Brief write-up of some conversations with migrants in Calais

This last week in Calais, with some migrants who spoke good English, we were able to have some decent conversations about the No Borders camp, and in particular why people want to come to England. A lot of the responses were along the lines of people had learnt English, to come to England, not French, and they wanted to see that through. Also people said there are more migrant communities in England, whereas in France people felt it was a more racist (they hadn’t experienced England yet) and assimilationist country. ie in France you had to become French, in England you could be what you wanted. And there is more opportunity to moonshine in UK. (I guess there are the colonial connections too – you don’t get many migrants from Algeria or French-speaking West Africa wanting to settle in the UK)

When asked about the camp, chatting with a group of Iranians and Kurds still living at the No Borders camp site, they said they were happy with the camp, they appreciated the showers, the food and the police relatively left them alone during the camp, though it was difficult to get into the camp past the police. It was quieter in the ‘jungles’, but after the camp the police have been worse (one of our concerns), “you fucking asylum seekers” was quoted as a common bit of French community policing. More racism was mentioned.

People liked lots of activists coming, but then when everyone goes, and it’s still hard (or impossible) to get to England, they wonder where people are who can help them. Also there have been more plain clothes police patrolling the lorry park up on the other side of the motorway from the camp. They liked the idea of less activists being around more often.

Talking to an Afghan we met with several times around Calais, when asked how we could work together more, WITH migrants not FOR them his two main suggestions where to get action medics over here (he was interested in the whole action medic set up we have) as he could put them in touch with migrants with medic skills and they could work together to provide medic aid – the PASS clinic that opeartes 1-6pm weekdays for migrants out of a portakabin is near the centre of town and it is common for police to pick people up on the way there, especially as lot of people if they are injured can’t run away, and drop them off 3km out of town. Nice eh? Common injuries are from police attacks – physical beatings and asthma related stuff from tear gas, and injuries from attempting to get onto lorries, either from the lorries themselves and their contents or being stabbed by people smugglers if you have a go without having paid your fee.

The other suggestion was to get in touch with Afghans (in the case of his community) with status in UK who could come to Calais and offer solidarity. This would deal with language issues and enable people who have been through the whole process of getting to UK and even applying for asylum to explain what it all involves, and the rpos and cons. Problem here though is that if you have Refugee status in UK you still need a visa to travel (to France as well I think), and it’s obviously not a safe place for everyone.


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