In this post, Jessica Reinisch digests the news of further clashes between migrants and the French and British police in Calais.


Weekend reports of an “invasion” of the Channel Tunnel by a group of around 100 (or 120, or 200) migrants have once again brought the migrant camp outside Calais (often referred to as ‘the Jungle’, or now as ‘the New Jungle’) back into focus. This latest news is only the most recent in several decades of brief flare-ups of media interest. Migrants have been staying in makeshift camps and shelters in and around the town of Calais more or less continuously since the late 1990s.


‘The Jungle’ in February 2015, Photo by UNHCR/ Christophe Vander Eecken


In the worldwide total of displaced people, migrants and refugees, those staying in Calais make up a tiny speck. But the fact that this trouble-spot lies on the British doorstep has generated some interest in the British press over the years. In 2015, alarm about the situation in Calais peaked briefly in January, when the winter weather motivated the French government to open a shelter for some of the migrants already in Calais. It then filled the papers for several weeks in late June and early July, when the combination of a French ferry workers’ strike and migrants’ attempts to storm the tunnel and board UK-bound lorries created a newsworthy chaos, just in time for the ‘silly season’.

Every time the Calais migrants do come into view again, it is because of a perceived crisis or acceleration of problems, in the form of local riots, migrants’ attempts to break through fences or storm the Tunnel, disrupted holiday traffic, and spats between British and French officials. Every occasion gives the impression of a unique escalation: of greater numbers of migrants, greater violence, greater short- or long-term threats, greater local paralysis, and more and more desperate measures. British and French official responses have invariably consisted of announcements of yet more money to be spent on security technology, police and border control – with little obvious effect to date. In between the crisis-points, there are long shallow periods when news reports don’t touch the issue, and the only available information about conditions comes from local voluntary organisations. At that point, politicians are grateful for one less fire to fight.

What disappears from view in the news coverage is not just the broader context of how Calais fits into the world map and political geography of displacement, but also that none of these mini-crises have ever been fully resolved. At no point since the first official migrants’ camp in Sangatte in 1999 was any lasting or consistent series of measures agreed on how to process, train, employ, advise, relocate or integrate the steady flow of migrants, or how to manage migrants’ expectations about their potential new host countries, or, for that matter, how to prevent them from arriving in the first place. The one-off “burden-sharing agreement” between France and Britain in late 2002 was as close as it came, as a result of which the majority of the camp residents at the time in were brought to the UK or other parts in France. But almost as soon as the last of those on the relocation lists had been moved, new people began to arrive. Makeshift shelters have been erected and torn down again by the French authorities. In all this time, political measures have been retrospective, out of date already by the time they are announced and reported.

The migrant arrangements in Calais are ‘forever temporary’ – a phrase that is as true today as it was when the French Red Cross officer Pierre Kremer wrote about the Sangatte/ Calais migrants in 2002. Even at that point this was already old news. In fact, the waxing and waning of interest in Calais, by both politicians and media, has compounded the problem: it has prevented the search for a workable, long-term policy for breaking this paralysing vicious circle, for improving the situation of the migrants and enabling the local and national authorities to manage the migrants’ arrival and stay. We are as far from a solution now as we have been in 1999. You’ll no doubt hear about Calais again before long.

You can read more about the factors that have shaped the different ‘migrants’ crises’ in and around Calais in Jessica Reinisch’s essay, “‘Forever temporary’: Migrants in Calais, Then and Now”, published in The Political Quarterly.