Following the morning’s raid, which was largely unsuccessful (in terms of the number of arrestees – see below), due to the preparedness of the migrants and No Borders activists, the CRS returned twice more that same day, clearly upping the ante in their work to clear the warehouse inhabited by dozens of African migrants, predominantly Sudanese many of whom from Darfur. 19.50hrs: Two CRS vans entered the carpark in front of the squat as Sudanese migrants and No Borders activists were sat out in the sun chatting to one another about tactics.
Two activists who had been leaving managed to sound the alarm, and lots of people fled before the police got to the scene. They carried out an identity check, but those who remained were in possession of the necessary documents. A scuffle broke out leading to some minor injuries and the arrest of one activist for allegedly insulting the police, but no migrants were arrested. They were released shortly afterwards, after the police realised that they would be unable to obtain the activist’s mobile phone. 23.00-00.00hrs: The police returned to the squat, but loitered outside, shining bright torches into people’s faces if they put their heads above the wall.
More raids on Africa House. Video here
At about 8.30 this morning, CRS and Police Aux Frontières mounted another large raid at Africa House. As usual they brought most of their vans to the front gate and sent one round the back so that officers could climb over the wall and dismantle the barricade from inside.
No Borders activists were there beforehand and raised the alarm as soon as the five vans came into the area, then managed to stop the CRS from coming round the back of the compound for a valuable few minutes by blocking the entrance to the car park, which gave most of the Africans a chance to disappear. The CRS in their vans looked genuinely shocked that we were interfering so fundamentally in their operation, got out and immediately started to shake pepperspray cans in a cheap attempt at intimidation. When this failed they were quick to resort to physical violence against us, dragging activists around, throwing us on the ground and strangling us.
One activist was batoned and kicked as he lay on the ground, another was jabbed in the ribs with a baton and a third had a baton placed at his throat as his head was pushed forwards from behind in a potentially dangerous choke hold. The CRS commander snatched a radio from one of the activists and threw it against a wall, breaking the aerial and the screen. No Borders were forced to retreat towards Africa House but kept getting in front of the van, delaying its arrival, and passers-by stopped to watch the spectacle, throwing us furtive smiles and sly little nods of approval.
When the CRS finally managed to get inside Africa House the only people there were two No Borders and seven migrants who had decided to stay. The CRS were pretty violent to the migrants inside, grabbing one man by his neck, throwing him to the floor and kicking and stamping on him five or six times just for asking if he could grab his clothes before he was arrested. Five migrants were taken away in a van but three managed to escape later when the cops were distracted by someone pointing a camera at them. Yet again the CRS show their dumb side as well as their brutality.
This aggressive behaviour follows serious violence in a raid yesterday evening when No Borders activists weren’t on the scene. Police hit one guy on the side of the head hard enough to draw blood, even though he showed them asylum papers from Italy and legally had the right to be in France.
Although the general level of police violence has decreased since a year ago when beatings, pepperspray and teargas were all too common, the new CRS unit stationed in Calais, Compagnie II/12, seems particularly nasty.
It’s worth noting that Africa House is being targeted very heavily these days, and theories abound that this might be the precursor to a full-scale eviction or demolition. Every day or so we are seeing raids large enough to have been rare a few months ago, so if you are thinking of coming to Calais please bear this in mind. Another indicator is that the PAF are now participating in raids alongside the CRS, which happened in August and September in the run-up to the clearance of the old Pashtun Jungle. A further little nugget of unconfirmed information is that apparently one of the flats overlooking the back of Africa House is sometimes used by police scouts and photographers – we certainly saw someone on one of the balconies who appeared to be in CRS uniform, although he was too far away to tell for sure.
Today we are planning to start a programme of basic English-teaching at Africa House, at the request of some of the guys there. More information to follow. On one final note, we have been receiving reports from migrants that the police in charge of the detention centre are particularly aggressive during interrogation if the migrant has been caught with No Borders stickers or patches, or if they admit that they consider themselves part of the No Borders movement during the interview. This appears to be a deliberate attempt to undo a lot of the solidarity and trust that we have built up over the last few months, which is sad. However, our ties with the refugees remain strong, and our reputation is golden across the sans-papiers scene in Calais. The CRS can break bones and barricades but not the strong friendships which endure long after people reach the UK.