A Calais No Borders Camp – Diary
CALAIS UPDATE – ACCORDING TO SOURCES, “THE JUNGLE” WILL BE CLEARED BY THE AUTHORITIES ON TUESDAY 21ST JULY
A personal perspective – hopefully others will add their voices to give a fuller account.
Most Pictures from: http://www.contre-faits.org/
I went to Calais with a head full of worries… Physical Threats from the Mayor of Calais, and the French Riot Cops (CRS), whether we’d make things worse for the migrants in Calais, whether the camp would have sufficient infrastructure…
My biggest fear, however, which I had buried in the midst of the normal logistical/organisational nightmare which surrounds “activist” camps was how I would cope emotionally being so near, such a horrible situation. This fear would prove to be well-founded. (For me, a news report, or a second hand conversation is enough to inspire me into action – it’s not that i don’t react emotionally to hearing people’s stories first hand – it’s just that it doesn’t make me more likely to act. For others, I know, it does shape, and to some extentinfluence how much work they will put into a particular campaign.)
We even wondered whether we’d even be allowed into France at all. This proved no problem for me personally, but others were stopped both sides of the channel…delayed enough so they had to get later ferries.
Day 1 (Monday)
Once through the French border, we decided to walk to the camp. About 20 minutes into our journey, we spotted (and were spotted) our first CRS van. They didn’t pull us over, but just a few moments later 2 unmarked cars abruptly pulled up. Non-uniformed Police got out, and did a cursory search of our belongings…and a check of our ID’s. Some work gloves were confiscated – which we could have used for “fighting”. We set off again, only to be stopped almost immediately as the ID check apparently hadn’t carried out properly.
Arriving at the camp, the most immediately noticeable factors were that there were “migrants” and “locals” as well as the expected “anarchists” and “activists” on site.
I put these labels in scare-quotes, as the label “migrant” Begin to pall during the camp – it seemed to become offensive in it non-specificity. Though maybe it was just a result of it’s over use, as the sans papiers presence and participation became the camps’ central feature. This wasn’t necessarily a sure thing before the camp – the fear stoked-up by the authorities and the media, lead some to believe that the sans papiers may be too scared to come to the camp – though I also thought that fear would probably not come into for those who had travelled all the way from, for instance, Afghanistan to Europe and then risked life and limb, boarding lorries to try to make it to the UK, and were now stuck in Calais having their make-shift homes destroyed, being tear gassed, beaten up… Thinking that we were an irrelevance, I thought, was more likely to be a factor.
It seemed I had avoided most of the hard work as the structures had already been erected. Many local kids had helped with the set-up. There was problems with the water supply, which meant slightly comically that people had to continually stand in the road stopping cars so they didn’t split the piping that lead from the nearest stand-pipe (This problem was later rectified with some improvisation and some foam).
At this point (on Monday evening) there was only 150 people on site, which with the heavy police presence, and the fact that I had already been stop and searched didn’t lend itself to a relaxed atmosphere. Getting beer to relieve this tension, involved been stopped and searched again!
Day 2 – Tues
Tuesday, was the official first day of the camp (can anarchists be official – discuss). For me it was very much about sorting the Workshop timetable out which I did with a lot of help. Meanwhile more people arrived, including many more migrants. One of the Jungles, was very close to the camp, and in fact we were en-route from the port to the Jungle. The motorway which took HGV’s unimpeded across the channel bordered one side of the camp.
The stories of some the epic journeys, told at 1st hand, or through an English Speaking Afghani, or Kurd moved us. I found that the stories of those who had made to the UK and since deported the most upsetting. One told me of the kindness he had received from ordinary people he had met – and the harsh treatment he received from the authorities – and the friends he missed “Peter and James – very good friends”. Also, for his love of the English Cooked breakfast. The Museli and Bread at the camp must have been a disappointment.
Below is Moustafa’s, who was in Calais, videoed experinces of being a migrant, or perhaps just being Moustafa in Patras, Greece.
Some of the sans papiers were under the impression that we were actually going tear down the border. A misapprehension that they apparently shared with their arch-enemies The Sun and The Daily Mail etc:
Whilst the newspapers misunderstanding of what we were doing was deliberate scaremongering, it seemed that the migrants was based on us not being clear enough what we were able to do. There will be a ” No Borders Camp On Monday” apparently turned into: “There will be No Borders on Monday”.
I suspect those who had been to the UK were probably not under this impression, having a more realistic notion of our capacity to take on the authorities.
Others thought we were on a UN type fact finding mission for the UK government, and once we had told them of the abuse and terrible conditions that they suffered in Calais, the government would immediately let them in. That may sound naive, but equally I think it is entirely reasonable.
While understandably disappointed that we weren’t able to take such immediate direct action to get them to the other side of the channel, a realisation that we hoped to work with them, in solidarity, rather than do things for them encourgaged them to attend meetings at the camp.
Whilst many were happy to see us, this was tinged with the fact that we would be gone in a week and they (probably) would still be at the port town: A long term political campaign strategy is not what you want to hear about if you’ve already been stuck in Calais for 6 months.
Day 3 – Weds
In the morning meeting – we recieve news that a blockade of a detention centre near Lille. 24 arrests. Workshops start. Many people go and visit people in “The Jungle”. I didn’t go. Why? I decided that it would upset me too much. Though, despite a shortage of amenities the migrants were not living in “squalor” as a BBC report suggested. A Kitchen, a shop and a Mosque had been constructed with salavaged materials. There had been a suggestion that we should give the migrants “help” in making better structures. The reality was that they made a far superior medical tent on “our” camp than we had orginally constructed. Hopefully others from our group who did visit the Jungle will give an account of it.
Day 5 – Friday
AM: One Man blockade of town by camper , demanding access to showers for the migrants.
The Motorway, which carries the frieght to calais is blockaded as it shows how we have a free flow of trades and good – but not of people. The blockade doesn;t last long beofre the CRS arrive – the first time they have had any excuse to deploy their considerable arsenal at us. The motorway stays closed for good an hour and half – thnaks to the Police. Occasional missile thrown at Police in return to their tear gas cannisters and concussion grenades. Worry for a while whether they will now come on en-masse.
Go to other end of camp, to view tailback of lorries.
Police leave, and traffic starts moving again. Recieve honks of support from many lorries.
A long, hot march. Police generally in control. It took us a good couple of hours for the “No Borders Bloc” to reach the starting point – and the rest of the march. Several people are held for identity verification, as the police insist on searching everyone, some people duck down an alley to avoid it. Eventually, the police just let us through without searching everyone.
The agreed route seemed to take us through spareley populated areas, well are from the town centre. At one point, the police stopped Eritrean’s attempting to join the march, by blocking them into their squat, which had been raided earlier in the week.
We tried to have fun, but it was quite disheartening to be honest. I learnt later that the Police had re-routed the march without consultation.
A day of meetings. The last meeting which had a large migrant participation was in 5 languages: Pashtun, Arabic, English, French and Farsi. The statement below was agreed on, as well some practical initiatives which will include providing meals at weekends to the sans papiers, regular visits and other things to be further discussed.
1. Entry to the UK for all unconditionally.
2. The cessation of attacks and destruction migrant camps and squats. Access to care and showers must be guaranteed.
3. Freedom of movement for all in and around Calais: the ability to move anywhere without restrictions, harassment or fear of being arrested.
4. The cessation of repeated arrests.
5. Freedom of expression for all, including migrants, the right to protest and complain to the authorities individually or collectively.
6. To stop deportations to any country, whether at war or not.
7. The end of the repression of associations and individuals who support the migrants including the provision of transportation.
8. Provide free and impartial legal advice in the UK, regarding the rights of asylum and immigration.
9.Arbitary detention without time limit cannot be exported to Calais. No new detention centre should be built .