International conflict analysis

Calais: from Sangatte Red Cross Centre to the “jungles”

In 2016, Calais in Northern France was recognised as a ‘hotspot’ (Europol 2016, in Angeli & Triandafyllidou 2016, 111). Although on the one hand the massive influx of migrants since 2014 and the changing European framework, notably the EU enlargement and more recently Brexit, constitute new circumstances, on the other hand recurrent factors, such as the failure of EU immigration control and international arrangements, allow to question the management of the 2002 Calais encampment (Reinisch 2015). In the late 1990s smuggling from France to Britain became an issue for the border authorities of both countries. Migrants concentrate mainly in Calais and from Sangatte try to secretly embark in trucks using the Channel tunnel or port terminal. Together with the closing process of the borders which truly started at that time, the vocabulary reflects the evolution of irregular forced migration and the complexity of the situation. The terms ‘trafficking’ and ‘smuggling’ are different since the former is against the person’s will, whereas the latter refers to voluntary movements. Pécoud and Nieuwenhuys rely on the Palermo Protocol (UN 2000) but add an ‘illegal’ and even ‘criminal’ dimension to smuggling (2007, 1678), which is the category of the migrant population concerned in this paper.

The crossing takes different forms depending on the location but migrants always take important risks, and their motives are sometimes difficult to understand. Their experience of a precarious life at the margin diminishes the threatening reality of the barbed wire of the cross-Channel ports and the CRS (French police). Many are more afraid of getting caught, and therefore of wasting precious time, than having an accident during an attempt.  The reasons why migrants aim at seeking humanitarian protection in Great-Britain rather than in other European countries and are decided to take risks involved in both smuggling and trafficking, will not be explored in this paper. Instead we will assume that factors such as ‘family links, networks, work opportunities if they are English speakers, few identity controls after entering in the country and the ability to work as asylum-seekers for six months, a right which has been suppressed in France since 1991 in order to avoid “false” asylum-seekers entering to work‘(CLANDESTINO 2009, 61) are among the motivations for waiting in the Calais transit zone.

The first section presents the combined rationales that are the tools to understand the context. It argues that the closing process of the Channel zone is articulated around a securitisation of the port and tunnel facilities for economic reasons, a mutual migration management policy on the British-French borderland, and the constraint of new international regulations. The second part highlights that chronologically migrants first congregated in ‘squatter camps’ then were taken care of by the Sangatte Red Cross centre before being forced to spread out along the coast and create precarious and unofficial camps. It aims at exposing that this recent mobility wave directly impacted on the shift of status, from ‘refugees’ to ‘irregular migrants’ (Millner 2011). Lastly, migrants, after Sangatte centre’s demolition, became the source of issues at both the international and local level, by being increasingly exposed in coastal towns and ports.



The closing process of the Channel areas started with the 1991 Sangatte Protocol which shares the migration management policy of the British-French border. Throughout the 2000s, several agreements were signed allowing the British government to install controls on the continent (CFDA 2008, 20). After closing the Sangatte Red Cross centre in 2002, crossing attempts, which were hitherto essentially centred in Calais, spread to all Channel devices. In response, port operators closed port sites and increased their monitoring thus participating in the regulation of clandestine travel. Gradually, the port facility security became a commercial argument in economic competition between the cross-Channel ports. Finally, in parallel to political and economic logic that helped to regulate more strongly clandestine crossings, new international regulations imposed a securing of port facilities.


The concept of ‘securitisation’ or ‘global security’ designates the safety and security measures for facilities rather than people and is implemented by those in charge of risk prevention. This ‘militarization’ (Bigo & Guild 2005, 82) changed the physiognomy of the geographical and social space in the late 1990s and was particularly important when the Sangatte Red Cross centre was active. Coquelles railway terminal and the port of Calais are both not only the Channel areas in which material and human resources for safety are more developed, but also through which most migrants transit. In sum, the Channel Tunnel is an almost airtight door to Great-Britain, where security is both adapted to the local migration context and a consequence of constraining international regulations.

Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, technological systems and human resources ensuring safety have generalized and fences combined with anti-crossing barbed wire are now used in all the Channel ports (Davies and Isakjee 2015, 94). The ever-increasing security measures reflect the determination of migrants and authorities. As they did not at first prevent intrusions at port facilities as the gates were cut or climbed over, fences were doubled or infrared barriers in conjunction with the video surveillance system were installed. Even though the actors managing or using port facilities are not in charge of border control and do not have police powers recently immigration control has become, directly or indirectly, everyone’s business. In a sense of ‘partnership’, different traditional port actors (ICC, captaincy, shipping companies etc.) converged towards sovereign actors, namely police and border customs, especially regarding monitoring the movement of goods and people. Moreover, new actors such as private security companies, British police and immigration authorities are increasingly present. Consequently the security of coastal areas followed a closing strategy, starting from fences and barbed wires to the development of detection technologies such as infrared barriers against intrusions, video-monitored zones and scanners. In addition, the surveillance is now both privatised and shared, that is to say that the many public and private actors intervening in the process have different but intertwining missions.

Security generalisation happens not only through the installation of insurmountable technical devices or latest detection technologies but also in the communication field as a component of trade issues. It is essential for managing bodies of the port and tunnel areas, to ensure 100% effective controls during boarding procedures by promoting the image of secure facilities. In the context of economic competition between coastal ports and commercial issues related to port security, all Channel ports must establish control devices against crossing to Britain. However, not all have the same communication strategies; some do not mention it or position themselves as the safest port in Europe. Between those two communication strategies in the ports of Cherbourg and Calais port operators seem not to be able to overlook the safety of the port facilities especially since the local and national media have repeatedly been disseminating information about the presence of ‘illegals’ (Berry et al. 2015, 37). Questionably, the area closure, monitoring and control measures, which result from the combined responses to migration and to meet port facilities international standards, are not manifested everywhere with the same intensity. Nevertheless the similarity of all Channel ports is to prevent any form of intrusion and ensure maximum control of individuals’ movements at the border.


Great-Britain being outside the Schengen area, there is no free movement of people in the British-French border, an external border of the EU. Consequently, police surveillance of this administrative border has been constant since the implementation of the 1995 Schengen Convention (CFDA 2008, 17). Indeed several Franco-British bilateral agreements, supplemented by two administrative arrangements in 2009 and 2010, reinforced existing measures against undocumented migration and expanded surveillance opportunities by allowing the relocation and duplication of British border on French soil.

The 1991 Franco-British Sangatte protocol entered into force in 1993 and called for the monitoring of tunnel traffic, the creation of border control offices in the tunnel terminal and the right to carry out checks on trains (UK Home Office 1991). Following the 1994 opening of the tunnel, the UK government noted the arrival of undocumented migrants using the railway, therefore with the 1998 Additional Protocol, France and Britain wanted to strengthen controls of Eurostar passengers and extend the monitoring to stations in both countries. Moreover the staff in the other state may act in stations – formerly ‘passive’ controlled areas – in accordance with the rights of their country of origin. The fact that migration issues challenge states’ legitimacy (Bertossi 2008, 195) could explain that the aim is for the British to reassure public opinion by controlling migrants’ arrival, and for the French to strengthen the fight against terrorist networks. Reprehensibly, both parties used the additional protocol framework to increase the number of arrests and fight migration networks.

Le Touquet Treaty of 2003 achieved the bilateral border controls of all Channel maritime ports (UK Home Office 2003), since the fight against undocumented migration increased following the closure of the Sangatte Red Cross centre, two months earlier. Unlike Sangatte agreements, Le Touquet Treaty focuses on financial and material support from Britain to develop human and technical devices of surveillance in the French ports and the relocation of UK immigration controls on French soil.

The Administrative Arrangement of 2009 and 2010 continued the process by providing UK’s ‘latest detection technologies’ as well as maintenance, training of personnel and salaries of staff deployed on French soil. In exchange, France must ‘provide or seek any agreement or authorization’ that will allow the British side to seal the border and is also responsible for action to ‘avoid concentrations of foreigners in irregular situation at the common border and its surroundings’ (Franco-British Administrative Arrangement 2009). As a result of this commitment, many Afghans and Pakistanis were evacuated from the Calais ‘jungle’ in 2009 (Millner 2011, 320). Indeed joint forced returns in ‘charters’, especially for people not eligible or refusing to seek asylum (Migreurop 2009, 67) who therefore fall into the protection gap, complemented by rehabilitation programs and information campaigns were implemented to deter potential undocumented migrants to undertake the trip to Europe. Questionably, this arrangement seems unfavourable to France which has limited interest in migrants remaining. It is surprising that France decided in 2009 to give in to demands from the British, while Sangatte and the Touquet had not actually prevented migrants from crossing the Channel. Nevertheless this administrative arrangement marks an operational switching for the development of securitisation and British controls on French soil. The 1990s saw a strengthening of border control accompanied in the 2000s by the creation of zones facilitating the monitoring of port sites at first, and in a second step, a traffic control of individuals near the border.


