Geopolitics

The Calais 'Jungle' Is Gone, But Migrants Are Back Already

The French coastal city was home to the infamous makeshift village of migrants seeking to cross to the UK. The 'Jungle' was dismantled less than a year ago, but immigrants are now back in town.

Refugees are back in Calais, nearly a year after the refugee camp known as The Jungle was dismantled
Refugees are back in Calais, nearly a year after the refugee camp known as The Jungle was dismantled
Edouard de Mareschal

CALAIS — The French city of Calais wakes up slowly. All is peaceful. A few cars cross the Mollien bridge, which lies just a stone's throw away from the imposing red-brick city hall and its belfry that dominate this city. Under it, some 20 Eritreans have taken shelter for the night. They're trying to get a bit more sleep despite the late summer sunshine. At least, the sun helps dry their belongings, which had been soaked in a recent shower of rain.

There were three times as many people as the previous day, when police intervened to destroy their camp and push them away from the city center. Some allowed the police to take them to one of the two new reception centers created by Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, where migrants can be registered and receive guidance. But they have now decided to return to the bridge.

"I refused to get on their bus," says Oumar, a 20-year-old from the Central African Republic. "They would have sent me back directly to Italy where I had my fingerprints taken." Oumar has been "Dublined." It means that, under the so-called Dublin Regulation, he should be applying for asylum in Italy, the EU country where he was first registered. But despite his tired face, Oumar is determined not to go.

Migrants have returned to the city center in Calais, despite the unyielding posture of both the mayor and the interior ministry. A recent ruling from France's top administrative court, the Conseil d"État, ordered authorities to provide migrants with drinking water and sanitary facilities but also acknowledged that they shouldn't return to the city, less than a year after the infamous "Jungle" was razed.

The lopsided court decision didn't please anybody. Not the town hall, which simply refused to abide by the ruling, and preferred to pay a daily 100-euro penalty. Not the government either, eager to avoid the nightmare of another "Jungle". Finally, the associations and NGOs that support the migrants are also unhappy and consider this minimal aid disgraceful for those who are still sleeping in horrific conditions.

The balance between firmness and humanity is difficult to strike. Between 450 and 700 migrants roam along the A16 highway, which leads to the Channel Tunnel. According to L'Auberge des migrants, an NGO that has researched the migrants, 97% are men, aged 21 on average, and mostly come from Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Somalia.

The police constantly intervene to remove them and seize their camping equipment. Volunteers call it "roundups' (a clear reference to the Vel" d'Hiv Roundup, which took place under Nazi German occupation), an appalling reference that twists a complex reality.

"I've never seen such thing, we can't even give them tents anymore because they are immediately destroyed," says Christian Salomé, president of l'Auberge des migrants. "We only give them ponchos and tarpaulins now, and that's how they sleep..." And yet, these living conditions don't deter migrants. Those who refuse help from the French Office for Immigration and Integration regroup in well-defined areas. Afghan migrants usually gather around the hospital, whereas Africans go further north, to the industrial park near the harbor.

This is where the association La Vie Active installs two water taps and portable toilets every morning. The showers haven't been set up as yet. The group describes it as a "mobile" system but that's misleading: The equipment is removed every evening and reinstalled the next day — in the same place. This is also where l'Auberge des migrants and the Refugee Community Kitchen give food to migrants three times a day, and where Help the Refugees gives them clothes.

"It's terrible, my commercial activity is pretty much non-existent. They rush by the dozens on any truck that stops here," says Patrick Carpentier, the manager of a nearby gas station. Earlier, a Polish truck driver witnessed this first hand. While he was nervously filling gas, a group of about 20 Eritreans surrounded his vehicle, testing the locks, the canvas, and the chassis, looking for a way to get on the truck. "I'm not mad at them and it pains me to see them like this, wandering outside," Patrick Carpentier says. "But the government doesn't realize the impact their presence has on us, here in Calais... And it looks like it doesn't care either."

The number of migrants intercepted in the harbor or inside the trucks is nothing compared to what it was before the demolition of the "Jungle". But it has gone up significantly since the spring. In August alone, 1,250 migrants were caught inside trucks, compared to 1,000 in July and just 190 in April. The police also fear that migrants may resume blocking the road with tree trunks. In June, a Polish driver died due to this.

As winter approaches, President Emmanuel Macron's goal to no longer have people sleep on the street will be hard to meet, at least in Calais. The interior ministry's emergency shelter solutions can work for the migrants who want to, and are able to, apply for asylum in France. But for those who want to reach Britain, whether it's the migrants who've been "Dublined" or for those whose asylum application in another EU country was rejected, Calais remains the only possibility in sight.

"From the moment migrants turn down what we offer them, we should draw the consequences and move on to harder procedures," says Gilles Debove of the police union SGP.

Out of the 22 migrants who agreed to get on a bus to be driven to a center one-hour's drive away, 15 of them returned by train to Calais the following day. When nine minors from Eritrea were handed over to the border police, they refused the shelter they were offered, and were later released.

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Society

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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