Introduction to Calais / Introduction a Calais

Since 2009, there have been anywhere from 100 to 3000 migrants in Calais attempting to cross into the UK, with many other communities scattered across the coastline of northern France. People have come from all over the world, from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Palestine, Chad, Eritrea, Iraq, Albania, Senegal, Kurdistan, Libya and Ethiopia with the biggest communities often being those from East Africa and Afghanistan.

There are often many under-age children and teenagers travelling through Calais, often travelling alone. As the number of people coming from Eritrea and Ethiopia increased in the last couple of years, so did the number of women coming through Calais. Again, they are often travelling alone.

Why do people come to Calais?

UK immigration law makes it near impossible for the vast majority of non-nationals to enter the country. You need a visa to do so, for which you need money and must satisfy a strict criteria. Unless you are already in the country on a visa, you cannot claim asylum from abroad. British law therefore necessitates illegal entry to the UK for almost all those who want to claim asylum. This forces migrants, most of whom have survived war or human rights violations – and many of whom are very young – to risk their lives making clandestine entries in or under lorries that travel to the UK. Many people have died and countless others have been injured in this process.

Calais is the biggest and busiest port operating between the UK and north west Europe. It has both a ferry port and the Eurotunnel, and therefore the most amount of traffic and sailings going across the border. This also makes it the busiest place for people to be crossing from.

In 2003 the British and French governments signed the Le Touquet treaty in which they agreed to establish juxtaposed immigration controls on cross-Channel ferry routes. This meant that all travellers between the two countries would have to clear immigration in the country of departure rather than on arrival. This pushed the entire UK border to France. It was done to ensure that the majority of people caught attempting to cross the border would still be on French rather than British soil. The main outcome of this is a creation of a bottleneck in the city of Calais. At any given time hundreds to a few thousand people are caught there, the British government pouring millions and millions of euros into preventing them leaving.

The reasons that people want to go to the UK?

This is a question that comes up a lot. It is a question that people are asked often on their journeys, what was their reason for leaving their country of origin and why are they wanting to go to the UK specifically. People are forced repeatedly to recount stories of trauma, war and other hardships to justify their presence in Europe. For us this is not important.

We believe in freedom of movement is for everybody and not just the rich and white. Everybody should be able to move to wherever they want, whenever they want and for whatever reason they want. The horror of the current situation being that those with the most important reasons to move, being the people who are the most restricted and criminalised for doing so.

The real story in Calais is not, however, that there are people seeking asylum in Britain. Given the historical context and continued wars of aggression, that should not come as a surprise. The real story in Calais is the persecution of any foreigner who isn’t white in Britain’s enforcement of its border regime (and it is no exaggeration to say this is a race issue – there have been many incidents of harassment and arrest of people with the correct documents on the basis of their appearance). The real story is the violence and repression faced by migrants in Calais at the hand of the state. The real story is the unbelievable loss caused by this border.

Of course, this border is not the only place people are risking their lives in search of safety; all across Fortress Europe, and in particular, on its perimeter, thousands and thousands of people have died over the past 20 years in an attempt to attain just a measure of the safety and security enjoyed by many EU nationals.

Many of those who seek safety in Europe, go to other countries (France, Germany and Sweden each receive considerably more asylum claims than the UK). And in fact, many people living in the jungles and squats in Calais, are actually claiming asylum in France and not attempting to cross to the UK. Their presence in Calais presence in Calais due to France’s inadequacy in providing housing and support for those claiming asylum there.

Calais: Daily Life

In 2002, due to pressure from the British media, the Red Cross-run Sangatte day centre was closed. This with the signing of Touquet Treaty in 2003, marked the beginning of ‘modern-day’ tactics in Calais. It was made up of the a tightening up of security measures alongside constant attacks against daily life of migrants. A tactic of deterrence, an effort to make life so difficult for people that they leave Calais and give up on their hopes of going to the UK.

A fundamental component of the state’s attack on daily life, has been the constant denial of shelter. This was done by refusing to provide sanctioned sleeping spaces; alongside the invasion, eviction and destruction of any autonomous living places that people created. The ability to live in Calais becoming a point of struggle for migrant communities, alongside the daily attempts to subvert the physical border.

