This text was contributed to Freedom News by a long-standing No Borders activist. She has been working in Calais for over 8 years. She first got involved with the No Borders camp in Calais in 2009.
Thursday 25th January was a dark day for Calais. A 16 years old Eritrean teenager was very seriously injured: he was shot in the face with a gas grenade, he lost an eye and his nose has gone inside his skull. He is at risk of losing the other eye and has multiple skull fractures. The police arrested his two friends who had gone to the police station to testify, but later they were released.
The boy was shot during the attack with gas and rubber bullets against refugees who were trying to recuperate their possessions before the CRS destroys their tents set up near the food distribution place in rue Verrotieres. The police destroyed everything under the eyes of refugees and volunteers and lots of gas and rubber bullets were fired to disperse the crowd. The gas attack involved all the food distribution area. Four migrant people were taken to the hospital. The attack can be seen in the video dffused by the Auberge des Migrants.
It is unbelievable that the president of France had praised the behaviour of police in Calais and threatened to prosecute anyone who accuse the police of being violent ‘without a proof’. I think Mr Macron should instead condemn and explain the extreme violence from the police who shot the Eritrean 16 years old boy in the face and critically injured him.
The CRS are shooting gas canisters in people’s faces. This barbarism must stop. We need a wide solidarity action, we need everybody to defend the people who are receiving such terrible injustice. Shame on Macron, shame on the prefect of Calais, and shame on the police.
People are sleeping out in cold now. When the temperature drops below freezing, the authorities would open up some shelters. Right now, it is very cold and wet but it is not freezing, hence everybody sleeps outdoors. There isn’t even enough blankets for everyone, as we are just after a big destruction action by the police. No wonder everyone is angry, many turn to drinking out of desperation. Recently, a man climbed on one of the pylons and threatened to jump. He has mental health problems. These people are very traumatized.
Hundreds of people- dozens of women and many minors- have arrived after Macron’s visit. Some came because they thought the UK was taking in minors from Calais. They were left disappointed. Above all, most kids don’t want to stay in France, they want to go to the UK and they come to Calais to try their luck with it. Many sleep in the Jungle.
The ways of trying to get to the UK have become even more dangerous as the border becomes more difficult to cross. At the end of 2016, a 15 years old from Afghanistan died after he was hit by a vehicle while attempting to climb on to lorry to the UK. Abdullah, another 15 year old from Afghani, was killed towards the end of 2017 after being hit by a car on the A16 highway in Calais. Jabar, a father of two, died shortly after him, and another man who was found dead this year could not be identified. Others were seriously injured, one, near Dunkirk, lost both legs.
People are exasperated and pushed over the edge of survival. But many manage to cross the border, and it keeps others hopes alive.
As usual, the press are presenting the migrants as ‘the problem’ and speaking of ‘rising tensions between migrants and police’. In fact, the police have been causing all the tension, and all the damage. A few people throwing stones at cops in riot gear in retaliation for the shower of gas certainly do not match the flash balls, gas grenades, rubber coated bullets, truncheons, CS spray and real guns. It is the refugees who get badly hurt- the police sometimes receive minor injuries. Volunteers , activists and migrants have been documenting and denouncing routine use of gas and beatings by police, also against people who are just walking, or sleeping, including children and women. A very young unaccompanied boy reports that the police opened his tent when he was sleeping and sprayed CS gas inside.There is no proportion.
Summit Macron – Theresa May earlier this month was set up in order to re-negotiatie the Sandhurst of Le Touquet accords by virtue of which UK border controls moved to French soil. The UK promised 50 million euros (£ 44.5 million) to secure the Calais border in 2018, and also more money for the French police, for the dogs, scanners, CO2 detectors, new walls, electronic surveillance, in short: to close and militarize the border further. France promised to speed up asylum applications and deportations.
Refusals of entry and deportations from France have already increased in 2017, and will increase further. In December, the French government have announced their new immigration policies. The legal NGO Cimade denounced hardening of the policies and severe restrictions of asylum rights.
The only good news is that the Dubs scheme is to be reopened, allowing unaccompanied minors with no family to go legally to the UK. The authorities also promised to speed up family reunions. However, the details have not been defined and there is no further information so far.
Both France and the UK have been delaying procedures and bringing to a halt the promised transfers. After the destruction of the Jungle in 2016, the UK declared it will take in 3000 kids, but ended up taking only 750 and later closed the procedures, leaving the remaining minors stranded. Last Monday, 118 unaccompanied minors were taken by coach from Calais to an improvised accommodation centre in Merlimont. The day after more than half of these kids were already leaving on foot towards Calais.
During his visit in Calais, Macron said no new camps will be allowed to form, despite of the fact that there are well over 1000 migrant people sleeping out in Calais alone. The exact number is unknown. They do not even have enough access to water, and people have been spotted drinking from puddles.
Most people in Calais jungles are from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and other African countries. There are also some Syrians, Egyptians, Kurds, Libyans and Iraqi Arabs. Thousands more people have spread in the region and all around the coast. Near Dunkirk, people camp in the woods, most are Iraqi Kurds including families with young children: their tents are regularly destroyed by the police. In Ouisterham near Caen a jungle inhabited by 200 Sudanese have been recently destroyed and local people have mobilized to shelter these people in their homes. The locals also organized two 1000 strong demonstrations in support of refugees. There are people sleeping out in Le Havre in Normandy, and as far as Bilbao in the Basque Country.
When Macron visited Calais, he did not extend his visit to the jungle. Instead, he met the local authorities. First, he met with the racist mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart. 50 local people waited to meet the president in front of the Town Hall for selfies and autographs, 50 is not a great crowd and that shows how popular Macron is here.
