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A Tale of Two Crises: Les ‘Sans-Papiers’ and Les ‘Angry Agriculteurs

After having recently travelled through Calais, our Political Writer Claudia Schute gives her unique perspective on the migrant crisis.

Claudia Schute

Naked Politics Blogger

I know what you are thinking. The title for this article seems highly out of place for a political blogging forum. She’s had it, gone off the rails! But hold on, bear with me…It is related, I promise.

On the 22nd July, my family, as we do every year, embarked on the sixteen-hour epic journey of endurance from the North of London into the deep South of France to a little village in the middle of nowhere named Le Vigan. Car packed to burst, dog squeezed in, we drove on through the dry summer heat, sweaty and silently uncomfortable. Now, as you can imagine this isn’t the most enjoyable journey, indeed, far from it. By the time we arrive, we have usually all fallen out with one another and spend the first few days of the holiday recovering from a numb bum.

This specific journey, however, differed from the others — not regarding the numb bum, but in respect to the encountering of two culturally and politically eye opening issues en route. The first we witnessed on arrival at Calais, in the form of a great number of immigrants, looking to somehow get across to the UK. In the hazy sunrise, I spotted them scattered across the fields, on their own and in groups, as they dwindled like prey below the wary policemen assembled on the motorway verges. This immediately caught my eye, as it had not been sufficient to engage our attention in previous years.

“In the hazy sunrise, I spotted them scattered across the fields, on their own and in groups, as they dwindled like prey below the wary policemen assembled on the motorway verges.”

The second issue we met further down the line head on, as we ground to a halt and sat baking in a motorway gridlock, opposite hundreds of tractors and protesting farmers, for a few hours each time. French farmers have been up in arms this week over the cash crisis and have lashed out in road blockades and supermarket stunts. Experiencing these two currently highly topical issues in the flesh made me think more about the reaction of the public to such happenings, both at home in front of the newspaper and outside, face to face.

Les Sans-Papiers

The UK has pledged £7 m in a new deal to tackle the immigration crisis at Calais port. Just recently a Sudanese national was killed as 1,500 migrants try to storm the Channel Tunnel on a daily basis. There are an estimated 3,000 migrants at Calais hoping to make it across to the UK, residing in ‘the jungle’ where they have built their own community with a church and a school. Nobody knows how many migrants have made the journey, but one thing is clear, the situation is reaching a desperate state.

As we pulled up at an Accord hotel in Calais for the night, the car park was swarming with policemen and the atmosphere was heavy with tension. I later read that French authorities have pledged 120 extra riot police to secure the Eurotunnel and that confrontations on the verges of motorways involving pepper spray are on the rise. As The Guardian shows in their documentary Calais Migrants: Life in the Jungle, lorry drivers are understandably distressed and concerned. I found this short video, which enters into the ‘the Jungle’ at Calais and explores the circumstances and backgrounds of individual immigrants, very touching and worth a watch.

I felt empathy for the immigrants who have no home, yet are brimming with hope for a better future. Their building of a community with a make-do school and church emphasises the sheer amount of people who are living in these dire conditions, as well as the permanent state of the crisis. The ‘Jungle’ is like a strange shantytown, where all residents are temporary, anxious and forced into a box riddled with fear. Towering transparent walls lined with barbed wire now separate the camp from the motorway, however this has not deferred immigrants’ attempts, who now embark on a two-hour detour in order to approach the lorries. These actions do no more than restrain the problem that exists in the short run and offer no long-term solutions.

Les Angry Agriculteurs

Secondly, proof of the French living up to their name in protesting, we hit two serious motorway blockades caused the French farmer demonstrations. The first time round we grounded to a halt, face to face with hundreds of parked tractors and waited patiently for a couple of hours, in the boiling heat. As we finally started moving, I was anxious about what sort of chaos we would have to cross. Would they be rampaging around trucks on fire, clutching pitchforks and releasing loose bulls, shouting ‘Vive la France!’? No, not so exciting.

There they were, standing around in groups with families, looking solemn but friendly and offering apples to passers-by almost apologetically. I shouted ‘on vous soutient’ through the window. We support you! Even though my mum had to take an awkward pee between car doors on the motorway because of you, we support you. Plus I would rather eat that apple than have it potentially lobbed at my head! We did not greet the second blockade, however, with such gusto. As we skirted around an enormous squashed lump of cheese, after another two hour gridlock, we kept our eyes down and had to persuade my Dad that jumping out to ‘nick a bit of that’ was probably not a good idea.

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