons race’ on the channel between UK authorities and criminal entities. The outcome is the boosting of earnings for increasingly violent, ruthless and well organised human smugglers with those exposed as well as most often arrested on alleged charges of human smuggling being the vulnerable migrants themselves. Bijan, a Kurdish asylum seeker: “describes an exploitative system operating in Calais and Dunkirk, with smugglers using desperate migrants for dangerous jobs in return for the promise of cheaper passage”. Charlie Whitbread, founder of Mobile Refugee Support states: “What we’ve seen in Calais and Dunkirk is a shift from people crossing alone to an infrastructure that completely revolves around smuggling,” further noting: “This has never stopped people coming to Calais – they have been through far worse and will stop at nothing to be safe again. Frankly, it’s unbelievable the government still seems to think these measures deter them when the reality is so obvious to anyone on the ground.” According to Zoran, a Kurdish smuggler who operated in Dunkirk lorry carparks until last year: “The violence is getting worse and worse because the mafias just get more powerful,” adding: “It became too much for me.” He describes how organized smugglers allegedly outsmart or work directly with police and are able to boost profits: “The bosses charged just a few hundred euros in 2014, but when I left it was four [or] five grand for the same lorry crossing.”

Without referring to a specific source of information, French Minister of Interior Gérald Darmanin in a Twitter thread underlines the governments ‘achievements’ in relation to foreigners including a 30% increase of forced returns under the current presidency of Emmanuel Macron​ compared to the two previous presidencies, the withdrawal of 20,000 residence permits since September 2020, and 147 protection status that have been ceased or withdrawn within the last three months. The Minister’s framing of such ‘achievements’ as a result of government intervention​ ​raises questions as regards the independency of asylum authorities, in particular regarding the cessation or withdrawal of international protection​ – ​as France is one of the few member states in which the law explicitly regulates the institutional independence of determining authorities.

Evictions continue in Calais that has been the scene of almost 1,000 evictions in 2020 and in April saw the destruction of makeshift camps housing hundreds of people on the move. On the morning of 10 May seven makeshift camps were evicted and 28 tents, 18 tarpaulins, 10 sleeping bags and 5 blankets confiscated. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) dozens of unaccompanied children are summarily expelled to Italy by French police every month: “To enable the returns, the police frequently record on official documents different ages or birth dates than the children declared”.  Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch states: “Instead of making snap judgments based on appearance or caprice, border police should refer young people to child protection authorities for appropriate care.” The organisation reports that French authorities also summarily return adults, including families with young children without giving them access to claim asylum. The practise disregards EU law as well as a July 2020 ruling from the Conseil d’État, France’s highest court for administrative matters, confirming that people who request asylum should not be refused entry until their asylum applications can be considered. Further, the detention “outside of any legal framework and without rights” of foreigners denied entry into France at the Italian border continues. Despite admitting “great discomfort linked to maintaining such detention facilities the Conseil d’État in its decision of 23 April 2021, refused to order their closure. The judge was according to a group of French human rights NGOs “satisfied by recent efforts that the French authorities claim to have accomplished in response to our legal complaint”. The organisations stated in a press release: “However, the situation is not one of “great discomfort”, but rather, of a complete lack of respect for dignity: dozens of people held in cramped premises, including men, women, families, pregnant women, young children, unaccompanied minors, people who are ill, asylum seekers, etc., denial of freedom for more than ten hours without any right, including those to seek asylum or have access to a doctor, the impossibility of guaranteeing medical care for these people, the trauma inflicted on a child taken to hospital in a state of post-traumatic shock following this detention, etc.”

Through Riace France, an endowment fund to support migrants in France created two years ago, the former CEO of Materis, the chemical branch of the Lafarge group, Olivier Legrain is opening a hospitality house in Briançon at the French Italian border. Legrain states: “The dream is to have 10 or 20 hospitality houses throughout the country”. The vision behind the project is to ensure that: “From the moment people are in our country, we must welcome them with dignity, not like animals. People living under the ring road, it’s scandalous.”

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Photo by Radek Homola on Unsplash 

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.