The recent increase in regulations of irregular migration is not only caused by the Franco-British agreements but also by port security requirements imposed by international and European regulations, such as SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) and the ISPS (International Ship and Port Security) Code. 1965 SOLAS International Convention is generally applied to large vessels in international waters, and defines security rules, safety and operation of ships. The implementation of these regulations significantly reduces opportunities to access different port areas, but the current system is inconsistent as they are ‘constantly changing and difficult to follow’ (CLANDESTINO 2009, 15).

The 2002 ISPS code was proposed by the US following 9/11 to greatly increase port security and marked further the will to effectively control individuals’ movement. It concerns the organization of safety for ships, companies and ports, increases the responsibilities of the contracting governments and comprehensive security measures, and includes crossing attempts insofar as they are perceived as intrusions in regulated access areas (IMO 2016). Under the SOLAS Convention and the ISPS Code, access, circulation and parking of vehicles and individuals became limited to permits by port authorities. Port operators, who previously had no responsibility for controlling the flow of people, became actors of security making systematic checks (like ‘anti-terrorism’) while the sovereign service (customs) retain the ability to perform random checks. Moreover this impacted public perception because by using a counter-terrorism procedure for migration control, the label of terrorist was applied to migrants.



Calais ferry terminal and Coquelles Eurotunnel site are intense traffic poles and hence privileged crossing points. Undocumented migrants gradually gained visibility, the first visible migrants in Calais appeared in 1986 (Akoka & Clochard 2009) – first locally and then nationally. Their nationalities varied over the years, depending on the international context (conflicts, civil wars, dictatorships, etc.): first Roma from Czech Republic and Slovakia sent back from England where humanitarian protection was refused, then in 1998 Albanians young men and then their families, and later Kurds, Afghans and Syrians. They occupied the Sangatte hangar which closed suddenly in August 1999 as it was owned by Eurotunnel. Associations, activists and members of the community, such as Emmaüs and Abbé Pierre, responded with protests and demonstrations which were relayed by the media. This shows that throughout the years, migrants’ situation in Calais became a major society issue. Indeed, three main factors led to this change, namely the creation of a local group of migrants’ support, media coverage of families’ living conditions during the winter of 1999 and the opening of the Sangatte Centre in September 1999 by the Red Cross (at the government’s request).


The shelter for migrants from September 1999 to December 2002 was located in the town of Sangatte, 4.5km from the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles and 9km from the port of Calais. Its organization evolved over time: from a few dozen Albanians migrants in the autumn of 1999, the building then regularly housed more than 1000 people with a peak of 1900 in October 2002 while the total capacity was estimated at 800 people (Courau 2003, 375). This sharp excess of the centre’s capacity resulted in daily tension, and queues appeared for access to the various services. Both inside and outside Sangatte, migrants were controlled and under constant surveillance, directly through police presence or indirectly through the assistance and management of Red Cross members. The latter were in a critical situation wherein from both sides, i.e. police and migrants, they were considered as liminal in the ‘us vs. them’ framework.

As part of a clandestine itinerary, the progress of migrants by Sangatte appears incoherent, even paradoxical. The fundamental component of clandestine travel is to evolve secretly, however thousands of migrants were controlled, monitored and mediatized by passing through the centre. Indeed identity was not important because the centre aimed at responding to the emergency of welcoming migrants as victims disregarding their identity. Sangatte was a place of transit, a step in a wider journey and a space of waiting before resuming the road for England, a country in the top three preferred European destination with Germany and Sweden (Angeli & Triandafyllidou 2016, 107). Migrants aimed at staying in Sangatte for as little as possible because their wider living space also comprised the port of Calais, the Eurotunnel terminal and the mobility between.

