Saturday night was an extremely empowering but also disheartening night here in Calais. A group of 250 migrants organized together to go and try to make it inside the Eurotunnel, not to climb aboard a train but to walk the length of the tunnel to England. They walked for hours to get close to the entrance of the tunnel and managed to breach a layer of perimeter fencing only to come up against the recently reinforced fence that is electrified and topped with barbed and concertina wire. The group then went to the fence and started chanting in unison. They demanded the right to move wherever they choose, to live in dignity in Calais, and to be free of police violence. They also spoke the names of those who have recently died attempting the crossing in the Eurotunnel and laid the blame for those deaths at the hands of the police and politician’s whose policy they are enacting.
It was a very large and strong group, however on the other side of the fence were many Gendarmes and also active French military who were menacing their machine guns. The group’s chanting continued for around an hour until the point they started to make their move to try and push through the fence. People had gone down a hill and were lining a steep verge consisting of loose gravel. Those at the bottom, closest to the fence, started to try and make their way over it when suddenly the Gendarmes released a huge amount of ‘tear gas’ onto the crowd. Exactly what type of gas they used though is not clear. Having experienced it and after speaking with people afterward, it was very powerful; much more so than typical CS gas and had strong effects even at the top of the hill far from where it was sprayed. It also created a shortness of breath and a panicked feeling which suggests that it may have been CR gas. After the attack there were also people lying unconscious on the ground. Any use of gas here and particularly CR (if it was indeed that) was completely unnecessary and irresponsible. The panic that the gas created caused a stampede up the hill, but as the footing was so loose people were falling over one another trying to get away from the poison. It was difficult to breathe, see, or move in that area and many people got hurt trying to flee from the gas into a more open space. However, the group, after recovering from the attack, got together and held a meeting about what to do next. They decided to occupy the road leading to the freight terminal at the Eurotunnel, their aim, to stop traffic until they were heard.
The group walked for around one hour from the fence by the entrance to the tunnel to the turn off from the highway to the Eurotunnel terminal. They arrived at about 3am and occupied the road blocking trucks from entering the Eurotunnel terminal. They repeated their chants and demands. When the two vans of CRS that showed up tried to move them on the whole group sat down in the road and started chanting louder. The police were forced to stop trying to move them on and stand by, observing a peaceful protest by 150 migrants as they demanded their rights, dignity, and free movement. The road was occupied for around three hours. The group kept chanting and shouting, being led by one woman repeating that the borders be opened to them to stop the deaths here in Calais. The police appeared to be tolerating the peaceful protest, until around 6am when more companies of CRS arrived. The Commissariat of Calais came and asked the group to disperse. They were complying and starting to leave the motorway when the CRS became impatient and started pushing and shoving people off. The group went as fast as possible but they had to go over many guardrails which took time. The police then started to throw people over the fence and sprayed CS gas. After this clearing of the road, people were dispersing peacefully when all of the sudden a whistle was blown. The CRS then started to run after the two groups that had gone off in different directions. They beat anyone who came within reach while chasing them off. They sprayed CS gas against the people who were running away, one officer even reached his arm around somebody who was running away in order to spray him directly in the face. This was completely unnecessary and a sadistic attack on people participating in a peaceful protest.
What we can take from the night, despite the severe repression, was the strength the group had not only in trying to reach the Eurotunnel but also organizing to blockade the highway. Important to note though, was the difference in policing tactics given the level of media attention that each event had. At the tunnel there were many film crews and so the police for the most part did not attack except for their one gassing of the entire group. However, during the eviction which took place in the morning after all the news crews had gone to sleep they were typically brutal. In case anyone could forget the violence continues here daily but also the resistance.
Open the Border! Stop the Violence!