Demonstrations are forbidden in Calais under the state of emergency laws. Despite of that, some people tried to express their dissent against Macron’s anti- immigration policies, and against his policies regarding workers rights. They were arrested or removed. After the mayor and Macron met with the police, he praised the police’s actions, clearing them of any wrongdoing: a clear green light for more police violence.
Local associations are taking the police to court over repeated destruction of people’s shelters and sleeping bags and they have marked those items as their ‘property’. Human Rights Watch have published a series of reports on Calais human rights violations.
Macron then had a meeting with the associations who help the migrants. Three major groups: Auberge des Migrants, Utopia 56 and Doctors of the World, refused to meet with him as they do not want to be seen as accomplishes to more repressive measures. The Auberge and Doctors of the World did however collaborate with, and even approve of, the destruction of the Jungle in 2016. What is happening now is the result of that eviction and was totally predictable. So their current stance on government policies is too little, too late, and probably arrives because the associations themselves are under attack.
We really lack a platform which can speak up and defend migrants rights in Calais that is migrant-led. Nobody but the people involved have a right to speak about their own situation, and nobody knows it better than them.
People living in the jungle are organizing autonomously. On the occasion of Macron’s visit they hung banners in the jungle reading OPEN THE BORDER, ABOLISH DUBLIN and STOP POLICE VIOLENCE . A group of people who sleep in the jungle wrote a collective statement that was endorsed by many. They have also set up a page called Calais Voice of Refugees.
However Macron did not go to the Jungle, for the authorities, refugees and other migrants without the right papers are not subjects, they are objects of increasingly repressive policies. It is institutional racism of the worst kind. Things are very bleak indeed, and will become even bleaker. Nevertheless people are not put off, they keep arriving, they brave the terrible living conditions and the constant violence and threats from the police; and they keep going to the UK.
They keep strong, incredibly cheerful and positive and the community spirit that unites all is still there and is amazing. Sadly, there are also frequent fights between different ethnic groups over access to the motorway, and over territory and scarce resources. Many people become ill. Doctors of the World, who now have a mobile clinic in Calais report they have never seen such a high percent of sick people, and blame the appalling living conditions. There is a lot of alcohol and drug abuse, also among minors. Especially psychiatric drugs that are sold on the black market and mix very badly with alcohol are used. Drunken fights are also a problem.
It is very dangerous for women and children. They are exposed more than ever to sexual violence, trafficking and exploitation. There are no shelters for families with young children and for unaccompanied minors. Only when it is sub zero temperatures they open some shelters: one for men one for women and minors. The jungle is no place for a child: a 14 years boy has lost half a finger to a knife injury sustained during a fight. The doctors had to amputate it, and the rest of his hand is badly damaged.
There are two shelters for minors but they are in St Omer not in Calais. Due to totally insufficient facilities nobody wants to stay there anyway, the food is bad and not halal and there is nothing to do. The youngest kid in the jungle is just 10, he is with his brother. The youngest unaccompanied minor is 13. He was telling me he has seen a man dying when a group of people went on the motorway to stop the traffic, and one lorry did not stop. All he wants is to go to school and play football and cricket. Why does he have to risk his life for that?
Most people who are in the jungles do not go to the centre of Calais any more because every time they do so, they risk being arrested and deported, under the Dublin 3 agreements, to the first ‘safe country’ they have reached during their journey: even if they have been refused there. Some get deported to their home countries, including countries at war such as Afghanistan and Sudan. The local detention centre is full and people are sent to other centres. The deportation machine is working faster and faster. People are hiding their nationality in order to avoid deportation.
One of Macron’s plans is to double the time people can be detained for. He wants to speed up asylum application in France, which will result in a rise of refusals of asylum applications, and speed up deportations. the French president does not propose any other solutions, and detention and deportations are not real solutions: people keep arriving because they need to save their lives, or they come back from’ first safe countries’ where they had been deported to because they cannot make a life there. The numbers of people sleeping rough or in sub-standard accommodation keep going up. It is a hellish crazy nightmare.
In Paris things are particularly nasty, there are at least 1500 refugees sleeping rough with the police chasing them with gas and truncheons: like in Calais, the only difference is that volunteer groups such as Paris Ground Support usually manage to salvage people’s tents, bedding and belongings and wash them. In Calais police slash tents with knives and spray bedding with CS gas, after that it is impossible to wash them and they can only be dumped. Volunteers in Calais are struggling to cope: there are never enough materials and never enough volunteers. If you can help, then please by all means do.
In Dunkirk it is even worse for people and families sleeping in the woods. They experience continuos destructions by police and even less support as there are fewer associations and volunteers on the ground. Mobile Refugee Support are doing a great job, and have a good emergency response.
Refugee Community Kitchen prepares 2000 to 2700 meals per day and distributes them in Calais twice daily (in Dunkirk once a day). They also deliver food to a couple of small camps. If you do the maths, it is 1000 people, give or take, eating at the distributions in Calais, some eat twice but some do not go to the food distributions. There must be well over 1000 people present in Calais then. Macron has announced the State will take over food distributions, and bizarrely the RCK welcomed the announcement. I see it as an attempt to get rid of the associations, at least the ones who sometimes oppose the government, and to get rid of independent witnesses. Who controls the food controls the population, and armed police already have been seen at food distributions.
After the UK-France summit and the visit of Macron to Calais, immigration policies reach a new low in inhumanity and irrationality. We must oppose them and defend our brothers and sisters.