In France, two small victories have been won against the French government’s attempt to criminalise solidarity with migrants. The Administrative Tribunal court has overturned two French police orders banning European citizens from France because of their support for migrants in Calais. The police ban was ruled illegal. This court win could affect dozens more people placed on ban lists and surveillance databases by the French police.
The Calais ban list
In March 2017, D was at St Pancras Station in London to take the Eurostar train to Calais. He was travelling to participate in a public meeting about the role of private corporations in the multi-million euro business of securing the France/UK border. Instead, he was stopped at passport control and led to a small room by the French border police. After a while conferring on the phone, they printed out an official document called a “Refus d’Entree” which informed him he was banned from entering France.
This kind of treatment is all too common for non-European travellers. But D holds a European passport. The document stated that he was on a French police database of people classified as a “danger” to “public order or national security”. For good measure, the police told him he would “have problems” travelling to other countries too, as his name was now flagged on the Schengen Information System (SIS) database used by border police across Europe.
D’s case was not an isolated incident. Also in March 2017 X was traveling to Belgium on a Bus and was stopped by the French border police in the port at Dover, and after about 1 hour waiting, X was told they would not be allowed to enter France and given a piece of paper explaining simply that they were a ‘danger to public order or national security’. This was not the first time X had problems entering France in October 2016 X was stopped when entering Calais and saw police referring to a three page list with names and photographs. They showed X a picture of themself taken in 2010 (date known from the colour of hair!) which was part of the 3 page document. X was told that should they be arrested in Calais they would be banned from France. They were not arrested, however the next time they tried to enter France was when they were refused entry. Tracing the timing of this and other incidents, it seems likely the police drew up a “banned list” just before the eviction of the Jungle in October 2016.
We know several others received these bans. D and X, fortunate enough to be able to do it within the two month timeframe, decided to challenge the ban in the French courts. They were supported in this by the Calais Migrant Solidarity network, and by the French associations Anafé, which works with foreigners blocked from entering France, and the GISTI. We think this is one of the first times such a “refus d’entree” ban has been challenged in France. Most people given “refus d’entree” papers are non-European migrants who are deported far from France and have little chance to contest these police orders.
The Fiche S
The French Interior Ministry defended the police ban in court by arguing that D and X were indeed a “danger” to France. But what exactly did this danger amount to? The state quoted from its file on D and X, – the infamous “fiche S” held by French political police on supposed troublemakers.i
This “fiche S” sheet had two parts. First, D and X are identified as a “member of the anarcho-autonomous ultra left movement ‘No Borders’, susceptible of carrying out violent actions in the perspective of the dismantling of the migrant camp in Calais”.ii The state’s evidence didn’t actually name any such violent actions. Instead, it quoted a number of French news articles about the supposed “violence” of “No Borders”.
In fact these media claims were based entirely on quotes from police sources, often unnamed. So, in a perfect circle, the police fed unsubstantiated claims to the press, then used the same press quotes in their own “evidence”. Neither D, X, nor anyone else, had ever been prosecuted for the supposed “violence” mentioned in these reports, let alone actually been found guilty.
The second part of the “fiche S” file gives some more specific examples of D’s activities. For example, being arrested in 2010 in an “illegal occupation” – i.e., simply being present in the Africa House squat where around 100 people mainly from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia were living. And being spotted by police on a demonstration of migrants in Calais in 2014. X’s file mentioned that ‘from 5 to 7 February 2010, no border activists, including X, illegally occupied a hangar on the rue Kronstadt in Calais and hosted migrants, with the forces of the order having to evict the premises;’ and that ‘ in 2010, no border activists, including X, deployed a banner “solidarity with the undocumented” on the façade of the belfry of the Calais town hall; As the court agreed, these were all either not very serious at all, inaccurate, or years old. Nothing suggested an imminent threat to the French nation.
There were also some items from UK police files. Again, these just say that D and X went to some demonstrations. And that X was arrested on one demonstration but never prosecuted. What they also show is how the UK and French police are sharing vague “intelligence”, police rumours and suspicions, about people they identify as politically active. This “intelligence” is then used as a basis to block people’s movement across borders, including adding them to international watchlists such as the Schengen Information System.
“No Borders”: the phantom menace
In short, the only real charge against D and X was that they were a member of a “violent” “anarcho-autonomous” organisation called “No Borders”. But what is this alleged organisation?
Certainly, some people standing in solidarity with Calais migrants consider themselves anarchists. And some, anarchist or “ultra-leftist” or not, identify with the idea of “No Borders”. People might understand those two words in many ways – a slogan, a demand, a challenge, a dream. What they certainly don’t mean is a membership organisation masterminding migrant uprising in Calais.
This is a phantom created by French police and the journalists they feed stories over a few drinks. It simply doesn’t exist. Journalists on both sides of the channel have run countless stories about “No Borders” inciting riots, burning down the jungle, running smuggling rings, etc. None of these claims have ever been backed up by any evidence or investigation, or ever substantiated in any court.
Apart from anything else, migrants in Calais are generally pretty resourceful people. Many have lived through wars and dictatorships, started revolutions, crossed seas and deserts. They don’t need help to feel angry, or to organise themselves to cross borders and take action.
Fighting for solidarity
For us, this challenge wasn’t just about any individual’s situation. It was about challenging a weapon widely used by the police to block people’s free movement with impunity. And it was one small part of resisting governments’ efforts to break movements of solidarity between citizens and migrants.
In recent years, thousands of Europeans have responded to refugee crossings with support and solidarity – from the beaches of Greece, through the mountain passes of the Alps, to the “jungles” of Calais. This bothers the politicians and media who are busy whipping up panics about “migrant invasions”. Their aim is to sow fear and division, trying to stop people uniting against the global capitalist elites who are our common enemies. Practical solidarity, where people with and without papers stand side by side, is a real threat to this “divide and rule” project.
And so states react by demonising and criminalising solidarity. In Lesbos or Lampedusa, volunteers are imprisoned or harassed for saving a few of the thousands who drown at sea. In Calais, the police arbitrarily arrest and ban anyone they label “No Borders”. They hope to scare citizens away and so keep migrants isolated. This gives the state and media a free hand to smear and attack their scapegoats.
This court victory is one small part of fighting back against that war on solidarity. Even more important is that we don’t let ourselves be scared off, and keep fighting our real enemies in the halls of commerce and the palaces of power. French or British, European or African, we have the same enemies, don’t let them divide us.
iThere were other references in the court documents suggesting the “fiche S” was backed up by more detailed police files. A separate legal case was launched requesting access to these. This was refused, as was a later appeal heard in a closed-doors session.
ii(«membre de la mouvance anarcho-autonome d’ultra gauche («no border») susceptible de se livrer à des actions violentes dans les perspectives du démantèlement du camp de migrants de Calais».)