The direct consequence of the existence of Sangatte was the increased visibility of a migratory flow. At the local and national levels migrants found a place in the local society around Calais and occupied the media and political fields. Indeed a British press coverage report shows that right-wing tabloids are the most hostile to immigration in Europe by fixating on the proximity of the threat of Calais’ ‘supercentre’ (Berry et al. 2015, 38). Moreover it is interesting to remark that British politicians portrayed Sangatte as a major ‘pull factor’ whereas French ones were highlighting the humanitarian aspect (Thomson 2003, 23), which shows the difference in political framing. At the local level, the centre progressively crystallized the problems. The example of tensions around the use of buses is revealing (GISTI 2000): migrants took the bus that linked the Red Cross centre to the surrounding cities. The local population then asked for the creation of special shuttles for foreigners, separating the French and foreigners in public transports, that is to say, extending the segregation already taking place in the communal sphere through social and spatial practices. This critique of humanitarianism illustrates that a specific conception of hospitality (as confronted to solidarity) is disrupted by undocumented migrants within the framework of the role of ethical responsibility in EU security (Millner 2011).

The question of the Red Cross centre’s role gradually became a concern in Franco-British relations. A few weeks before the legislative elections, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy visited Sangatte and announced its closure which was demanded by the British government for months as the centre correlated with a peak of 70 to 80 thousands asylum-claims per year (Schuster 2003, 515-516). The destruction of the centre is equivalent to the physical disappearance of a symbolic place maintaining ‘the memory and myths of origin’ (Agier 2002, 332) in the history of migration through France. In Sangatte although nothing remains of the refuge, migrants have certainly not disappeared, and their presence has taken on new forms. Indeed Sangatte as an official shelter enhanced the recognition of their status as refugees, therefore when the centre closed, their status’ value changed to and they become illegal economic migrants.

The closure of the centre is a pivotal moment because there was a ‘Sangatte’ episode until 2002, characterized by the concentration of migrants in the commune of Sangatte and by a flow mainly through the port of Calais and the Eurotunnel terminal of Coquelles. Since winter 2003, there has been an ‘after-Sangatte’, whose one main characteristic is the dispersal of migrants along the coast, together with the problems associated with the presence of migrants. The existence and significant media coverage of the Sangatte centre between 1999 and 2002 lead to assume that it is a new phenomenon, however even in the 1990s, people were already attempting to clandestinely join England by embarking on ferries. On the other hand, the creation and multiplication since 2002 of informal settlements near crossing points (cross-Channel ports, motorway areas, service stations and road centres) have no precedents (Courau 2003, 385).


The disappearance of the Red Cross centre directly involved the scattering of migrants along the coast. Although Calais remained the preferred crossing point for migrants, Paris became an additional point of distribution of possibilities of transit along the entire coast. The existence of informal migrant settlements, or infamous ‘jungles’ (Rigby & Schlembach 2013, 159), in the proximity of the cross-Channel areas is a spatial manifestation of irregular movements within Europe.

The geographical distribution on the coast has often changed since 2002. Post-Sangatte is a very unstable period. Immediately following the announcement of the closure, emigrants from Calais were present on the outskirts of most cross-Channel ports. Surprisingly, the French Coordination for the Right of Asylum (CFDA) did not identify informal settlements anywhere on the coast. The presence of a cross-Channel link is not systematically associated with a significant and perennial presence of migrants. Indeed the exiles are predominantly present in Calais and in Paris, and some migrants live several tens of kilometres from the sea, which highlights the many forms of organization of the clandestine crossing to England (Courau 2003, 385). Attempts to get into trucks are well upstream at the highway areas where squats are set up.

The case of Paris is very specific because it is structuring the flow, but makeshift shelters have no or less visibility in the public space (Ticktin 2011, 58). Indeed, the vast majority of migrants on the coast transited through Paris, but purposely clandestinely. Most migrants who pass through the capital are hiding and for this reason squats are places of waiting appearing at the most monitored and secure borders, that is to say where individuals’ mobility is constrained. Their geographical distribution in the national, regional and local areas is due to different logics inherent to the clandestine fact, but also to the modes of regulation that clandestine movements partly produce in society. In fact, Sangatte became both a symbol of resistance against mobility control and insecure citizenships and of opposing political interests (Rygiel 2011).

