Saturday night was an extremely empowering but also disheartening night here in Calais. A group of 250 migrants organized together to go and try to make it inside the Eurotunnel, not to climb aboard a train but to walk the length of the tunnel to England. They walked for hours to get close to the entrance of the tunnel and managed to breach a layer of perimeter fencing only to come up against the recently reinforced fence that is electrified and topped with barbed and concertina wire. The group then went to the fence and started chanting in unison. They demanded the right to move wherever they choose, to live in dignity in Calais, and to be free of police violence. They also spoke the names of those who have recently died attempting the crossing in the Eurotunnel and laid the blame for those deaths at the hands of the police and politician’s whose policy they are enacting.
It was a very large and strong group, however on the other side of the fence were many Gendarmes and also active French military who were menacing their machine guns. The group’s chanting continued for around an hour until the point they started to make their move to try and push through the fence. People had gone down a hill and were lining a steep verge consisting of loose gravel. Those at the bottom, closest to the fence, started to try and make their way over it when suddenly the Gendarmes released a huge amount of ‘tear gas’ onto the crowd. Exactly what type of gas they used though is not clear. Having experienced it and after speaking with people afterward, it was very powerful; much more so than typical CS gas and had strong effects even at the top of the hill far from where it was sprayed. It also created a shortness of breath and a panicked feeling which suggests that it may have been CR gas. After the attack there were also people lying unconscious on the ground. Any use of gas here and particularly CR (if it was indeed that) was completely unnecessary and irresponsible. The panic that the gas created caused a stampede up the hill, but as the footing was so loose people were falling over one another trying to get away from the poison. It was difficult to breathe, see, or move in that area and many people got hurt trying to flee from the gas into a more open space. However, the group, after recovering from the attack, got together and held a meeting about what to do next. They decided to occupy the road leading to the freight terminal at the Eurotunnel, their aim, to stop traffic until they were heard.
The group walked for around one hour from the fence by the entrance to the tunnel to the turn off from the highway to the Eurotunnel terminal. They arrived at about 3am and occupied the road blocking trucks from entering the Eurotunnel terminal. They repeated their chants and demands. When the two vans of CRS that showed up tried to move them on the whole group sat down in the road and started chanting louder. The police were forced to stop trying to move them on and stand by, observing a peaceful protest by 150 migrants as they demanded their rights, dignity, and free movement. The road was occupied for around three hours. The group kept chanting and shouting, being led by one woman repeating that the borders be opened to them to stop the deaths here in Calais. The police appeared to be tolerating the peaceful protest, until around 6am when more companies of CRS arrived. The Commissariat of Calais came and asked the group to disperse. They were complying and starting to leave the motorway when the CRS became impatient and started pushing and shoving people off. The group went as fast as possible but they had to go over many guardrails which took time. The police then started to throw people over the fence and sprayed CS gas. After this clearing of the road, people were dispersing peacefully when all of the sudden a whistle was blown. The CRS then started to run after the two groups that had gone off in different directions. They beat anyone who came within reach while chasing them off. They sprayed CS gas against the people who were running away, one officer even reached his arm around somebody who was running away in order to spray him directly in the face. This was completely unnecessary and a sadistic attack on people participating in a peaceful protest.
What we can take from the night, despite the severe repression, was the strength the group had not only in trying to reach the Eurotunnel but also organizing to blockade the highway. Important to note though, was the difference in policing tactics given the level of media attention that each event had. At the tunnel there were many film crews and so the police for the most part did not attack except for their one gassing of the entire group. However, during the eviction which took place in the morning after all the news crews had gone to sleep they were typically brutal. In case anyone could forget the violence continues here daily but also the resistance.
Open the Border! Stop the Violence!
At 7:30 in the morning on July 29th there was a traffic jam on the A16 leading up to the port. This traffic jam backed up lorries all the way to where the major security fence along the road finishes right next to the migrant camp. One guy from the camp went up to the fence to see what was happening and was immediately sprayed by the CRS cops on the top of the hill. This action, in and of itself, was entirely disproportionate and shows that the police here treat the people as insects, but what they did next was entirely beyond reason and in no way related to stopping people from making it to the motorway. It was a sadistic attack with potentially deadly consequences.
