People without papers in Calais are regularly subject to violent assault by police and border guards, leading to many injuries and sometimes to deaths. One other bunch of violent thugs we could all do without are the local neonazi morons, who make a small but still very nasty contribution to the pain of the border.
At the weekend, an Eritrean man walking through town was set upon by a small group of fascists driving a black car. They beat him with an iron bar and left him for dead. He regained consciousness and managed to walk back to the jungle, from where an ambulance was called to take him to hospital. He sustained injuries to the head and legs.
This same little group of fascists has been active before. In June, two Sudanese men were beaten also with an iron bar, and a few days later another Sudanese man was run over. The attackers are described as a group of two men and one woman driving a black or grey car. They drive around at night looking for migrants walking alone or in pairs.
Fascism has been on the rise in Calais since late 2013 when Kevin Reche (photo above) and others formed the anti-migrant group called “Sauvons Calais”, responding to town mayor Natacha Bouchart’s call for citizens to inform on migrants squatting in the town. The group has become less active recently, with its recent demos attracting falling numbers of racists. It seems that local neonazis are now turning to less visible and more directly violent ways of venting their hatred.
Journalists are everywhere in Calais these days. A real swarm of them. Strutting around the jungle, barging into people’s tents and private spaces, asking the same questions over and over (can’t they google, or read each other’s stories?), shoving their oversized cameras in people’s faces without asking for consent …
Are all journalists bastards? (AJAB?) Maybe some are decent people, actually give a shit, care about more than careers or racist agendas or Owen Jones sized egos. For instance, this recent article in the Daily Mirror is commendable: it not only treats the people stuck in Calais as people, but clearly conveys useful information. A journalist who can write, and actually did some research! And some of the local Calais media are pretty good, reporting sensibly and knowledgeably about the issues.
The thing is, though, it’s not just about individual journalists good or bad. The mass media play a systematic role in the border “crisis” and the border regime here. The rightwing UK press whipped up the political storm that shut the Sangatte refugee camp in 2001, and is now turning Calais into a militarised zone. The liberal UK media are also part of the problem. They continually reinforce the “common sense” establishment view: migration is a crisis, police and borders are necessary and legitimate, just can we make the violence a bit softer and less visible.
And all media, left or right, are part of the same bullshit game of “representing”, literally “mediating”, people’s voices and stories. They are the expert communicators (joke) who speak for us: for the hard-pressed taxpayer, for the suffering migrant, for the “british public”, for “humanity”.
In terms of the immediate situation in Calais right now, there are both good and bad sides to having journalists around.
On the plus side, media coverage can help improve some of the worst “humanitarian” aspects of the border. Particularly French journalists, as they can exert direct pressure on the government. Stories on the jungle have helped pushed the authorities to do some minimal things like install (not enough) toilets and running water. Exposés on police brutality in the French media (where we’ve worked with journalists on our dossiers and films) have made some small temporary differences in the levels of police brutality. After a big story comes out, for a while the cops are more cautious about beating people in public places.
On the negative side, journos are making it more difficult to cross the border. A lot of people trying to cross have told us this. The thing is that, left to themselves, French politicians and French cops don’t really care all that much about enforcing the British border. Basically, they want the migrants out of here. The media spotlight is making them enforce the border much more actively than they were before. The cameras following people at the eurotunnel every night are making the situation worse.
On balance, having journalists about might slightly reduce the chances of getting beaten, but it also reduces the chances of getting across. And that’s what matters most. As people have been chanting: to cross the border, “We are ready to die”. The really serious violence here isn’t spectacular, it isn’t the tear gas and truncheons. The real violence is the daily repeated misery of being trapped by the border.
Today there was a demonstration in Calais remembering the people killed, and calling for the border to be opened. Between 2 and 300 people took part, of all ages, from all of the nationalities living in the jungle, and also many French and other Europeans.
We met at the bridge at the entrance to the jungle at 2PM. Strips of red cloth were handed out as a symbol of remembrance and rage, which people wore as armbands or headbands or to cover their faces. Some carried placards each with the name of one of the people killed at the tunnel, on the road, murdered by the border and by the police. Some carried long banners with slogans written mainly in English and French, such as: “Open The Border”, “No Border for Immigrants”, “Stop Police Violence”, “Que Tombent Les Murs” (may the walls fall), “Liberons les frontieres”, “Mort pour La France” (Died for / by France).
The back of the march was brought up by an open truck which carried people when they got tired, and another van carrying water and other supplies. Behind them, the police, following and watching. It was a hot day with the sun beating down and little shade most of the way.
We walked part of the same long route people are taking every night, kilometres of hard road ending in hope or disappointment. From the camp down the long straight stretch past the chemical stink of the Huntsman Tioxide factory. Then to the port, and along the port fences and barbed wire that keep people from freedom. We stopped, shook the walls, shouted sorrow and anger, tied ribbons to the fence.
Then through the old town onto the city beach. A ceremony was held on the pier, with white kites flown, and paper boats cast into the water. There were lots of people on the beach on a hot Saturday afternoon, Calaisiens and tourists. Some were hostile, but quite a few more joined in the ceremony.
Once again, the main chant was the one demand, the same three words: “Open The Border”.
Every night hundreds of people, including children, make the long 3 hour walk from the “jungle” camp to the Eurotunnel, hoping to cross to England. This video from Jason Parkinson was made at the tunnel last night / this morning.
The border kills. Open The Border.
As has been widely reported in the media, between Sunday night and Monday morning a man was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer in the Eurotunnel. What has not been reported is that this man is both deaf and mute!
We have heard from numerous people who saw what happened. The police arrived to disperse a group and when others fled he kept on walking straight because he could not hear the police commands. They took this as defiance and ran up behind him, violently grabbing him. In the end his friends told us that there were two full vans of CRS (about ten individual officers) that were involved in “arresting” him. As far as we can ascertain, this extraordinary level of police force can only suggest one thing. The police decided to take out their frustration and aggression on this one man.
The hospital in Calais told us that at 1AM on Monday someone matching his name and description was treated with stitches for a laceration to the head. It was not noted though that he was in police custody and they do not know where he was taken after treatment.
The police will not give any information either. We do not know where he is, if he has a lawyer, anyone with whom he can communicate, or if he even knows what is happening to him. We are extremely worried that, not being able to hear or speak and without a lawyer, he will not be able to defend himself in court.
The police were very quick to spread this story, or select elements from it, to create an image of the migrants here as violent and dangerous. In this way they hoped to victimize themselves and create the justification for the violence they use against people here on a daily basis; people who just want to get by them and cross the border. If this was the savage and unprovoked attack that police say, why have they not yet released any video evidence? Certainly, with all the money the British have been giving them for more security, the French should have had at least one camera able to see what actually happened. We suspect that the police have cynically manipulated this incident for their own gain. This seems to be their tactic for dealing with their own mistakes; targeting those attempting to cross the border and their allies, demonising them as violent and anti-social.
To remember: at least 12 people have been killed by the Calais border in the last 2 months. Innumerably more people have been beaten, gassed, injured, by police and border security. The violence here is coming exclusively from the state.
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.