The cross-Channel areas are gateways to England and thus possible locations for an informal settlement. However, the geographic distribution of squats and their appearance is not random but responds to a set of variables, the most important being the possibility of crossing. These practical logics are not decisive but help to explain the concentration and location of migrants in certain coastal areas. The mobility of migrants, once in Paris and until they can reach the UK, is largely constrained by two factors. On the one hand, migrants generally ignore the areas they go through and learn from networks made up mainly of compatriots. On the other hand, although the police activity and the actions of inhabitants or associations are the consequence of the presence of squats in the proximity of crossing points, they are not systematically associated with them.

The Sangatte Red Cross centre, as a symbolic place of care for foreigners was a ‘refuge’ (Fassin 2005, 363) in the late 1990s. After its closure, this population was fragmented in multiple squats and encampments geographically dependent on the possibility of crossing the border, generating at the same time new mobilities and new relations to space within the framework of the clandestine travel. Therefore since 2002, the passage to Great-Britain is understood at the scale of the whole coast and consequently, associative mobilizations and police activity have appeared. This dispersal is a major characteristic of the after-Sangatte and involves three issues. Firstly, it redefines the management of controls at the Franco-British border, but also economic matters, since this control will become a variable of the competition carried out by port operators on the coast, which is not without consequence on the general security of the cross-Channel areas. Secondly, the remoteness of migrants at the margins greatly contributed to the degradation of their living conditions, so that the social issues attached are reformulated. Geographical distancing manifests a new social relationship, as ‘undesirable’ (Agier 2002, 337; Migreurop 2009, 68), in society. Finally, it contributed to the dilution of the clandestine fact as a matter of society. After the closure of the Sangatte centre, a network of associative and militant actors emerged and the problems present at the local level episodically penetrated the political field at the national level.



The consequences of the presence of migrants in the city and the illegality of their transportation at port level both raise problems, and combining these two approaches allow understanding the changes caused by their passage in the local society. The visible presence of informal urban settlements gives its singularity to this movement as the encampment is a starting point of changes in local society. The militant or associative mobilization and the definition of the political stakes related to the care of foreigners would not exist without the settlement of migrants in urban areas. For example in Cherbourg, the important presence of migrants, reflected in the attention of the local press, gradually became a habit, so that since 2007-2008, the phenomenon has become trivial. This indicates the integration of clandestine activity by local society, reflected both in familiarization and trivialization. The presence of undocumented migrants stimulated in 2002 a positioning of the local political actors and the Government, on the basis of a right-left political line (Thomson 2003, 17). The stakes raised were the reception of this population, the humanitarian arrangements, the need for asylum support, and the criticism of national and European immigration policies. From across the political landscape, the responses were sometimes contradictory in what Fassin calls a ‘compassionate repression’ (2005, 362) (e.g. humanitarian aid and police management). However they gradually led to the tolerance of migrants’ presence.

Minimum conditions of accompaniment should be set up towards this population in a situation of ‘violent abandonment through political neglect’ (Davies & Isakjee 2015, 94). The long time and hesitation that led to the current measures are reflected in the successive displacements of settlements and squats: if migrants occupy a relegation space in the local society, this is not actually defined. Their installation is always negotiated as a spatial imprint of a point of equilibrium between the local society and the migrants. On the scale of the littoral, it even conceals from the population the reception conditions that the State reserves for migrants. Therefore the discord over borders control is seeking to advertise a politic of equality (through activism and humanitarianism) independent from the notions of sovereignty, citizenship and the state which should be addressed (Rigby & Schlembach 2013). Without possibilities to demonstrate their presence which changes over time, migrants disappear and become invisible in the eyes of the population. Indeed, those are not undifferentiated individuals who compose the flow but people whose social and cultural background can vary, and whose history is always singular. When migrant populations change, the responses of local society, particularly those of associations, also change.