Over time, people have made their homes all over the city in disused buildings, or squatted camps known as ‘jungles’ – from ‘dzhangal’, the Pashto word for forest, both inside and on the outskirts of the city. On this blog, you will see frequent reference to places such as Africa House, Tioxide Jungle, Leader Price/Sudanese Jungle or Fort Galloo. These are the names given mainly by migrants themselves to the major squats, or jungles that have existed in Calais.

The stability of these places and the standard of living possible in these houses could vary dramatically. At times police would be invading and evicting people’s homes every day, or multiple times a day; and sometimes there would be squats in the legal process that would last months and months, with the police unable to gain entry. But eventually they were always closed, most of the time through the process of mass arrest or severe violence. Home invasions even when evictions were not taking place often involved repeated destruction of belongings including tents, blankets and other belongs they found, the nastiest tactics over the years was the use of pepper spray on tents and blankets, making them unusable and destroying copies of the Koran and Bibles.

However violence and arrest in Calais, has never just been confined to living spaces. It is a daily reality that people face both while attempting to cross, but also whilst going about other aspects of daily life. The train stations, parks and just the street are repeatedly places where people have been targeted for ID controls, violence and arrestations. As well as constant surveillance and intimidation at the places where people go to eat at the different food distribution places there have been in Calais over the years.

The violence faced by people trying to cross the border is the constant that never changes in Calais. People are beaten, caught by dogs, gassed – by pepper spray or more serious gas – and routinely threatened and humiliated. And this is all alongside other injuries or dangers that people face while making attempts to cross. While violence in public places and living spaces has fluctuated over the years, the police have never shied away from violence in these places where often no body is watching, where no body is filming.

The police are not the only people who contribute to this policy of violence, repression or discrimination in Calais. The way the UK border operates and the fines imposed on truck drivers found with migrants inside means that violence at the hands of lorry drivers whilst crossing is also a significant risk.

The threat of fascists is also a reality to face in Calais. In 2013, an organised fascist group ‘Sauvons Calais’ (Save Calais) was established. They are responsible for a number of gatherings of far right thugs in Calais, with varying levels of effectiveness. This included, in March 2014, for a week long attack against a squat, including the use of molotov cocktails and eventually setting the building on fire. Even outside of an organised fascist group existing in Calais, violent and racist attacks is a regular occurrence for migrants, especially a danger for people moving around in small groups or alone. Attacks against people with weapons, by people in cars or on motorbikes are common, and other incidents of vandalism against facilities for migrants, including burning down the showers of the association Secours Catholique twice.

Many people and businesses in Calais have also been aiding the state in establishing of apartheid regime in Calais. Multiple shops, bars and cafés in Calais do not allow migrants to frequent them them, often turning away black or coloured people on the assumption that they are migrants. Supermarkets that do allow people inside, often having security guards who obviously target non-white shoppers when they do. The treatment of those who are seeking medical assistance in France is often appalling- including the local hospital refusing to allow migrant women to have abortions, not adequately treating people which has caused many people to be living in constant pain and discomfort for years, and in some tragic circumstances, death.

Uncountable lives are wasted and suffer from the violence of the border. Whether from the direct attacks by police and border forces, or in the attempt to escape their controls, or through the dangerous methods of transit, or at the hands of gang-masters and mafia, an unthinkable number of people have died in Calais. Alongside the increased security measures over the last couple of years, the number of people being killed whilst attempting to cross in more and more dangerous ways has increased. These people are always in our thoughts.

Many times over the last years, these tactics of deterrence from Calais have been met with resistance and defiance. Demonstrations, occupations and resisting evictions have been common place over the years. Most importantly, people have always kept coming to Calais, always carrying on crossing the border and finding ways and places to live while they are here.

The current situation

Since the opening of the Jules Ferry Day centre in early 2015 and the closure of the majority of the autonomous spaces, most people are now living in the area surrounding the centre. It is a non-official, but tolerated jungle, that is far out from the city centre. The centre provides basic services such as showers, one hot meal a day, a house for women and children, toilets and phone charging. And the ability to create a jungle and shelter without the threat of imminent eviction.