The people in the jungle below shouted and protested at the police’s action and the CRS retaliated by shooting two canisters of CS gas into the group of tents close to the motorway bridge where predominantly Eritrean and Ethiopian people are staying. The people in these tents were sleeping and were in no way trying to get to the motorway traffic jam. In addition to it being an entirely unprovoked attack on people who were asleep inside their homes, the police created an extremely dangerous situation for no justifiable reason. These canisters travel at high speeds dispersing incendiary disks, which release CS gas as they burn. These disks melted holes in people’s tents and could have potentially started a huge fire, as well as spreading poison gas over an area of sleeping people. Then more vans of police fully decked out in riot gear arrived and violently forced people back to the camp, even though they only wanted to cross to go into the city center.
As the major media outlets continue to sensationalize the situation around the Eurotunnel and journalists build their careers on the misery of those living in the jungle, no one seems to care about the torture and violence that the state administers everyday.
Video of the police taken from inside the jungle.
In recent weeks there has been a lot of sensationalist reporting on the number of migrants who are currently trying to make their way to the UK. Receiving less attention though is the brutality these people must endure during their attempts to make the journey. Each of those 1,000+ thwarted attempts represents a person coming into contact with police or security. The actions of these forces are often wholly disproportionate and verge on sadistic. CS gas is sprayed indiscriminately by French police on people that only want to leave their country.
This video, shot in May on the highway entrance to the Eurotunnel, provides some context for the everyday violence against migrants here in Calais. Keep in mind though that this is but one of the many places in which people experience intimidation and brutality, and that the most serious events happen where the police are sure there can be no witnesses.
Along with other videos published by Calais Migrant Solidarity this evidence depicts a program of intimidation and violence against migrants and the activists attempting to document the police brutality. This level of violence is not a one-off occurrence, but is rather systemic and reflects a policy decision from the French authorities to continue to intimidate and attack undocumented people as they attempt to cross to the UK as a deterrent.
This evidence we present contradicts French Interior Minster Bernard Cazeneuve’s claim that “the police in Calais, do their difficult mission with courage, dedication and respect”1 and provides tangible evidence of human rights violations committed by the French police. Every day and every night undocumented people in Calais are beaten, pepper sprayed, abused, and arrested by police that act with impunity and who fear no consequences for their disproportionate uses of force.
In 2011, Calais Migrant Solidarity submitted a dossier of police violence to the French Défenseur des Droits (Defender of Rights).2 This document compiled evidence of the everyday attacks and intimidation tactics used by the French police against the migrant population of Calais. Since then, multiple complaints have been made to the French state. A new dossier was sent in 2014 to the Defender of Rights, who is investigating the claims, as well as Human Rights Watch, who has since produced a document detailing the everyday human rights violations of migrants in Calais3. However, despite this, the authorities here have not altered their program of violence.
1 – Communiqué de presse de M. Bernard Cazeneuve. (20 janvier, 2015). Accusations publiques contre les forces de l’ordre formulées par l’association Human Rights Watch. http://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Actualites/Communiques/Accusations-publiques-contre-les-forces-de-l-ordre-formulees-par-l-association-Human-Rights-Watch
2– Calais Migrant Solidarity. (2011, June). Calais: This Border Kills. Retrieved from https://calaismigrantsolidarity.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/english-dossier.pdf
3– Human Rights Watch. (2015, January 20). France: Migrants, Asylum Seekers Abused and Destitute. Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/20/france-migrants-asylum-seekers-abused-and-destitute
The number of migrants that are being caught trying to cross to the UK by the Eurotunnel is grabbing sensationalist headlines and renewed attention from the British government. However, first and foremost, it is important to clarify that these numbers of 1,500 to 2,000 people are not in fact the number of people trying to cross in one time, but rather the total number of people caught in one night. After being caught, migrants are loaded onto a coach and then driven out of the Eurotunnel complex and released by the KFC from where they go to try again. People try many times in one night leading to these exaggerated figures. Nevertheless, we should not be surprised that the state is taking the chance to exploit this media hype to call for more security.
However, increasing security at the Eurotunnel again will not stop the people from trying and only cause more deaths in Calais. What can be seen now at the Eurotunnel is a direct result of the 15 million pound investment that the UK made last year in increasing security at the ferry port. Building the huge fence along the approach to the ferry terminal denied the people who could not pay smugglers to be put in the back of a truck any way to cross. This has forced them to now make the extremely dangerous journey to the Eurotunnel to try and catch a train. The Eurotunnel is already a militarized zone and to add more police and more fences will only increase the danger for people trying to cross, not in anyway prevent them from trying or in many cases making it.
