“Refugees Welcome” demo: why numbers aren’t everything

Today over 2000 refugees and supporters marched to the port from the migrant camp known as the Jungle. The demonstration, called by the humanitarian organisation CalAID, was the largest in recent times and it was great to see so many people marching on the port.

At least 100 women and children held a separate march with banners reading “We have come here to save our lives” and “Where are the refugee rights? Where are the women’s rights? Where are the children’s rights?” Despite the lack of media coverage, as the first known womens-only action in Calais, this was a significant event.

However, we have a number of serious criticisms of today’s official event:

  • There was no real effort made by the organisers to consult the migants living in Calais in advance.
  • Some of those involved in recent self-organised migrant protests in Calais felt frustrated by the top-down organisational style of today’s event. As a result, it was boycotted by a number of the Syrian and other residents in Calais.
  • Many migrants wanted to go to the city centre where they would be more visible and closer to government representatives like the Town Hall, instead of walking to a roundabout. As a result, the demo was able to be ignored by the media.
  • On arriving at the port, marchers were led around the roundabout and a series of speakers delivered hyperbolic speeches from a podium in a standard SWP protest-formula.
  • A mock fence was brought in front of the new, real fence around the port to divert peoples anger. People were encouraged to write slogans on this “fence” before it was taken away.
  • Religious figures were brought onto the platform to tell migrants they had come to “give them hope”.
  • Weyman Bennett, of the SWP & associated front groups, the UAF and Stand up to Racism, also delivered a speech. The SWP are notorious for co-opting and controlling self-organised and autonomous movements, and we fear that as migrant struggles across Europe grow, groups in this tradition will attempt to try and recuperate the situation.

We make these criticisms because we think it’s important to support migrant struggles, and guard against self-appointed leaders and “white saviours” coopting autonomous movements and leading them down a dead end.