Trafficking, smuggling, chaos: Undocumenteds aiming at UK

Below are exceprts from a migration story in the Observer. There’s quite good information here but also note the confusion about the word trafficking: much of what’s described here should be called smuggling, according to UN protocols. Note particularly:

Though many immigrants travel independently, others use organised criminal traffickers for at least some of the journey

If migrants ‘use’ people to help them cross borders illegally, these are meant to be described as smugglers. It’s a hard distinction to maintain consistently, but in this story people are clearly travelling because they chose to and sometimes paying for help. The help can end up being abusive, of course.  The word refugee is also used. Some of the people interviewed might have a case for asylum but many do not. Also the word criminal is peppered around unnecessarily.

Gender note: Everyone mentioned in the story is male, but what’s described applies to women who migrate without documents as well, and illustrates why getting into a ‘protected’ situation can be tempting, why getting into sex work may be a temporary solution, and so on.

I’ve highlighted in bold some common realities known to those who study or hobnob with undocumented migrants, and removed some material you can read on the original site. Note the immensely pragmatic attitude shown by those interviewed: they are going against legal policy, they know it, they will keep trying, they are not crying about it. It’s not a victimising article.

Why do I want to get to Britain? It has to be better than everything else

Jason Burke, Norrent-Fontes, France, 8 March 2009

The three tents are clustered in a ditch, beside a field, in the middle of nowhere. . . .A tractor bumps past, a crow flaps across the grey sky, the traffic on the A26 Paris-Calais motorway 500 yards behind a small wood is barely audible. It is an unlikely place for a refugee transit camp, the last stop before the UK. The nearest town is two miles away: the grubby two cafes and post office of Norrent-Fontes.

But the ditch is a temporary home for 26 young Eritreans and Ethiopians trying to get to Britain by hiding in the lorries that stop in the layby every night. And their situation is far from unique. An investigation by the Observer has revealed scores of such makeshift settlements containing an estimated 1,500 people, including women and children, scattered across a huge swath of northern France.

There are camps as far west as the Normandy port of Cherbourg. . . and as far north as the Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend. In Paris, an estimated 200 young immigrants who are on their way to the UK sleep in parks every night. . .

. . . In one camp, in a wood off the A26, groups of Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants looking for work in the UK are living under plastic sheets stretched across traces of old first world war trenches in a wood. . .

. . . the fault lies with the progressive closure of facilities for immigrants in towns such as Calais, a French government drive to disperse and harass asylum-seekers who cross its territory, and new security measures implemented by the UK that have made it harder to physically penetrate the ports – forcing immigrants to try new ways to cross the Channel. Each week a new camp is established. The true number of them is unknown. “There are many that no one notices” . . .

Most of the immigrants do eventually reach Britain. Activists monitoring the refugee population notice when there are big “crossings” and the internet and mobile phones allow refugees who get to the UK after stowing themselves in lorries to give tips and encouragement to those coming behind. “My brother got over 10 days ago in a Polish lorry. He sent me a text from London”. . .

. . . Around a third have already spent time in the UK and are making their second, third or even fourth clandestine crossing of the Channel.

. . . Though many immigrants travel independently, others use organised criminal traffickers for at least some of the journey to the Channel. Inok, a 23-year-old at Norrent-Fontes, recounted how he had paid £3,000 to get from Sudan to Turkey and a further £2,500 to get to Greece hidden in a car. From Greece he was “freelance”, he said, and found the Norrent-Fontes camp eight weeks ago after being tipped off by other east Africans. “I’ve been unlucky so far and haven’t got a good lorry yet,” Inok said. “I’ll keep trying, but if I can’t get to the UK I might try Norway. I know lots of Eritreans there.”

Though the organised criminal gangs try to maintain control of the trafficking, less organised “semi-professional” networks also form where there is demand. The result is vicious turf wars with gangs using extreme violence to maintain their control over key sites such as busy laybys on useful routes.  . .

. . . living in one of the half-dozen makeshift camps hidden along the side of the motorway linking Calais and Dunkirk. Every evening they joined the other inhabitants of the shacks on a thin strip of wasteland behind the Dunkirk ferry port known as Loon-Plage to head out toward the carparks to stow away in the lorries. But with new security precautions and British officials posted on the French side of the Channel, the task was not easy. “The key is to get past Calais and Dover because the officials there lock you up,” said one. “Once you are into the country itself you can escape easily and then hide.”

First the immigrants – most of whom do not have the €500 (£450) demanded by the amateur traffickers camped in plain view of the ferry port – had slept in disused port buildings. Police raids forced them into a band of thick vegetation where they thought their makeshift huts were well hidden. . . .  Local authorities insist that the bulk of its inhabitants have been offered alternative accommodation in Calais.

. . . “It’s the same story across the whole of Europe. The refugees keep moving because they think it is going to be better elsewhere and that is exactly the authorities here and elsewhere want them to think,” Zaibet said. “Each government pushes them further down the road and the end of the road is the UK.”

The camp at Norrent-Forentes was the target of a recent police raid. All those living there were arrested and held for a day in Calais before being released and returning to their makeshift homes. The police ripped holes in tent walls and took all cooking equipment but left the camp standing. “We are sensitive to human suffering of course but there can be no question of effectively helping human trafficking (by allowing camps to develop),”[said] the local government chief. Recent statistics reveal that only 12% of the nearly 30,000 asylum demands received in France were granted in 2007 – one of the lowest levels in Europe.

Arrest and deportation are seen by most of the immigrants as occupational risks – like breaking a leg while jumping from a lorry. “I try not to think about it,” said Anthony as he strummed his krar in the ditch by Norrent-Fontes. “It would be really tough to have to start out all over again. But if that’s what happens that’s what I’ll do.”

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