Last night another Sudanese man lost his life after being run over by a truck, making that the eleventh death since June 1st, 2015! These are in addition to the countless injuries people are receiving from climbing and dropping from fences, being beaten and gassed by police, and being physically exhausted.
End the crisis and the killings in Calais! End Le Touquet and give people a dignified and safe way to cross to the UK! No Borders!
The most recent death here in Calais was that of a young Eritrean woman hit by a car on the A16 while trying to cross the road. While this is being reported in the news as a terrible accident, information we have been getting from those who witnessed the tragedy shows otherwise. Witnesses say that immediately before this young woman lost her life she had been in contact with the police. They say that she along with a group of five other people been had been caught by police and then sprayed in their faces with CS gas. Afterward the people then fled across the highway one by one. However, because the gassing had irritated her eyes so much the young woman could not see when she went to cross the highway. This meant that she did not see and could not avoid the car speeding towards her which hit her.
While in this case the police’s actions directly lead to one woman losing her life, everyday they are putting people into extremely dangerous situations. We hear that the police routinely chase people onto the highways surrounding the train and force people to run in front of oncoming traffic to avoid being caught, gassed, and beaten. They also have been driving people far outside of Calais, even to the Belgian border, before kicking them out of the car and forcing them to walk back along the very busy highway where many people have been hit before.
The fact that there have been ten deaths since June 1st at the same time that there has been a massive increase in security at the ports is not mere coincidence. All the fences and police do not stop people from trying to make it to England, they just simply force them to take more and more dangerous routes to get there. The cynical solutions that the state is proposing will not have any effect. Migrants do not need “education” about the risks of trying to cross to England, they know them better than anyone. Also, lighting the highway will not do much if police are deliberately trying to force people in front of the oncoming traffic and gassing people so that they can no longer see.
People here are not losing their lives in freak accidents, these deaths are the full and intended consequences of the border regime and its thugs.
Open the border and stop the killings!
Here are a list of those who have lost their lives on this border in the past two months. There were fourteen deaths in Calais during 2014 and around thirty-five from the years before that.
July 24th : A young Eritrean woman hit by a car about 5:30 on the A16.
July 23rd : A teenager was found dead in the English part of the Eurotunnel at Folkestone.
July 19th : Houmed Moussa, an Eritrean teenager of 17, drowned on the site of Eurotunnel.
July 16th : Achrat Mohamad, a young Pakistani man of 23 years has died of his injuries from an accident in the Channel Tunnel on the night of July 13 to 14.
On the night of July 13th to the 14th : A Sudanese man died trying to go to England by the Channel Tunnel.
July 7th : A Sudanese exile is found dead during the inspection of a freight train in the Channel Tunnel.
July 4th : Samir, an Eritrean baby died one hour after birth. Her mother, twenty years old, fell from the truck triggering a premature delivery at twenty-two weeks.
June 29th to 30th : The body of Zebiba is found along the A16 between Calais and Marck, struck on the highway. She had gone with two friends to try to go to England.
June 26th : Getenet Legese Yacob, an Ethiopian man of 32 years died while trying to climb onto a train going through the Channel Tunnel.
June 1st, 2015: At 4 am, a refugee is hit by a car on the A16 and dies.
Four people have died trying to cross the border into the UK in the last month. All of them appear to be a direct result of attempts to cross.
The most recent happened yesterday, on the 7th July, when a body was found in the Channel Tunnel, during an inspection of a freight shuttle. At the moment, it is believed he died from head injuries.
On the night of the 29th June Zebiba a 23 year old women from Eritrea was found dead on the side of the A16 between Calais and Marck. She had been staying the in the Women’s House in Jules Ferry.
On the 26th of June, Getenet Legese Yacob, a 32 year old man from Ethiopia was killed attempting to board a shuttle service in the Eurotunnel.
1st June at 4am, a man was hit by a car on the A16 and was killed.
Unlike what the media seems to think, what happened yesterday is not just important because it is causing more traffic jams and service delays. It is important because it is yet another life cut brutally short by the border regime. It is important because it means that 4 people have died trying to cross to the border since the start of June. It is important for so many reasons, but not because it may or may not have delayed someone’s train.
This Border Kills. One death would have been too many.