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The wind from the sea is already blowing in Calais, announcing the Northern Europe cold’s early coming.The city is known to be a harbor of roman origins that faces on the English Channel sea between this and Dover. Its position on North of France has been the reason of the english conquests carried out by King Edoard III. That’s why its geographical position is nowadays a primary topic too: it represents the border that sharply divides continental Europe from England.
It is the landfall of the path of those migrants that try to imagine their future in a specific area of the Old World, where employment crisis and working possibilities may be higher. But it is actually a landing city from which a new departure seems hard: refugees, asylum seekers and so-called economic migrants can’t reach England from Calais. The Eurotunnel is an insurmountable step, and in its crossing attempt, sixteen people lost their lives trying to hide under the trucks that run this way.
This under-water road, built to allow the transit of working people and goods, is at the same time militarized and controlled by the French police, ready to reject immigrants with the use of the public force legitimacy. During the last weeks we have seen the face of Europe to uncover in front of its borders crisis: Calais represented all of this. And not only.
The Euromarch to reach Bruxelles started in Spain the 15th of october and stops in Calais not without reason: it is a place of contradictions with the European biggest borders and refugee camp. Confines are just the other face of the european system’s big inhumanity, that’s to say the reception system.
It is a real shantytown of four thousands people what arises in Calais: shanty-town because the french State confined thousands of migrants in one area – right under the bridge that leads to the Eurotunnel – when nothings was there, apart from some topsoil. Migrants find themselves, from the various collection points, in this urban desert, obviously far away from the downtown Hotel de ville sumptuousness. Here they had to build their own houses with some abandoned material and with what they received from solidarity. Here they auto-organized to provide the minimum necessary mutuality to survive and draw a community: from food/beverage shops to restaurants, from worship sites to schools.
The (shanty)town has been self created in Calais, within the institutions’ total abandon, a city in the city with a proper autonomy. It does not mean that the natural and physical environmental conditions are healthy: in many perspectives toiletes, water and housing are lacking. Houses are tents retrieved by the migrants or built with accidental material. Compost toilet are insufficient for so many people. Not to mention the complete exclusion of the migrants from the rest of the city, since reaching the city center or other areas is very hard. In fact Front National posters are not missing – alone on the walls - doing political propaganda by the use of the neighbors’ possible signals of resentment.
Briefly, Calais is the guilty conscience of France and Europe: not only because the EuroTunnel borders are impassable and space of human tragedies, but also for how the reception is conceived, through a “constant emergency” status, creating a ghetto and negating basic rights such as housing, healthy environment, water and integration channels in the social fabric of a territory.
On the contrary, all this is not guaranteed by the institutions. Those who create the projects are the collectives, the associations and the solidarities that deal with art schools or popular sport, giving another idea of citizenship; a citizenship based on solidarity and sharing through a faraway distant from xenophobia kind of social relation and cultural activity.
Voices from the camp perfectly picture the situation. And so we speak about Alpha. Alpha built his house and a small art school in the most remote side of the camp. The house is called “maison blue” because of its bright blue and for the background colors of the atelier which is full of his artworks. Why here? What is the reason that led him to migrate? One escapes from a Country just because of a war?
Alpha is a boy from Mauritania, he was born in a small Peul village, nomadic people that live by herding. He has been staying in the Jungle of Calais for six months: “my story is a bit long, I left my country in 2005, I passed through Syria, at the time there was no war, then I went to Turkey where I worked as a fisherman in Istanbul for one year, after that I lived six years in Greece, I was a mechanic in Athens, then the doorman in a hotel of Rhodes, but I left because I had no papers, I was a “sans-papiers” and I always ended up in a prison, one year here, six months there. I ended up in Bulgaria but it was the same story, then I escaped to Belgium where I was living near to the station, Gare de Midi, but also there, the same thing, and I left Belgium to come to France. I asked for asylum in France and I am now waiting for the answer”.
Alpha tells how he settled in the jungle: “This is my house, a traditional Peul house, I am Peul, I built this house to respect myself, my culture, Peul are nomads, whether in Mauritania, Mali, Niger or Guinea, or in Senegal, there are tribes that live with cows, and they move along their animals. In 1989 Mauritania entered a war with Senegal and we who were living in the village have been brought and taken to Senegal, after that in 2002 Senegal president made peace with Mauritania and we came back to the village. But they took everything we had, the animals, the lands. In 2005 the war started again and I moved out because I had enough, I didn’t want to loose everything once again”.
“I am now here in Calais, I refused to make a shelter with plastic sheets”.
“I am an artist, you can see my artworks here”. “We are here because we are escaping not only from the war but from a lot of problems, I am here after ten years that I have left my country and I can’t go back because there is no peace, refugee is any person who is feeling threatened in his country”.
On the other hand the story of Mohammed takes us between a migrational and a generational problem; despite being only twenty-two, his story speaks about toughness of migrants conditions under the axe of the Dublin Convention and about the required conditions to get a citizenship beside the residence permit.
Mohammed, who lost his mother and father, leaves Afghanistan in 2011 and comes to Italy and asked for asylum. Even if the asylum request had a positive result, what he faced is a further barrier that even distinguishes within the migrants who got the refugee status: the possibility to live with dignity.
Once one is a refugee, he is completely abandoned in that limbo between the coming-going from CARA, CIE or a hotspot and the obtainging of the citizenship. A condition that effectively excludes from social rights and security those who come. And facing such a precarious and uncertain economic situation like the italian one, what kind of perspective one can cultivate? And so Mohammed decided to cross illegally the french border and, then, the Eurotunnel between Calais and England, trying to hide under the trucks that cross the Channel every day. He did try it several times, because the french police, obeying to the government that is well-payed by the Tunnel company, rejected him.
He finally reached London, after an exhausting and dangerous transit, and he found a job in a restaurant and spent the last years learning the language and a job. He managed to live in London as long as they checked his papers: the Dublin regulation was implemented immediately, sending him to a detention centre for migrants first, back to Italy then. Here his asylum rights were of little worth to get a passport and travel in Europe: his english employer was not considered a sponsor according to the Bossi-Fini law. “What am I doing in Italy? I can’t work, I can’t earn my living, there is no kind of help that i can have”, Mohammed says.
This led him to cross the borders again and reach Calais, where he has been living from one month managing the small afghan restaurant of the camp. “I want to go back to England, but I need to wait the release of the passport”. The wait, in case where it happens with the required conditions, is accompanied by a sense of collectivity that he rediscovered in the camp.
Carrying the stories of Alpha and Mohammed, among many others, is one of the reasons to be in Bruxelles against this European dogmas, from the borders to austerity, in order to give another meaning to human existence in Europe: all together those who are excluded from a decent citizenship and those who are disinherited from it.