Domicide in Calais – Demolition of “the Jungle”

Asylum seekers in Calais, residing in an area nicknamed “the Jungle” near the Port of Calais are being displaced from their makeshift homes. French authorities began demolition on Monday and plan to continue over the next couple weeks, sparking protests and violent demonstrations. The residents of the Jungle have risked everything, leaving their family and friends behind to escape violence and persecution. The majority of the migrants have come from the Middle East and Africa and have made vocal their desire to gain entry into the UK. The destruction of these homes is overly forceful and will have more of an impact in the lives of the these people than most realize; and therefor should be viewed as an act of domicide. Domicide, according to Harker is the “deliberate destruction of the home by human agency in pursuit of specified goals, which causes suffering to the victims” and includes “eviction, expropriation, displacement, dislocation and relocation”. To put it simply, domicide is the murder of the home and despite acts of domicide being prevalent across the globe, the term is not very well known.

The home is so important for individuals because it is an area where personal identity is stored and is full of social meaning. The destruction of the home is more significant than just damaged or destroyed objects and buildings, because a home is the physical portrait of those who live there. When it is demolished it takes a physical toll on the victims. Retrieving possessions will not bring back the cherished feelings, because the bond with security in the home has been violated. This is why people feel so shaken when their home has been burgled. It can be a huge blow to self-esteem and identity, because it is a personal portrayal of an individual. The effects on a community can be just as grave as if someone were killed.

There are a few criteria for domicide:

  1. It is a deliberate form of violence which involves victims, who are the inhabitants of the home, and the perpetrators, who destroy it. Victims are not necessarily refugees, however they may be internally displaced. In this case, they are already migrants and asylum seekers, away from their homeland and being forced out of their temporary residence. Domicide is a method of asserting power and dominance. While the resident of Calais are caught in a sort of limbo; waiting to be granted access to ordinary life in Europe, this area on the periphery of society is home for the moment, with residents forming communities, with homes, schools and places of worship.
  2. The act is justified as being for the common good and for the collective. The destruction of the home is justified for public interest and for the benefit of everyone; and usually includes urban renewal and economic development like new roads, sporting facilities or national parks. In reality these projects are usually in the interest of  a few elite (so they do not benefit everyone). The concept of “common good” is very flawed. Porteous and Smith call people displaced by these projects  “victims of the common good” , because wealth accumulated or the benefits from these projects goes to a very small group, not the masses. The promise of improved areas for the local community usually does not transpire. With regards to the common good, the Jungle is not slated for urban renewal; removing it is very much a show of power and may not be a decision made with the interest of the residents considered. Authorities claim they are concerned traffickers will take advantage of this situation and asylum seekers will enter the UK illegally. This is certainly a legitimate concern for the UK and the rest of Europe. It is also troubling to think that migrants and asylum seekers will be taken advantage of and exploited. French authorities are also offering more comfortable lodgings. However aid groups say that there is insufficient accommodation available to meet the need of the number of people displaced as a result of the demolition and these new accommodations come with a catch. Individuals will be forced to give biometric data in the form of finger and handprints to obtain access in and out of the compound and the French government is encouraging migrants to apply for asylum in France. Migrants are worried that this will ruin their chances of gaining entry to the UK. As mentioned earlier the people residing in this area are there because they want to come to the UK, many to join family.
  3. Authorities completely disregard and ignore the opinions of the victims. This creates an “otherness” through dominating and eradicating. Referring to this area of Calais as “the Jungle” produces an inhuman and uncivilized picture and creates an image of the other, someone unlike ourselves. Keeping people removed from normal everyday society is also a way of creating a special dominance over them that excludes them from participating in day-to-day life.

The lives of the people in Calais have already been disrupted; are unpredictable and chaotic. Displacing them forcefully yet again will not resolve this issue. Using violent means will only spark violent retaliation and there have already been riots and protests within the camp. There should be more support and a hand up, not a knock back down. These are extreme and unnecessarily forceful actions to take against an already disadvantaged population. Governments should be working together and with migrants and asylum seekers to ensure their rights and dignity are upheld, rather than passing the burden around to one another, with no one taking action or responsibility for the people desperate to start a new life, provide for their families, and contribute to society.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. For some reason many seem to forget that these are people we are dealing with; other human beings who deserve the same respect and dignity that we expect in the West.

Featured photo credit: malachybrowne CC BY 2.0

Sarah MacDonald

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