The cross-Channel area crystallizes the problems associated with the transit of undocumented migrants. The stakes and tensions between the different actors arise in terms of intensity or migratory pressure directly at the port. The presence of an urban camp is therefore not the cause of the difficulties encountered by the port actors, but an aggravating factor of the problems by causing changes in the functioning of space. The actors of the port worked differently, in particular to develop partnerships to guarantee their customers’ safety. The security and surveillance of the port facilities were strengthened, and finally, an administrative detention room was set up on the premises of the Border Forces.

The gradual closure of commercial ports is directly linked to the local clandestine movement. Indeed, major disturbances in freight traffic and the circulation of commercial goods due to the presence of migrants in the points of crossing became the principal argument to close Sangatte centre and militarize the area. In addition, investments were made to progressively close any access, embarkation control measures were developed and a general surveillance was set up. In particular, a security guarding company was deployed and port security officers were hired to protect goods’ security rather than human security (Ticktin 2011, 200).

Defined as a standard by international regulations since the ISPS code, security today appears as a common phenomenon. However, the ISPS code was implemented to a lesser extent in France. For example in Cherbourg, the measures associated with these new international regulations were only added to the security efforts already made and adapted locally. The obligation for the port authorities to create a security plan to meet the legal requirements of the ISPS code had only indirect consequences for migrants attempting to cross: the mobilized human resources aim at standardizing the security of port facilities before taking part in the regulation of clandestine migratory movements. Although all devices are not explicitly directed to migrants hiding under trucks, generalized closure and surveillance nevertheless became the migration control standard in British-French border.

The Channel ports are both trading platforms and borders of the Schengen area, therefore the issues are products of a trade and border control dimension. For the port and tunnel management, the securitisation of facilities first appears as a response to major economic challenges related to the repeated intrusion attempts on the port and in trucks from the migrants, arrested by Border Force and released by French police (Reinisch 2015, 520). In towns the presence of irregular migrants fairly reflected as a migration issue whereas on port it referred more to the defence of a ‘business’ rather than the need to control an external border of the Schengen area. The application of regulatory measures was not directly intended to control or regulate migration at ports, however it impacted access to ports and border areas. Every migrant is potentially harmful, and although the ISPS was officially intended to counter terrorism and not migration, the application devices (restricted area, controls etc.) are tools to control clandestine travel.



To conclude, migrations flows and their routes have recently become more diverse, complex and dangerous. Indeed, with globalization, ‘migration pairs’ (Wihtol de Wenden 2005 in Bertossi 2008, 190) linked by a historical or colonial past tend to disappear. Moreover, migration studies argue for an Europeanization of the flows, that is the processes of construction diffusion and institutionalization of formal and informal rules from EU public policy to the domestic level. However with Britain increasingly separating itself from the EU, the regulation is likely to change again and this will affect the dynamics of migration flows in the North of France. Indeed it seems paradoxical that on the one hand the UK is the main destination of forced migrants because they want a more complete model of care and protection, and on the other hand because they refuse to claim asylum elsewhere in the EU they fall into the protection gap.

Regarding policies, EU member states governments are not closing their borders in a hermetical way, as they do have a control over immigration flux. The debate that we live in either a ‘Sieve Europe or [a] Fortress Europe’ (Bigo & Guild 2005, 49) translates the stakes of European immigration control politics. However it is not the borders that are targeted but rather the immigration flows regulation, that is to say the setting up of devices allowing to distinguish the people who can be admitted and those who must be rejected. Although the EU recently implemented search and rescue missions at sea, border control forces are directly responsible for deaths of migrants because migrants try the least controlled parts of the border, which are often more dangerous.

As a complementary device to the ‘traditional’ methods of controlling migration flows, such as border surveillance or visas allocation, information campaigns have been used for several years. Based on the conviction that information plays a key role in the departure decision-making, they aim to discourage potential migrants by promoting the difficulties and risks involved in clandestine trips (Pécoud & Nieuwenhuys 2007). A negative image of the living conditions in Europe is also broadcasted on various media (such as videos or posters) in countries considered ‘providers’ of migrants. On the initiative or with the participation of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the first campaigns date back to the 1990s and were primarily targeting Central and Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Central America (Pécoud & Nieuwenhuys 2007, 1677). Since 2000, the number of campaigns has tended to multiply and now increasingly concerns Central and North Africa and Latin America but their impact still ought to be better understood.


Reference list


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