Are you concerned by what is happening in Calais (France)?

What is happening in Calais is absolutely dramatic and every citizen in Europe should be concerned. People in total misery are actually paying with their lives to reach our shores. This is not only a France-UK problem, but more generally one the main question mark on the future of Europe.

Beyond any possible debate, what is happening currently in Calais is first an incomparable human tragedy.  I have witnessed people being tracked down by police in Paris at their workplace, in the streets, in the subway. In Calais, those guys are digging holes in the woods to hide themselves from the police. They spend days and weeks without proper food and water, waiting for a moment to escape and finally reach the end of their incredible journey. We are talking about hundred of thousands of people living in Europe but who are not citizens, have absolutely no rights (not even to work) and are hunt down by the police everyday. How is it even possible ?

A squatt in Calais after police evacuation - source : The Mirror

Each of these people has a different life story. I would like to give an account by telling the story of one guy I met while I was in Paris in 2007   Saturnin was born in Bamako, Mali.

When he was 21, his father died, leaving the whole family without money. As he was the elder boy, it was decided that he will stop studying and go to France where an uncle there could help him find a job, so he can send some money home.   Somewhere in Bamako, Mali - credits : Mme Oreille

He left by bus from Bamako to cross the Mauritanian desert to reach first Ceutta in Morroco, where he thought he could cross to Spain. Ceutta and Mellila are two Spanish enclaves located inside the Morrocan territory, just a few kilometers from the European coast. When he arrived, they were thousands of people from all over Africa gathered in the woods, waiting the right time to cross  the border. He tried to approach the fences several times, but there were too many soldiers guarding the place. Every night, some of the migrants will try to cross and many will get hurt or shot in the process. There are tombs all around in the woods, for all the people that died here from infection of their wounds. He was waiting to take his decision when the Moroccan police came with big buses for their monthly raid to clean the forest from migrants and kick all these people out. There were chaos, shots, people running in the woods and finally he got caught and throw in a bus to the Algerian border.

Security setup at the border of Ceuta - source: Les flux migratoires légaux et illégaux

  • Sciences Po

After a whole day of travel, they were unloaded totally illegally a hundred kilometers away on the Algerian side of the border. The region here is desertic and the group wander for a few days before they can reach a local NGO that offer them food and water. Of course, all their belongings were stolen before this last bus trip. The luckiest (those who had escaped wars) were told that they could apply for asylum in the city of Oujda. Saturnin decided to follow, thinking he could maybe find work there and spare money to later reach Algiers and cross to France eventually. Before they even reach Oujda, they were caught by the Algerian police that lock them up in a camp. A few days later, they were forced into a bus again, direction the Southern desert of Tamanrasset where they could be sent back to the Northern border of Mali.

Africa to Europe migration - source : BBC

Saturnin and another guy managed to escape during a stop, and ended up almost alone in the desert. They manage to reach a small town where they worked for a few months on the construction of a road. After some weeks, they decided to get to the coast near Algiers where they could find a smuggler. After more adventures, Saturnin finally arrived in Spain on a small boat in the middle of a night. It took him months of work in Andalusia to pay back the smuggler for the trip. Finally, he got rid of its debts and went to Limoges, a small city in France where one of his cousin has found him a job on a construction field. At some point, he got to Paris and when I met him, he was trying to get his papers to find a proper job, after multiple ripoffs by different bosses there.

A guy asking for papers in Paris -  photo : Our Eye Is Our Life

He was 25 years old back then. He told me that he would love to go to the UK, because he loved the country from what he have seen in the movies and music.

This is the story of one single person. He was a very nice and decent kid that loves his mother and all, not a job-stiller thug. He is not an isolated case *. They are thousands and thousands of people like him coming to Europe everyday. Some have escaped war in Syria, torture in Libya, they have crossed seas and mountains and risked their lives to get there. I can tell you many others of their stories. Each one is as different and complex, and as heartbreaking.

Now, what is happening in Calais is not new. It has been ongoing for years. This is not a French-British problem, but a European one - even a global one. The presence of newcomers in our societies are one of the biggest issues Europeans have to face today.

Are we going to chase them and hunt them forever ? Are we going to try to exterminate them ? We are already throwing them in camps all over Europe. Does Europe want another final solution ? Or are we going to welcome them, help them to tend their wounds and become part of Europe ? Are we strong enough to see our failures, care for our humanistic values and see how lucky we are to have such a lot of people willing to come and help our nations to get better ? What sort of Europe do we want to build ? Can we live up to the humanism of our peers ?

Map of the detention camps in Europe - source : MIGREUROP

Those guys are there, and they are not going anywhere. More still coming everyday, maybe millions during the next decades and nothing will stop it. [They are part of the present and the future of Europe]{.underline}, do we like it or not. The political answer to this situation will determine the direction Europe will take. So far, we have chosen to take again the most grim path of our past, with organized police throwing second-class citizens in camps. We need serious debates, reflections and actions if we want to avoid the worst scenario that have been prepared for us.


Some more discussions about Europe here : Clément Renaud ‘s answer to Where is Europe heading?

And also detailed information about the situation in Calais: Clément Renaud ‘s answer to What are links to interview statistics/information for the immigrant populace trying to gain entrance into the UK from Calais and France?

This text was originally published in quora.

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