Although it may be tempting to consider this as a victory and positive response to the high profile legalized squats and political struggles that had taken place around migrant accommodation over the years, this would be a naïve assumption. It is an aspect of the coming together of the British, the French and the Calaisien local government finding a new compromise on the basis that no body wants the people who are in Calais. The deals are making it more difficult to get into Britain and simultaneously creating a migrant-free Calais city centre.

For the authorities in Calais, this day centre and tolerated jungle are in fact part of a larger strategy to finally defeat the autonomous living spaces created by migrants and their supporters, and fulfil the mayor’s declared goal of “zero squats” in Calais. The move to the new jungle coincided with the adoption of the mayor of Calais’ new anti-squatting law through which she is seeking to remove the previous legal protections for squatters in all of France, which came into effect at the beginning of the summer. They also serve as a ready made political justification for the eviction of any future squats, because there is ‘alternative accommodation’ available.

By concentrating the migrants into such a small area they make the population as a whole much more easy to police. There have been a number of instances since the beginning of the jungle, where the police have shown, through force, how easy it is for them to shut down access to and from the jungle, and how willing they are to do it. The recent changes are an obvious creation of a ghetto on the outskirts of Calais, furthering the segregation of the town that already existed. The springing up of shops, bars, churches, mosques, a hospital across the jungle, adding to the feeling that a new town has been opened up outside of Calais. The two hour daily pilgrimage across the city to the tunnel, is often the only time people are in the city.

This concentration has also created some tensions between the different communities, who have very rarely chosen to live all together. Added security on the crossing routes, is also playing into this, people and communities are pitted against each other in the effort to cross.

This increase in security is due, in large part, to massive and detrimental interest in Calais and the alleged ‘migrant crisis’ of Europe from the British media and pressure (and money) from the British government. There has been huge tightening of the border and a rise in the security measures around the port, the tunnel, the highways and lorry parks, over the last year. And a very big drive over the summer.

The new priority clearly stated as concentrating on humanitarian provision to justify tightening controls at the port and tunnels. A new fence has been erected on the highway leading up to the port, massive increases in police numbers (which was already significantly high for a city the size of Calais), more dog-handlers are being hired for everywhere, and for the first time British police forces are actively getting involved in policing in Calais. A serious consequence of the tightened security measures at the port, has been a devastating rise in deaths and serious injuries at the Channel tunnel.

This has been a brief overview of the situation here. Welcome to Calais.



A l’époque où nous écrivons (printemps 2011), un peu moins de 200 migrants résident à Calais même, avec bien plus de communautés dispersées le long du littoral nord de la France. Ces migrants sont demandeurs d’asile ou en recherche d’une vie qui dépasse la simple survie. Ils viennent d’endroits aussi divers que l’Afghanistan, l’Iran, le Pakistan, le Kurdistan, la Palestine, la Somalie, l’Egypte, le Soudan, l’Erythrée et l’Ethiopie, les communautés d’Afrique de l’est étant les plus nombreuses actuellement.

Les migrants vivent dans des bâtiments désaffectés, ou des camps squattés connus sous le nom de “jungles ” – qui vient de “dzanghal”- le mot pashtun pour forêt.

Sur ce blog vous verrez fréquemment des références à des lieux tels que l’Africa House, la Palestine house, la jungle des Hazara, etc. Ce sont des noms que les migrants ont majoritairement choisi pour désigner les grands squats de Calais où vivent des dizaines de personnes.

Les lois d’immigration britannique rendent presque impossible pour la grande majorité des non-nationaux l’entrée dans le pays, puisqu’ un visa est nécessaire pour cela, visa pour lequel on doit avoir de l’argent et remplir des critères très stricts. A moins d’être déjà sur le territoire et muni d’un visa, on ne peut donc pas demander l’asile de l’étranger. La loi britannique plonge ainsi inévitablement dans l’illégalité presque tous ceux qui souhaitent obtenir cette protection. Ceci force les migrants, dont la majorité ont survécu aux guerres et aux violations des droits humains – et dont nombre d’entres-eux sont très jeunes – à risquer leur vie en tentant d’entrer clandestinement à l’intérieur ou sous les camions qui font route pour l’Angleterre. Des gens sont morts, et un nombre indéfini d’entre eux a été blessé dans ce processus.

