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Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Welcome to the Jungle II - Calm after the storm

At 7 am the riot police moved in: 500 uniformed CRS officers wearing a mix of confusion and anxiety about how to behave in front of the mass of TV cameras.

The Afghans were waiting in a circular group surrounded by No Borders protesters that made the job of police much harder.

After an hour of wrestling and scuffles, 250 Afghans were in custody, 138 were minors. The protestors and the press were ejected from the camp while they migrants were processed and shipped out by bus to detention centres and the bulldozers started to level the camp.

The Afghans looked nervous but resigned. A few crying but most passively accepting their fate. The rules in the EU state that the first country migrants enter is the one that has to deal with them. In practice this is implemented by a fingerprint database, so migrants play a cat and mouse game with police to avoid having their prints taken until they arrive in the country they want to settle in.

They choose the UK rather than France because, they claim, once registered in France they aren't given any support, financial or accommodation, and are sent to the Jungle to live rough. In the UK they expect to be processed, housed and receive financial support.

If any of them had made it to the UK their first home would have been Dover detention centre, which is mainly populated by Chinese, but soon they get released on condition they report on a regular basis to signing centres. They are given vouchers for food, and found accommodation. It's not great but its a big step up from the Jungle shanty with one standpipe for up to 800 people.

Eric Besson (French Interior Minister) arrived later in the morning to survey the scene. A French politician in the Sarkozy mold (short ugly but impeccably dressed). I asked him if today marked a change in French asylum policy or procedures (its hugely complicated to apply and legal aid is very limited and as a result many don't get the accommodation they should be entitled to). The answer was no, no change in procedure, but this exercise would discourage future migrants, and disrupt the traffickers network.

The Pashtoon jungle is one of many camps around Calais, the next is the Somali squat. None of the others were cleared, so the network of Kurdish traffickers will continue without skipping a beat. Some in the Pashtoon camp had already paid for their passage which now they won't be able to take. A welcome bonus for traffickers.

The night before, one man told me about why he'd fled Afghanistan. He was the only one of 10 to survive an attack on his vehicle by the Taliban. His wife and family were all dead. Navid, 15 year old and street smart told me about how he'd been abducted into a Kornanic school and indoctrinated with Jihad before escaping and the punishment beating his parents suffered as a result. Another boy shows me cigarette burns he received at the hands of I****** police. Negib, only 12 years old, left his parents and travelled alone with his 11 year old brother from Kundu province.

It's unlikely that if any rumours of a bulldozed camp in Calais make it into rural Afghanistan they will act as a deterrent compared with what people face locally.

The local NGO's fully expect that within a week, when the issue has waned from the public eye, the migrants will again be released by the authorities from the detention centre to fend for themselves. But perhaps the unique circumstances under which they have been detained will mean they receive the processing they are entitled to.

For all the political bluster, processing and deciding asylum cases is a matter of subjective judgement, and heavily influenced by political imperatives.

At the camp the Afghans were separated into adults and minors. One claimed he was 17 and the cop dealing with him dismissed this with a wave of his hand, saying "He looks 18 to me", and he was put in a queue with other adults. Hopefully the details of their individual asylum cases will be heard with less bias.

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