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The Impact of the construction of the Franco-British border in Calais on the migration issue

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Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology

Faculty of Social Science

University of Vienna

The Impact of the construction of the Franco-British

border in Calais on the migration issue

Research Proposal

Josephine Le Vernoy

Matrikelnummer : 11914916

Supervisor: Katrin Kremmel

19 / 02/ 2020

Abstract

I go back to the premises of the association Utopia56 to collect food and equipment before going to see the migrants to drop them off and make sure they are OK. I can hear Youssef park in front of the office and suddenly get angry when he hits the car. I rush outside in panic to make sure he is all right. Youssef gets angry: "I am fed up with this incompetent and inhumane government. There are people sleeping outside and dying every day trying to cross the border. The government does nothing to help them and prevents us (the associations) from giving them support and friendship in their despair".

Everyone is exhausted in Calais. Every day volunteers return desperate and do not know how to help migrants without going against the government and the local people who live in Calais. Calais is fighting against a social border.

Calais materializes both a border between two states at the crossing points that are the port and the tunnel site, but it is also the place where social borders are created that affect undocumented migrants settled in the city. These borders distinguish social groups and we can notice a marginalization of certain groups in the city.

We can notice different groups in Calais who participate in the creation of a social border or who on the contrary fight against this social border. On the one hand, there is the government and part of the local collectives who, since the installation of the Sangatte center, have been trying to close down or relocate places where migrants can live and help each other and who are thus participating in the movement to create social borders in the city; then, on the other hand, there are associations, volunteers, migrants and the other part of Calaisians who also wish to help migrants.

In Calais, "local residents" and, by association, "Calaisians" are a recurring figure in town hall speeches. However, this figure of political discourse differs from empirical reality. The constructed division between "migrants" and "angry residents" does not hold up in the face of the diversity and complexity of neighborhood practices. But local authorities continue to produce this positive figure of identification, while seeking social relays to justify their action: "It is necessary to protect 'residents' against nuisances. The logic of public order imposes itself by making a new figure of the "people" emerge" (Fassin, 2014, p. 50).

Since 2008, the mayor of Calais has been pursuing a policy of eviction and destruction of squats based on the figure of "angry residents": there is talk of a "fed up feeling on the part of Calaisians affected by the many migrant squats" (24/10/2013, Le Figaro). However, not all residents are always angry. Some are part of support associations, others provide individual help, others remain indifferent to the situation.

However, some of them have nonetheless created collectives and associations to oppose the presence of undocumented migrants near their homes.

These groups participate in the construction of social borders in the city that exclude one category of people: migrants.

For the past 20 years, the city of Calais has been a place of immobility where undocumented migrants are arrested every day at the border. The daily lives of Afghan, Iraki, Iranian and Eritrean migrants in Calais are unbearable. The issue of opening and closing borders is a central issue in current public policies, but also a historical anthropological and humanitarian issue. We are nowadays in a situation of increasement of the migration flow to Europe: we are in a migration crisis. Calais is particularly confronted with this border issue because of its geographical location.

They are neither welcome in the United Kingdom nor in France. They are neither regularizable, nor expulsible. This city has “open and closed” border for “locked out” migrants. Europe is faced with the difficulty of managing migrants flows at borders.

Since the 1990s, the city of Calais has been the last border crossing for migrants wishing to travel to England. The migrants enter Europe illegally and reach northern France to cross the coastline. But the Franco-British border marks the end of the official European free movement area, since Great Britain refused to join the Schengen area in 1985. A lot of undocumented migrants find themselves stranded for up to several months on the coast, waiting to succeed crossing. But the situation is particular because the French government prevents people from leaving its territory while at the same time refusing to allow them to remain there. This refusal is reflected in expulsion. The police try to discourage the migrants and seek to exhaust them, to make their living conditions unbearable, to limit the essential biological resources of food and sleep, in order to encourage them to leave the territory on their own.

A social border is created in Calais between the migrants who are excluded, rejected and even victims of police violence and the local people from Calais.

Exchanges and discussions with Calaisians highlight the construction of a "them" and a "us" that brings out the distance and the social border in Calais.

It is not only the difference in culture between migrants and Calaisians that creates this distance, but also the difference in the way these people are treated: "By dint of treating people differently, we make 'others'" (Fassin, 2014, p.40).

This distance takes the form of a daily refusal of contact with migrants, changes of itinerary to avoid them or forms of self-enclosure.

What is the impact of the construction of the Franco-British border in Calais on the migration issue? How did this geographical border create a social border in the city of Calais?

The issue of borders in contemporary societies is highlighted in the article Policing Borders, Producing Boundaries. The governmentality of Immigration in Dark Times written by Didier Fassin in the annual reviews of anthropology.

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