There are various types of police operative in Calais. You will mainly be confronted with the CRS (French riot police), all the national units of which spend around a fortnight or so in Calais on a rotating basis solely to deal with migrants there. You will also be confronted with the Police Aux Frontieres (PAF), the border police; the BAC, the plainclothes police; as well as the Police Nationale.
Activists in Calais are most frequently arrested, manhandled or even assaulted during attempted interventions in the assaults or arrests of migrants. However, we successfully thwart raids, arrests and assaults on a regular basis without having to experience these negative repurcussions. These interventions are a necessary and invitable part of our work; you will find that even if you’re simply chatting to some people in the park, the chances are that it won’t take long before the police arrive to try and make arrests. If you come to Calais, we will brief you on how we tend to respond to such situations, but it may be a good idea to have a read of the rest of this page before you come over.
There are a couple of key things to be aware of when you are doing solidarity work in Calais:
- Always carry ID if you want to avoid arrest.
- In France, there is an offence called the ‘delit de outrage’, which translates to what is roughly equivalent to a summary offence of ‘insulting’ a public servant. This is something that we get threatened with quite a lot, and in the past has been used to threaten us when calling them ‘fascist’ (difficult not to do if they are actually being racist and authoritarian at the same time…); swearing at them; making any statement they consider to be false or making any gesture they can interpret as disrespectful.-m
- The police hate having their photos taken, and always claim it’s illegal to do so. This is however, inaccurate, and documenting the brutality is an essential element of our work. What you are not allowed to do is publish those images without their consent. Despite this, however, the police in Calais have been known to take cameras from people, and delete photos/footage or in some cases even trash the camera entirely. This is absolutely illegal. In fact, an activist was recently awarded 650 euros in compensation after filing a complaint against an officer who destroyed her camera, after it was used to document a mass raid on Africa House.
Relevant article of police law stating it is not illegal to photograph police, unless engaged in secret service activities, English translations coming soon:
If you would still like to find out more about your rights in France, read the Activists’ Guide to French Law
‘Liberty’ on crossing borders
If you are planning on coming to Calais from the UK and have a legal travel document, you generally shouldn’t have any problem getting through passport control. However, with the large numbers of activists passing to and fro, we have on occasion been asked questions about our journey. Below is a copy of a letter sent to an activist by the British NGO, Liberty, which may help should this happen to you.
I understand that on your return from France, you were stopped at the port by an immigration official and questioned extensively about your movements, your travelling companions. Your car was also searched. You ask whether the officer had the power to ask question you in this way, and if so whether you were obliged to reply, whether you were entitled to a solicitor, and whether there is any guidance on the exercise of powers by immigration officers.
I understand that you were intending to return to Calais recently. I hope that you were able to travel without incident. If there have been any relevant developments regarding the conduct of British officials it would be helpful if you let me know. However, I will provide this advice on the basis of the information provided.
Powers of Immigration Officers to question persons at ports
Under Schedule 2 of the Immigration Act 1971, Immigration Officers have powers to question persons who arrived in the UK by ship or aircraft for the purposes of determining whether he or she is a British citizen, and if not whether he or she may enter the UK without leave, and if not whether he or she has been given leave or should be given leave to enter. This power is accompanied by a duty on the part of the person whishing to enter to provide information and produce documents. I understand that your nationality is…(an EU one)… It is my understanding that ______ citizens can enter the UK without leave. This means that the questions that could be asked under these powers would be those which established that you were (EU nationality) and that you had your (EU nationality) passport with you. There may have been supplemental questions required if there was doubt as to the validity of the passport, but they should be directed to establishing that you were the person you said you were.
From the information provided it does not appear that the questions that you were asked were not directed at establishing that you were entitled to enter the UK without leave, and so it does not appear that the officer would be able to show that he had the powers to ask the questions that you were asked under the powers conferred by Schedule 2 of the 1971 Act.
Searches of vehicles and persons
Under Schedule 2 an immigration officer may search any vehicle taken off a ship in which it has been brought to the United Kingdom for the purpose of satisfying himself whether there are persons he may wish to examine to determine whether they are British citizens, or can enter without leave, or need leave to enter. These search powers can be contracted out to persons who are not immigration officers. So the UKBA officer would have the power to search your vehicle in order to see whether there were any persons hidden there.
There is a further power to search your person and your vehicle for documents such as passports and other ‘documents of a relevant description’. However, as I understand it, you produced your passport voluntarily, so there would not appear to be a need to use these search powers.
Under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, authorised officers may examine a person at a designated port or airport who is there entering or leaving the UK , for the purposes of determining whether that person may be a terrorist. These give authorised officers (which can include immigration officers) very sweeping powers to question, search, detain and require the production of documents persons entering or leaving the UK through a designated port. Persons questioned under Schedule 7 are required to provide information and documents, and failure to do so may be a criminal offence
However, as I understand the facts, you were in a Channel seaport on a ferry from Calais , so I presume that it was either Dover or Folkestone. Neither of these seaports are ‘designated ports’ under Schedule 7 of the TA 2000, so the immigration officer would not have the power to ask you questions and search your car under Schedule 7.
