Migrants seek refuge in small French port of Ouistreham
A year after France dismantled the notorious “Jungle” migrant camp at Calais, nearly 100 Africans can be found living out in the cold in the northern port of Ouistreham.
They survive thanks to donations from local people and despite the systematic intervention of the authorities to close down any encampment.
“It’s hell,” says a 25-year-old man from Sudan. “Last night we couldn’t sleep in the woods, it rained all the time. But each time we tried to sleep somewhere in the city, the police came to tell us to leave,” the migrant who gave his name as Badr says. Behind him a group of volunteers from this small city of 9,000 people are handing out food.
Every day Badr says he tries to slip onboard a ferry crossing the Channel to England. The African migrants, mostly from Sudan, wander the streets of the Ouistreham port amid passengers heading for and coming from the British coast. Three ferries leave daily for Portsmouth.
Ouistreham is a far cry from Calais where 40 ferries leave each day for Britain and police say nearly 450 migrants are still holed up despite the French government closing the “jungle” camp and relocating thousands of migrants who had lived in the immense slum there. But after the Calais camp was shut down, migrants began showing up in this small coastal town in Normandy.
In the woods
The migrants, all young men, seek refuge in the woods around Ouistreham. One afternoon last week four of them were warming themselves around a fire amid intermittent freezing rain. “It’s very cold, life is very hard here. The French people are good to us but not the authorities,” says one of them named Ahmad.
Another man is sleeping nearby covered with a blanket and under a tarpaulin. But when police and city workers arrive, the migrants scatter.
A dumpster leaves the woods with a pile of abandoned blankets and duvets — donations from the Ouistreham group helping migrants (CAMO).
Claims of harassment
For city’s mayor Romain Bail, the migrants “for the most part do not pose any problem, in terms of aggression”. But he says he doesn’t want his city to become a magnet for migrants. He has taken steps to ensure that camps are not set up and has increased the police numbers.
The CAMO group has accused some police of using measures such as tear gas on the migrants — though the authorities say they intervene only to enforce the law. “They (the police) take their duvet, their phone. It’s harassment,” says Michel Martinez, one of the founders of CAMO. “These men have known worse. They saw bodies floating in the Mediterranean, but still there is no reason” for harassing them. “It’s the citizens who take steps so the migrants don’t freeze to death or die of hunger in the woods.”
While some city residents are hostile to the migrants, he adds, that nevertheless “every day around 15 to 20 cars come to my home to bring the migrants” food and clothing. Near the port terminal, fish merchant Sandrine Simon says she also manages to give the migrants some help. “They are looking for water to wash themselves, and electricity to charge their cellphone,” she explains.
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