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Posted on Wednesday, 12 August 2015 13:00

Open seas, broken borders

Photos©Olivier Jobard/MYOPThousands of migrants will die this year en route to Europe as politicians in Brussels squabble over how to deal with the arrival of people from Africa and the Middle East

 It is sundown in New Jungle, the sprawling shanty town that has grown up near the French city of Calais alongside the entrance to the Channel Tunnel between France and Britain.

In the first four months of 2015, 45% more migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean

It is home to some 3,500 Eritreans, Sudanese, Somalis, Afghans, Pakistanis and Syrians. And it is as good a place as any to see the contradictions and absurdities of the European Union's (EU) attempts 
to control migration.

For most of its denizens, the main attraction of New Jungle is its proximity to the tunnel and the chance that one day they will be able to scale the barbed wire fence and jump aboard a train or lorry bound for Britain.

Tragically, most of those who get through the ever-tightening security do not survive the next phase of the journey.

The luckier ones suffer broken bones and are brought back for treatment in hospitals around Calais. More than 100 migrants have been killed, usually crushed by trains or lorries over the past decade.

War zone to war zone

Suleiman, a 27-year-old refugee from Darfur, walks towards us clutching a plastic carton of rice and meat served at the Jules Ferry sports centre down the road. For more than half his life, Suleiman has known war and refugee camps. For him, New Jungle is just an- other way station.

He was 14 when the Janjaweed militias, backed by President Omar al-Bashir's regime in Sudan, raided his village in southern Darfur. Suleiman is Fur, the ethnic group that led the campaign for regional autonomy from Khartoum.

"We fled towards the state capital, Nyala [...] Our family was split up. We had to leave our farms, our houses. The militia killed many people," explains Suleiman. "Finally we reached the Kalma camp, but that too was another problem."

With around 90,000 people living there, Kalma is south-east of Nyala. It is ostensibly run by the United Nations alongside international organisations such as Médecins sans Frontières. Camp security is poor. "Inside the camp, we were attacked again by militias," says Suleiman. "This time they wanted to recruit us to fight for them [...] I saw there was no choice again. I had to get out." That was in early 2013. It took him more than a year to walk northwards through war zones and across the border to Libya.

At first, Suleiman had wanted to stay in Libya, but it was engulfed in war between rival factions in Tripoli and Benghazi.

Trying to keep a low profile, Suleiman worked as a builder for a Libyan who promised to arrange a crossing to Italy. It is a kind of indentured labour scheme that many migrants go through to raise more than $1,000 to cross Libya then another $3,000 to cross the Mediterranean.

But there was more trouble to come. "When we got to Italy, we were attacked by the police, beaten, rejected [...] They didn't want to know our stories, that we were refugees." In Italy, as in Libya, people smugglers arrange illegal work that migrants can do to get train or bus tickets. Suleiman reached Calais at the end of last year, hoping to travel on.

"Conditions here were as bad as Sudan," he laments."For me the difference is here we don't get attacked by militias." He describes how the migrants took over what was a rubbish dump just outside of Calais and fought running battles with police firing tear gas canisters.

altThat was late last year. At first, New Jungle was simply a squatters' camp. But after the failed efforts by police to clear the area – they said it would threaten the security of the Channel Tunnel – local authorities began providing minimal public services, including a few stand pipes for drinking water and a couple of flood lights.

French religious groups such as Secours Catholique and Secours Islamique provide food and have set up reception centres in big marquees in the middle of the camp. Each is for a different nationality. The Eritrean marquee is jocularly known as the 'Eritrean Embassy.' According to Simon, a refugee from Asmara who fled But there was more trouble to come.

from compulsory military service: "That's because more people want to leave Eritrea than stay there [...] and we have many skilled people here."
Despite hostility from locals, New Jungle is becoming a settled community with shops selling groceries and phone cards. Some South Sudanese have built a church that looks like something out of American Gothic. A group of Pakistanis is building a library.

The Syrians and Afghans have built mosques. Médecins du Monde has set up a mobile clinic for trauma counselling and basic medical services. A Libyan architect has built a two-storey wooden house with a staircase, but most of the dwellings consist of wooden poles with coloured plastic stretched across them. They would be bitterly cold in winter.

Numbers game

Europe's governments are fretting about what to do about arriving migrants. Germany has done more than most European countries and has taken in about 100,000 refugees from Syria; Britain has accepted about a tenth of that.

But both efforts pale into significance when compared to Turkey, which has taken in more than a million, and Lebanon's 1.2 million – more than a quarter of its total population.

All this makes the migrant numbers games played by European politicians still more ridiculous. The EU is the world's richest economic community, founded on the idea of the free movement of people and capital, yet 75% of the world's migrant deaths are in the Mediterranean Sea.

Last year, the EU ended the Mare Nostrum programme that saved more than 100,000 lives in the Mediterranean last year. The British and other hardline governments refuse to pay for rescue schemes, arguing it would encourage more migration. In fact, in the first four months of 2015, 45% more migrants tried to cross than in the same period last year. More than 1,600 have drowned already this year trying to make the journey.

For young people such as Suleiman, migration is part of a far bigger political and economic crisis: "We fled Sudan because of the war [...] For some reason Europe wants al-Bashir to stay in power.

He's continuing to fight the Darfur people. He doesn't want any peace for us." For Suleiman, Europe's grandly titled Khartoum Process is meaningless.
Launched last year in Rome, it brought together African and European governments to find ways to reduce migration and improve conditions in the migrants' countries. But the Khartoum government's attacks in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains have made conditions far worse.

Unsurprisingly, a scheme to "improve conditions on the ground" in Eritrea has not yet started up.

The next stage for the Eurocrats is to offer cash to poorer and unstable countries to interdict migration routes and organise holding centres for would-be migrants.

French diplomats are negotiating such a deal with Niger. There is an even barmier EU programme to promote the free movement of people within West Africa, the argument being that if poorer West Africans can get into richer countries in the neighbourhood they will not go to Europe. There is already more migration within West Africa than any other regional bloc in the world.

The Libyan government says there are a further 600,000 people waiting to cross the Mediterranean. Politicians in Benghazi say they will no longer hold them back unless Europe comes up with a viable strategy.

Ousted ruler Muammar Gaddafi demanded $3bn to stop migrants crossing from Libya, but in 2010 he settled for $65m.

Libya was then home to an estimated two million sub-Saharan African migrants. A year later Gaddafi was overthrown. As the ensuing chaos deepened, European bureaucrats closed their offices, shaking their heads.

About 232 million of the seven billion people in the world are migrants: around 3.3%, and it's been about the same percentage for the past four decades.
So much for the growing flood of aliens sweeping across Europe. But a century ago the percentage was much higher.

Why? Because tens of millions of Europeans were fleeing fascism and grinding poverty for the prospect of a better life in the United States.



Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.

 

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