The picture above shows the scene at about 0300 this morning, with some 60 people trying to stay warm under blankets on the steps of the closed BCMO, a municipal gymansium that serves as a cold weather shelter when the temperature drops below -5°C. Last night the mercury was at 4°C, with rain at times which the small canopy of the gym did little to keep off. Others found shelter in a sand lorry, the parks or just kept moving all night. With the wind coming in straight off the North Sea it was damn cold last night.
Within half an hour of the BCMO closing yesterday a council lorry turned up to take away the skip full of thrown out bedding – people carried what they can (their bin bags across their shoulders enough of a signal for police harrassment). We thought of storing the blankets for later but there is still scabies here and cross contamination a risk. Luckily No Borders activists from Germany arrived with a load of fresh blankets and sleeping bags for us to give out to people. Good timing. After dark we dropped off a van load of wood and there was an impromptu party round the fire outside the BCMO, with energetic Pashtun dancing… and dancing lessons.
A good way to keep warm and great to see people enjoying themselves. Thankfully there was very little police presence at the BCMO or around town that we could see until morning. 2 people were seen being arrested in a park in the centre of town in the morning, over by the Africa House. Outside the BCMO it really strikes you how cruel and inhumane the withdrawal of this most basic shelter is. No BCMO means no access to toilets, no water to drink, let alone the cold and relative safety from the police. And people were hungry. We gave out a box load of peanut packets, but it seemed a desperate offer. Hungry and exhausted people are also easier to catch. For migrants Calais is an open prison, a ghetto without walls.
“I am 20 years old”, an Afghani lad explains to me over lunchtime food distribution today “and this is the most boring place in all my 20 years. I have been in Calais for one week, and I am so bored. There is nothing for me to do, nowhere for me to go. It is all waiting and getting little.” He went on to explain how he had studied a BA in business in Afghanistan and wanted to study further, but “it is impossible to study in Afghanistan, everything is broken. I want to go to England so I can study.” If this friend gets to England he has little access to health care, let alone education. The MOD gets troops and helicopters out to his country in just a few hours, yet it takes him months to travel the return journey to make it within eyesight of the UK.
Yesterday, I heard from a friend on the other side of the world, having very similar conversations with Iranians and Afghanis trapped in Australia’s externalised border in Indonesia. How depressingly familiar these stories sound. Today is the fortnightly clothes distribution by Secours Catholique (Catholic Aid) from a church in the centre of town. This is where migrants get a chance to change thier clothes after two weeks on the streets.
Yesterday, we were told by the court that we can’t access the Hangar on Rue Cronstradt. After the news a police van was parked up against the entrance, and later a car watching from across the street, unless we took such militant action as to open up a shelter for freezing cold people, many kids, forced onto the streets by the faceless bureaucracy of fortress europe. Fuck their wars, their laws, their borders.