Bien sûr, cette frontière n’est pas la seule où les hommes risquent leurs vies à la recherche d’une existence meilleure ; à travers toute l’Europe forteresse, et en particulier le long de ses frontières, des milliers et des milliers de personnes sont mortes au cours des 20 dernières années pour atteindre simplement le bien être et la sécurité dont jouissent de nombreux citoyens européens.

Alors, lorsque nombre d’entre ceux qui recherchent une vie meilleure en Europe vont dans d’autres pays (la France, l’Allemagne et la Suède reçoivent considérablement plus de demandes d’asile que le Royaume-Uni), d’autres cherchent à rejoindre l’Angleterre, en parti du aux liens coloniaux avec leurs pays d’origine, et donc l’existence d’une culture et d’une langue avec lesquelles ils sont plus familiers, ou parce-qu’ils ont un ami ou un parent là-bas.

La vraie histoire de Calais n’est pas, cependant, que des hommes cherchent l’asile en Grande-Bretagne. Etant donné le contexte historique et la permanence de la chasse à l’étranger, au migrant, cela ne devrait pas être une surprise : la vraie histoire de Calais, c’est la persécution de tout étranger qui n’est pas blanc, persécution que le Royaume-Uni met en oeuvre dans sa politique des frontières (et ce n’est pas une exagération d’ d’affirmer que c’est un problème racial – il y a eu de nombreux incidents d’arrestations et d’agressions de personnes avec des papiers en règles sur la base de leur apparence physique-). La vraie histoire de Calais, c’est que des migrants sont systématiquement chassés et arrêtés par la police française, à qui l’on donne la vraie responsabilité du contrôle d’immigration britannique, le but de cette stratégie étant de disperser les migrants sur une zone étendue.

A certains moments, l’activité policière a été tellement intense qu’il était impossible de se promener ouvertement dans Calais lorsqu’on était un migrant. Curieusement, de la même manière qu’ils sont arrêtés régulièrement, (une même personne peut être détenue jusqu’à deux fois par jour) ils sont aussi souvent relâchés peu de temps après. Cela peut sembler arbitraire et illogique, mais dans les faits c’est une stratégie soigneusement orchestrée dans le but d’atteindre les quotas d’arrestation, et d’épuiser émotionnellement ceux qui osent demander l’asile au Royaume-Uni. (par exemple le chemin du retour du poste de police jusqu’à Calais dure chaque fois une heure – ce qui est difficile après les premières paires d’arrestations et encore plus dur lorsque l’on a une jambe cassée, ce qui est remarquablement commun à Calas-).

Cette stratégie va néanmoins bien plus loin que la simple arrestation. Les CRS ( la police française de “contrôle des émeutes” ) usent d’autres tactiques psychologiques dans cette guerre d’épuisement contre les migrants. Ceci inclue violences physiques, expulsions à répétition et destruction systématique des abris, gazage et confiscation des biens essentiels comme les sacs de couchage et le matériel de cuisine, verser des produits chimiques dans l’eau potable et désacraliser la Bible et le Coran…

Il faut également noter qu’il y a eu un nombre conséquent de mineurs non accompagnés à Calais au cours de ces deux dernières années, beaucoup au début de leur adolescence, qui, en plus d’avoir subi et souffert des traumatismes de la guerre, n’ont pas été épargnés par ces pratiques policières.

Les activistes de Calais Migrant Solidarity pourvoient directement du matériel et aussi souvent qu’il est possible, un soutien émotionnel aux migrants face à cette répression. ( voir les autres liens pour plus d’informations sur ce que nous faisons)
Cependant, la police supporte difficilement toute dissidence, et est clairement énervée par le fait que nous mettons en lumière leurs pratiques répressives. Par conséquent, ils agressent et arrêtent également ceux qui se tiennent aux côtés et en solidarité avec les migrants. En particulier, les activistes français, qui ont été jugés pour des offenses diverses liées à la critique de la police.

Ceci est un court survol de la situation ici. Bienvenue à Calais.