We have a piece of writing about who we are that has already been translated into Pasto and Dari. We still need some other languages, especially Arabic, Persian and Kurdish. B and I headed down to the “Palestinian Jungle” to say hi and hopefully make some contacts there.
As with all the Jungles I have visited, the people sitting around makeshift structures in the port were friendly and pleased to see us. We brought them candles and some oranges, which they shared with us.
We chatted to a weathered-looking man from Sudan who told us he has been living in Calais for the past eight years, in the structure nearest to where we were sitting. B and I were both shocked. Eight years is by far the longest any of us has heard of someone living in the Jungle. I asked if he was trying to get to England but he shook his head slowly, pointed to his hair, his knees, his tattered clothes. “I am fifty-seven, nearly fifty-eight. I stay here in Calais.”
We spoke with some of the other men, mostly from Sudan, one from Eritrea. Most spoke reasonably good English. There were no Palestinians in sight and I have since discovered it has been mis-named, although some people report having met at least one Palestinian there previously. This is the most international of the Jungles with a mixture of different nationalities living together.
After three games of dominoes in which the winner was unclear (I never did understand the rules of that game), the CRS police suddenly showed up. Some of the men got up. Some shouted, some ran away and were chased by police with truncheons. One man hid behind the sofa we were sitting on. The remaining men stayed where they were sitting and laughed at the others being chased by the cops. This was obviously such a familiar scene that it had become a source of some amusement. To us it came as something of a shock. B went over to the police to confront them. I was on my way to back him up when I saw them check his ID Shit – I still don’t have my passport! I backed off and went back to the guys still sitting around the dominoes table. Some of the others were standing near to the waters edge, pretending they were about to jump whenever the cops came near. It seemed to work really well. The police obviously weren’t too keen in jumping in after them. The men by the dominoes table thought it was a hoot! Eventually I managed to figure out that I had our emergency phone number in my pocket and after a couple of botched attempts I succeeded in remembering the French code.
Within a few minutes around ten activists were on the scene on bikes, some with cameras – filming the cops filming us. The CRS were clearly not very pleased to see us. They were checking IDs and photographing people, sometimes a few cm’s away from people’s faces, an intimidation tactic familiar to me from experiences in the UK.
To my shame I stayed well back, fearful of arrest without any ID. The migrants have to put up with this everyday – sometimes more than once a day. Yes, I am a coward. But I am getting better. At least I am here in Calais.
The police left without arresting anyone, but unfortunately returned later when most of us had gone and took three people.
1st August 2009
A UK journalist, NUJ member, was taking photos at the Ethiopian squat. When police arrived to try and arrest migrants there he was told by CRS, French riot police, that he could not take any photos. His camera was taken off him and the photos taken at the time deleted.
6th August 2009
The same UK journalist was at the Ethiopian squat when CRS again turned up. As they did he discreetly handed his camera to one of the Ethiopians who took it inside the squat. Police then told him that it was illegal under French law to photograph the police and got aggressive with him. They asked for his camera. At this point he showed his NUJ ID and UK ID, saying that “in a democracy I don’t think police should have the authority to exercise editorial control over images people could see”. He called his NUJ union representative and has since enagaged NUJ legal advisors on the issue. He was not prepared to say where his equipment was and was detained for 15 minutes while police made calls and then changed their minds and released him.
Relevant article of police law stating it is not illegal to photograph police, unless engaged in secret service activities, English translations coming soon: