A container city sprang up in the middle of Calais’s jungle in January. Better than the flimsy tents they replaced, these metal boxes with their bunk beds are home for 1400 migrants. It is a warm spot in their long journey into exile.
Private companies do not prioritise the state's best practice targets. They are only interested in profits
“Inside this camp, it is safe. But if you go out of this camp, there is no security.” says Afghan migrant Hayatullah Hayat Sirat.
The camp has been ringed off with high security ID entries.
Access codes, palm recognition biometrics, high fences and video cameras have been used to crack down on the Jungle’s violence, all controlled by a voluntary association, La Vie Active. The state has given it responsibility to manage, and it has chosen safety-first.
“Imagine it there were no fences, and there was no system to record people’s handprints. There wouldn’t be 12 people to a container, there’d be 40,” says La Vie Active’s Director
Safety first has a price. La Vie Active and the state are vague on the subject but admit much of camp’s 23 million euro budget is eaten up by security. This is a honeypot for Biro, the camp’s security company whose boss admits off-camera to employing 15 extra workers on the strength of the contract.
But it goes far further than that. The neighbourhood needs more patrolling, too, and car and lorry parks for British-bound goods need guards. The migrant crisis is certainly creating jobs in Calais, as the president of the nearest local shopkeepers’ association explains:
“Today any young person who wants to work, and really wants it, can go to the Jobcentre for security training, and then after that have a two in three chance of getting hired. It’s true that it’s currently the strongest sector in Calais,” says Laurent Roussel.
It is not only in the north of France that immigrant control is becoming a bankable business opportunity. The container camp’s biometric system was dreamed up by a tech firm in a Parisian suburb, and its boss sees boom times ahead for the security industry.
“I think migratory flows make for a developing market, and it will develop because biometrics is the only technology that can provide foolproof personal identification.
I don’t know if growth is linked to this surge in migration, or it is that, associated with the terrorist acts in France. There is growth in demand for security, and we are certainly feeling it,” says Zalix Biométrie’s Director, Alain Choukroun.
But isn’t it dangerous to sub-contract the migrant crisis? Claire Rodier is the author of a book, “Xénophobie Business”, and is furious at its abuses.
“Private companies do not prioritise the state’s best practice targets. They are only interested in profits, and that will automatically impact on the material conditions their charges face, conditions that will degrade, and that we have clearly seen degrade in several countries already,” she says.
Despite these risks the EU is handing over more and more of its citizens’ security to these companies. Out of the 13 billion euros invested in the last 15 years on the EU’s border and internal security, more than 20% has gone to private firms.
Critics point to the fact that many of these firms have a history of recruiting former public-sector employees, and several have links in government, ensuring a cosy relationship potentially open to abuse. Some say this is another step on the slippery slope towards US-style private incarceration, with all its attendant dangerous pitfalls for the justice system.
By Grégory Schepard & Marie Kostrz