In the first of a two-part series, written before the tragic death of four refugees who drown crossing the English Channel in October, a Calais-based refugee activist writes about the conditions in the camps in northern France, and the plight of those attempting to come to Britain.
For months, refugees in Calais and Dunkirk have been a community under siege. Their existence has always been precarious, with appalling living conditions, constant harassment from the police and unrelenting hostility from the French authorities. Recently these attacks have been stepped up to levels not seen since the destruction of the original Calais jungle in 2016. There has been a long series of assaults on the squalid settlements where the refugees live. The area available to them on waste ground and in industrial estates on the edge of Calais has been systematically reduced.
This is the story of 30 year old Abdulsalam Al-Kibdi, a Yemeni man who spent 13 years as a working migrant in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, living with his wife and three children, the youngest of whom is only a few months old.
“On 22 November 2017 police officers stopped by my work and asked me to get into their truck. I knew that the Saudi government had put new restrictions on Yemeni migrants and workers but I thought that I would not be affected.
Socialist Review spoke to Hsiao-Hung Pai about her new book, Bordered Lives, which exposes the failings of the refugee system in Europe.
Why do you begin Bordered Lives by questioning the term “refugee crisis”?
I think the media language that we have accepted (and often adopted as our own) has in many ways shaped the way we understand issues relating to refugees. “Refugee crisis” has been the media term by which we’re made to think about displaced people in the world. My biggest problem with the term is that it suggests “us” and “them”, refugees being the “problem” for “us” to find solutions to. That seems to be the way many in this country look at migration and movement of people.
The refugee crisis has not gone away and the need for solidarity and aid is as great as ever. The destruction of the the “Jungle” last autumn, however, has meant that the issue has drifted down the news agenda. Now as winter approaches thousands of refugees face the prospect of sleeping in the woods around Calais and Dunkirk, under the motorways of Paris and in the parks of Brussels.
We visited these sites with Care4Calais in August and September. This is what we found:
After years of war in parts of Africa and the Middle East — with its ensuing famine and economic collapse — a mass of people are on the move in search of safety and sanctuary. The EU policy of Fortress Europe is designed to keep them out. The result is a human catastrophe, as we witness years of harrowing images of migrants forced to make the desperate sea crossing to try and reach a place of safety.
As we go to press, thousands of refugees are being herded out of the Calais “Jungle” camp and transported to other parts of France.
Amid harrowing scenes, we have seen people rightly resisting this forced relocation, riot police teargassing refugees, and unaccompanied children being left to wander alone — only to find that, if they weren’t yet “registered”, they were to be arrested.
The campaign by Lord Dubs to let in the unaccompanied refugee children is more crucial than ever.
Strangers at Our Door puts forward an alternative narrative, one that is humanitarian, about refugees and migrants. It succeeds in combating the racist propaganda churned out by the media and our politicians.
Bauman correctly lambasts them for causing public anxiety by portraying migrants as overwhelming Europe and portending the demise of the European way of life.
Stand up to Racism is joining some of the biggest mass movements in Britain and major trade unions in a Convoy to Calais to show solidarity with refugees.
Both official EU referendum campaigns are using racism to whip up support and politicians all over Europe are scapegoating the powerless to avoid challenging the powerful.
The EU referendum is deepening the cracks in the Tory Party. Joseph Choonara looks at how the refugee question and EU austerity are converging into a crisis for our ruling class.
As the campaign over Britain’s EU referendum, set for 23 June, gets under way, the arguments by those advocating a “remain” position are rapidly coming unstuck. There are three arguments often encountered on the left: that the EU secures free movement, that the EU protects workers and that an exit would lead to British politics shifting rightwards. All three are based on an unwarranted pessimism.