Offences under the Immigration Act 1971
Under Part III of the 1971 Act there are a number of offences connected with immigration. This includes offences of assisting unlawful immigration into the UK by a person who is a non EEA national, or assisting an asylum seeker to enter the UK . An immigration officer may arrest without warrant a person whom they reasonably suspect of committing an offence under Part III. Once the person is under arrest the immigration officer will have powers to search the person for anything that may be evidence relating to the offence for which he or she has been arrested.
There are no specific powers vested in immigration officers that would allow them to question persons entering the UK in connection with such offences. However, there is nothing necessarily unlawful in an immigration officer to ask questions with a view to establishing whether you may be engaged in any offence under the 1971 Act. You would be under no compulsion to answer the questions, and the immigration officer would not have the power to detain in order for you to answer the questions, or to arrest you for failure to answer the questions. This is similar to the situation that would apply if you walking in a public place and a police constable stopped you and asked you to account for your movements. There are no specific powers that allow the constable to ask such questions, and it would be open to you to refuse to answer and to go on your way. However, it is not unlawful for the constable to ask you the questions.
So in your case, and as I understand the situation, you would not be committing any offence if you refused to answer. However, if after questioning you the officer had grounds to suspect that you had committed an offence under Part II of the 1971 Act, he would have the power to arrest you without warrant.
Customs and Excise Powers
Under Section 78 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 and Part 1 Paragraph 3 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, UKBA officers may ask questions about goods brought into the UK, to assess whether any duty should be payable and since allowances differ depending on where such goods were purchased, ask the passenger the origin of their flight / journey.
As you can see from the above, UKBA officers have a wide range of powers in respect of persons seeking to enter the UK through a port or airport. The law in this area is far from clear, and I am not able to say with certainty which power, if any, the officer was purporting to exercise when you were questioned. If you are questioned in a similar way you may want to ask (politely) under what powers the officer is asking you the questions, what he or she is trying to ascertain, and whether you are required by law to answer the questions. The responses may give you a better idea of whether the officer is acting within his or her lawful powers.
If you refuse to answer questions which are not related to whether you are entitled to enter the UK without leave, or whether you have anything that may be contraband on your person or vehicle, then it is unlikely that you will be committing an offence, and it is unlikely that the immigration officer would have any powers to detain you so as to require you to answer. However, you should note that your refusal to answer questions relating to whether you may have committed any offences under Part III of the 1971 may give rise to suspicion that you have committed such offences. If the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that you have committed these offences, then he may have the power to arrest you without a warrant.
Your rights and code of practice
You ask whether you are entitled to a solicitor when answering questions, and whether there is a code of practice governing the questioning if individuals by immigration officers. The answer to that is generally no.
If you are arrested and detained on suspicion of an offence under Part III of the 1971 Act, as I have set out above, then you will normally (subject to limited exceptions) be entitled to the presence of a solicitor during questioning, and Code C of the codes of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which sets out the requirements for the detention, treatment and questioning of suspects in custody, will apply.
There is also a code of practice for examine officers exercising powers to detain, search and question under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, as set out above. A detained person under Schedule 7 also has the right to consult a solicitor
However, as I understand it, you were not arrested, and you were not detained under Schedule 7. In such a case, immigration officers in the exercise of their functions as set out above may question you without the presence of a solicitor, and as far as I am aware there is no specific code of practice that will apply.
Complaints about UKBA officers
If you are unhappy about the conduct of a UKBA officer or officers you may want to consider making a complaint. You can find details of how to complain on the UKBA website at http://www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/contact/makingacomplaint/. You should note that certain types of serious complains can be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In addition, if you make a complaint and you are not happy with the way your complaint is handled, you may want to refer the matter to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. .You will need to go through your MP for this, and you will need to have exhausted the internal complaints procedure of the UKBA.
I hope that this information is of some help, and I am sorry that I have not been able to be more definite. If you have been stopped and questioned again and you have further questions about the powers of immigration officers, do please get back to me and I will see whether there is any further information or advice that I can give.
I wish you all the best and thank you for contacting Liberty .
Advice and Information Officer
21 Tabard Street
London SE1 4LA
Activist trauma support
Supporting other people through very difficult experiences can obviously take its toll. Being confronted with the injustice and inhumanity of border controls; the tale after tale of war, torture, and traumatic journeys; and doing what we can with few resources to help people can be wearing. On top of that, those of us with papers must process the true extent of the privilege that those documents entail, in sharp contrast with those we are working with.
The following leaflet was produced by the Activist Trauma Network, and may help if you have been working in Calais: No Borders: Thoughts on Guilt, Shame and Trauma