(See this article on corporatewatch.org)
Calais’ mayor has being trying to rebrand the town as a “city of flowers”. But as locals told Corporate Watch last month, “city of barbed wire” would be more apt. From the port to the tunnel at Coquelles, the town’s periphery is now a nightmarish landscape of razorwire fences, cameras and motion detectors, earthworks, trenches and flooded fields, all designed to stop the “wretched of the earth” taking the cross-channel journey that European citizens take for granted.
All this means money for the construction and security companies who supply the border infrastructure. Back in 2016 the Calais Research Project started to list and profile firms involved in the border business. Here is a quick update on some new landmarks added since then.
France-Britain joint police control centre at Coquelles
There are two main border-crossings in Calais: the port, next to the old town itself; and the channel tunnel, a few kilometres out of town at Coquelles. Next to the tunnel entrance is a giant shopping centre called Cite Europe, popular with locals as well as British travellers stocking up on booze.
Right next to that is a complex housing the French police’s official anti-migrant infrastructure: the main base for the PAF border police and CRS riot police; a court where migrants’ cases are heard; and the migrant detention centre – “Centre de Retention” in French.
In November 2018 a new building was added to this. In French, it’s called the CCIC – standing for “Centre conjoint d’information et de coordination franco-britannique”, or joint French-British information and coordination centre.
According to an Agence France Presse report, the centre is funded by the British government, “notably equipped with drones”, and acts as a joint command post for French and British police forces. These include the French PAF, Customs (Douanes) and Gendarmes, and on the British side the UK Border Force, Kent police, as well as the National Crime Agency (NCA).
On the day we visited we didn’t see any drones flying off the roof. The parking lot was full of unmarked cars rather than marked police vehicles, including several with British number plates. There was still a plaque up outside the centre (see photo) naming the contractors involved in building and equipping it. It gave the cost for the work as Eu 1.844 million.
The companies named include: Villesange Masson (local architects); Groupe Qualiconsult (building project consultants); Verdi; Cougnaud construction (specialise in modular building construction); Ramery Batiment; Eiffage energie (massive French engineering corporation); Satelec (electricians); Resipelec (electricians); Pylones du Littoral; Majencia (office furniture); Covage DGL Networks (data cabling); Econocom.
Detention centre extension
Directly across the road from the CCIC is Coquelles detention centre. Currently this has space to lock up 79 men, but the French state wants to expand that. At the end of March 2019 it announced plans for a 480 square metre extension. The architects overseeing the work are from a local firm called COAST, working with BD engineering.
Customs posts with moats
Just outside Coquelles, we saw major new works on both sides of the main highway leading to the tunnel. These are big bunkers, each with a number of bays for lorry searches. In fact these are not primarily anti-migrant measures, but the new lorry park and custom posts being built hurriedly by Eurotunnel in case of new goods checks post-Brexit.
However, they are also adding to the extreme security measures reshaping the environment around Calais. The bunkers are protected with moats as well as new fencing – canals and artificial lakes dug and filled with water, as another measure against unwanted humans. This follows the pattern of deforesting and flooding that Eurotunnel started in 2016.
Privatised border checks at Polley lorry park
One little industry that’s sprung up out of the “refugee crisis” is Secure Lorry Parking. The UK government fines truck haulage firms if people are found travelling in their vehicles without the right documents. This effectively means outsourcing border checks to truckers, who are anxious not to be caught with stowaways. In turn, the truck firms will pay out for secure places to park up before they make the crossing.
In Dunkerque, DK Secure Truck Park has 250 spaces surrounded with fences and monitored by “40 high-definition CCTV cameras”. In Calais, the biggest player is Polley Secured Lorry Park, run by local businessman Francois Polley. Its 10 hectare site boasts 24/7 guarding and 2.4 metre fences.
Recently we heard of a new development in this business. Passenger coaches operated by Flixbus are also using Polley’s security services. Coaches on the way to the UK pull into Polley park before they head for the tunnel. Here they are given an initial search by one of the company’s private security guards, checking for stowaways in the baggage area. This is in addition to two further checks by French and then UK authorities once they get to the tunnel.
Flixbus and Polley give little public information on this extra control. There are vague references to it on Flixbus’ website, where it is described as a “pre-UK check”.
The final stop on our border infrastructure tour was right in the heart of Calais town itself. We had heard that the old practice of constantly stopping and harassing people who look like migrants in the town centre has largely been phased out. So we were wondering why we kept seeing CRS riot vans buzzing around the main streets between the town hall and the theatre.
Then we realised their main activity was dropping off and picking up burly white men in casual attire outside the Brit Hotel. Locals explained that this hotel building had been empty for many years, before being reopened under its new name in 2016. Its initial clientele seem to be almost entirely riot police and gendarmerie – although if you fancy being bunked next to a hunky CRS musclehead, you too can book a room for around Eu 50 a night. Brit Hotels is a France-wide hotel franchise chain.