Since 2009 Calais Migrant Solidarity / Calais No Borders has tried to keep a constant presence in Calais to support people with and without papers facing daily harassment and abuse from the border regime.
This is a brief introduction to help prepare you if you are planning on coming to Calais in support.
Please contact us if you are planning to come – it is best to call, people can be slow on the emails. We can give you an update on the situation and try to arrange for someone to meet you when you arrive and let you know what it might be useful to bring.
There will be more information and the chance for briefings when you arrive. CMS have zines and leaflets in Calais, including bustcards, legal leaflets and introductory guides, and this Radical Migrant Solidarity zine, so grab them when you are there.
How long can I stay?
You can stay for as little as one weekend, one week or many months. It is difficult to achieve much in a short period of time so its good to have realistic expectations of what you can do with the amount of time you have. But it can be really great to have fresh energy even if it is for a few days. It is good to call in advance to let people know when and for how long you are coming.
Where can I stay?
Over the years a big part of what No Borders has been doing in Calais has been supporting people with sleeping places – finding squats, building shelters and distributing supplies; tents, blankets, warm clothes etc.
People are often staying in squats or in the jungles, but also the
situation can change.. it is not easy to have stable spaces!
Its good to call the comms phone to ask about current sleeping places, and its also good to prepare and self-organise where you can stay as well, the situation is turbulent and there is not always guaranteed places for people to stay.
Some suggestions :
SQUATTING : there are many many empty buildings in Calais. Cops can evict places quickly. Some places last, some don’t. Squatting has been a consistent necessity in Calais, and something useful to be involved with!
CAMPING : many people take to camping in Calais… in jungles in the sand dunes, under bridges or in parks. Often these are hidden places. It can be possible to stay with people in places that already exist and/or bring your own tent. If you’re staying with people its good to wait to be invited, some places are open for guests, some are not. And it is good to be street wise as you would with any strangers, get to know people first, stay with people you trust and in places you feel comfortable to stay in.
There are also some campsites. The one near the centre is now closed, and the rest are a bit far away, but still within cycling distance or by bus. If you search the net for ’Calais campsites’ you’ll see some come up.
COUCHSURFING / LOCALS: some people who’ve stayed in Calais for longer and wanted somewhere stable to stay have couchsurfed. This can also be a nice way to get to know and involve people who live in Calais. But obviously you might not be able to come and go at whatever time you like in the night.
Also some people have stayed with people who live locally that they’ve got to know whilst there. Obviously this takes time first getting to know people in Calais, but also this is a nice way to build links. Speaking French of course helps.
HOSTELS: there aren’t any cheap hostels in Calais. The cheapest is probably around 25 euro a night, changing with season etc. If you want to spend money on a place to sleep just search them on the net.
VANS: – have been really useful in Calais. Lots of people have come to Calais with a van, for sleeping in, but also for bringing donated materials… blankets, tents, bike stuff etc. and there’s lots that can be done with a van whilst its there… during evictions (saving blankets and belongings, moving people), collecting and distributing stuff (blankets, firewood, skipped food etc), runs to the clinic / hospital or from the detention/prison back into town etc and for whatever other actions you want to do with it…
What should I bring?
The situation regarding where we sleep and base ourselves changes regularly in Calais. Wherever this is you will need to bring a sleeping bag, sleeping mat and maybe even a tent.
Feel free to bring and leave relevant campaign materials and leaflets etc. Immigration information and advice from whichever country you are coming from is very useful as well.
Other useful items include: Recording equipment to document police activity (cameras or video recorders), whistles, horns, anything which creates music (instruments, CD player, speakers).
Having vehicles on the ground in Calais can be incredibly useful (see above). It means we can distribute food and firewood to where people sleep, as well as trips to the PASS clinic (the hospital) and skipping missions.
If you have a vehicle or extra space, the following is often very useful to bring :
Shoes, men’s clothes (especially socks and gloves in the winter), English sim cards (O2 , Lyca, T mobile), tents, sleeping bags, blankets, tools, footballs and other sport equipment, first aid stuff, bicycles and bike’s parts - bike locks, bike lights and inner tubes are very welcome, computers, books, dictionaries and other language resources.
If you are coming from or through Belgium, picking up a bunch of cheap tobacco would be much appreciated by people on the ground.
Before arriving in Calais please ring the comms phone 0033 645465986. We will arrange a time to meet up when you get to Calais or can provide you with directions, but please let us know in advance.
If you are coming from the UK there are many ways to get here; it is possible to hitchhike onto the ferries in Dover to Calais, with any of the ferry companies. The only ferry available for foot passengers is P&O ferries, which you can get until about 7pm. There are now a lot more coaches that you can get from London to either Dover or to Calais itself for not so much money, either with Eurolines or Megabus. It is better with these to get off at the Ferry Terminal rather than Cite Europe.
If you are coming from somewhere else in Europe, hitching, trains and buses are all pretty easy.
Daily life in Calais changes often and it is difficult to provide any idea of what is going to be like for certain. Often reading the blog can give you a bit of an insight into what is happening on the ground, but often not quite enough. The following is a bit of a rough guide to what you might find, or what you might be doing if you end up there.
We have maps of Calais, there should be a copy with all of the jungles, squats, skipping places and other important addresses marked on. If this doesn’t exist, please ask someone to point you in the direction of the places you need. More maps are available from the tourist info office for free (more recently only freshly arrived and showered people manage to be able to get these, so picking up maps could be a good job for your first couple of days!).
Eating can often be a difficult thing to predict in Calais. It largely depends on the space we are based in at the time. Skipping (dumpster diving) is always an option, there are a number of places that can be used regularly. For years we have also been able to get leftover bread and pastries from bakeries (this is an early morning mission).
If we can, we try to distribute the food. Some local Calaisans, for years, have also been collecting donations from bakeries and distributing them amongst squats and jungles regularly.
If there is someone around with a vehicle, there are places further afield to get bigger food donations. Eating at the food distribution in the evenings and lunchtimes at the weekend is also an option. It is very rarely vegan or vegetarian, and sometimes you will not get served, but it is often a good place to meet people and catch up on what is going on.
At certain times in Calais, work on the ground can involve presence at places heavily targeted, either where people stay in camps or squats or where people spend time during the day. Being somewhere before a raid happens, can sometimes mean that people can be alerted to the police presence and escape.
Filming, recording and simply being present is often enough to deter the police from the most aggressive acts of violence. However expect to be ‘controlled’, ie; have your passport/ID checked, and sometimes be forcefully removed from the situation. People have been injured in the past and had equipment such as cameras and walkie-talkies broken. There is also the potential of being taken for an I.D control at a police station if you are not carrying ID with you.
A legal zine has been compiled for more information on your rights in France. Please try and read this, or ask someone to talk you through it before you end up in these situations.
If you do not think you are comfortable being in such a situation it is acceptable and understandable to remove yourself.
If you are very uncomfortable with encounters with the police, there are plenty of other activities you can get involved with. You do need to be explicit that you do not wish to challenge the police so that others don’t rely on you for this kind of support!
These other tasks include: language exchanges, skill shares, bike repair sessions, music workshops; distributing food, water, firewood, clothes, tents, blankets and so on; administering first aid; charging mobile phones; supporting detainees in Coquelles detention centre; arrest/legal support; distributing legal information; meeting people and finding out what they most need; and just being a friendly presence.
It is great if people can come to Calais with a specific idea of a project that they want to undertake while they are here, whether it is cooking or bike workshops. Please feel free to get in touch with people on the ground to let them know about any plans you might have and work out how they might fit in with what is already going on.