Whilst in Calais, you may encounter the police, depending on what you are getting up to. There are various types of police operational in Calais.
CRS: the French riot police
They have a constant presence in Calais, which is not normal for a town of its size, they don’t have their own unit, but national units come to Calais for a fortnight on a rotation, normally a couple of units around at a time, sometimes more
Police Aux Frontieres (PAF), the border police,
They are part of the Police Nationale, so drive around in Police Nationale cars.
BAC, the plainclothes police
They drive around in unmarked cars, but are often very noticeable.
Gendarmarie, police units from the French armed forces
Are often brought in for big evictions, demonstrations or big moments
Increasingly it seems that British police may be operating in Calais, at the moment doing surveillance, the possibility of a more active presence could be on the cards.
There are a couple of key things to be aware of when you are doing solidarity work in Calais. Interaction between us and the police comes in waves, and this might not be relevant while you are here. But we would prefer if people were prepared.
– In France it is an offence to not carry your ID and if you don’t present one on request, you maybe taken to a police station for an ID control, which is not the same as being arrested.
– The police hate having their photos taken, and always claim it’s illegal to do so. This is however, inaccurate, and documenting the brutality is an essential element of our work. What you are not allowed to do is publish those images without their consent. Despite this, however, the police in Calais have been known to take cameras from people, and delete photos/footage or in some cases even trash the camera entirely. This is absolutely illegal. In fact, an activist was recently awarded 650 euros in compensation after filing a complaint against an officer who destroyed her camera, after it was used to document a mass raid on Africa House.
– There is an offence called the ‘delit de outrage’, which translates to what is roughly equivalent to a summary offence of ‘insulting’ a public servant. In the past has been used to threaten us when calling them ‘fascist’ (difficult not to do if they are actually being racist and authoritarian at the same time…); swearing at them; making any statement they consider to be false or making any gesture they can interpret as disrespectful.
This is a copy of an old version of the Activist’s Guide to French law. It is out of date, so please check with people on the ground when you arrive.
Crossing the border
It is possible that you can have problems when crossing the border into the UK. The British police sometimes use Terrorism legislation (Schedule 7) to question people crossing the border. With this legislation you don’t have the legal right to remain silent and you don’t have to have a lawyer.
Here is a link to another article which talks about this in more detail:
It is worth thinking about what might happen if you are stopped or questioned, by anyone whilst crossing the border.
Activist trauma support
Supporting other people through very difficult experiences can obviously take its toll. Being confronted with the injustice and inhumanity of border controls; the tale after tale of war, torture, and traumatic journeys; and doing what we can with few resources to help people can be wearing. On top of that, those of us with papers must process the true extent of the privilege that those documents entail, in sharp contrast with those we are working with.
The following leaflet was produced by the Activist Trauma Network, and may help if you have been working in Calais: No Borders: Thoughts on Guilt, Shame and Trauma (although we don’t think the phone number is still up for date).
But importantly please be talking to other people from Calais about your experiences. We have a responsibility to support each other.