The New Lace of Calais

Justyna Mielnikiewicz

Calais, February 2018. There is tension in the city. Police forces have been beefed up to patrol the areas where migrants gather: where they sleep, eat, and try to jump aboard trucks to the United Kingdom, just 25 km from the French coast.
The conditions in Calais are driving the migrants crazy. Violent clashes between migrants have left 5 dead and many injured in recent weeks.

Refugees and migrants come from all walks of life. It is often difficult to determine whether they are economic migrants or political refugees, as most are a bit of both. The divide is lost against the backdrop of simmering wars in the regions they fled and economies that never recovered while run by corrupt officials.

What unites them is the search for a better life. Local volunteers from all walks of life are helping them. Some are active with NGOs, often helping migrants directly.
Others are also organizing to fight migration and, as they see it, to defend themselves.

As policies fluctuate, the barriers surrounding the city continue to grow, adding to the already strong sense of suffocation. Pro-migrant residents, call Calais’ fences a Guantanamo. Those who would like to restrict migration call it Alcatraz.

Even for those who have obtained a residence permit, life in Calais is tedious.
Abdil, who lost his leg in an accident, was allowed to bring his wife and young daughters to France on the condition that he obtain social housing of at least 44 square meters, which he doubts he will get any time soon. Howar, from Iraqi Kurdistan, after getting his permit, slept for a year in a homeless shelter. Matiullah, originally from Afghanistan, was allowed by the court to get his residence permit but the city of Lille appealed the decision. He has no money for a lawyer specialized in appeals. He is sleeping in the forest while waiting for the decision.

Calais was known a century ago for its famous lace. Ironically, it was thanks to British weavers who smuggled looms across the English Channel to avoid English restrictions on the sale of lace to the French.

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