Tuesday, 28 April 2009

No Borders Newsletter #6

The latest UK No Borders Network newsletter is now available for download (click on the image).

Friday, 24 April 2009

Drowning Not Waiving?

Yesterday saw the latest visit to Calais by French Immigration Minister Eric Besson in his on-going campaign to turn the Calais region in to a 'migrant-free zone'. Besson, a former economic adviser to the previous French Socialist President Ségolène Royal who gained his job after campaigning for the Presidency of right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy, was in Calais ostensibly to deliver a speech to the the Calais business community, also broadcast on French radio, about his latest plan to rid Calais of the 'Jungles'.

This visit had been preceded by mass arrests on Wednesday* and yesterday again saw the CRS seal of the main 'Jungle' in the scrub area near the industrial zone bordering the port. This time, rather than sending in 300 CRS, riots vans and bulldozers, they could only muster 14 cars and their attendant police officers. Others were of course busy being part of Besson's security detail, but another group were involved in the totally pointless exercise of sealing off one the areas where humanitarian groups regularly provide much needed food to the migrants, sites whose use under a long-standing agreement with the local authorities. In response, the residents of the 'Jungles' held a spontaneous demonstration demanding an end to the constant and ever-increasing levels of police harassment.

Strangely, for someone who claims he wishes to rid Northern France of the migrant 'problem', in his speech Besson outlined his desire to 'replace' the 'Jungles' by a series of 'mini' welcome centres set up along the French coast, offering food, showers, and information about how to claim asylum. At the same time, he said the French army would be sent in to permanetly raise the 'Jungles' to the ground.

This however would not 'solve' the 'problem'; all it would achieve would be to make the migrants less visible, dispersing them into smaller pockets spread around the Calais area. And needless to say, the level of police repression required to keep the migrants out of Calais and away from the port area would be much greater than they suffer at present.

On top of this Besson, just like the Calais mayor Natacha Bouchard, continues to claim that Britain is a 'soft touch' for migrants, that it should "tighten its controls, and pay a bigger share of the financial burden" whilst at the same time urging Britain to remove passport controls with France (i.e. join Schengen) so the migrants do not congregate in Calais bottleneck are allowed to cross to the UK so that the UK can deal with 'problem' instead of the French.

Clearly here is a politician thrashing around in deep and politically murky waters that threaten to overwhelm him. He is stuck in the middle of the English Channel/la Manche not knowing which way to swim; wanting to appease his political masters and play-up to the French public on one hand by appearing to 'stick it to' les Rost Bifs, whilst desperately trying not to alienate Phil Woolas, his mealy-mouthed political doppelgänger on this side of the Channel, and risk losing the chance of co-opting the British into any solution to his 'problem' that he can manage to cobble together before his political capital runs out.

Maybe he even hopes to pull of the sort of coup that Sarkozy himself pulled off in 2002, when he managed to engineer the closure of the Red Cross centre at Sangatte in return for the UK not only accepting 3/4's of the migrants housed there at the time but also footing most of the £4.9M bill for SNCF to complete the double perimeter fence around the Channel Tunnel entrance? Perhaps Besson also sees it as a route to the French Presidency too? Either way he merely resembles someone who is clearly out of his depth.

*Of the 200 or so people arrested in the mass raid on the main 'Jungle' 2 days ago, most had been released later the same day, but the 9 people known to have been held overnight have also been released. No traffickers were found during the raids, as we fully expected, and it appears that only a handful of vulnerable Afghan juveniles were successfully intimidated into signing up for return to Afghanistan.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Calais No Border Camp 23-29 June

The Calais No Border camp is a joint venture between French and Belgian activists and migrant support groups and the UK No Borders Network. It aims to highlight the realities of the situation in Calais and Northern France; to build links with the migrant communities; to help build links between migrants support groups; and lastly, but not least, to challenge the authorities on the ground, to protest against increased repression of migrants and local activists alike.

This camp calls for the freedom of movement for all, an end to borders and to all migration controls. We call for a radical movement against the systems of control, dividing us into citizens and non-citizens, into the documented and the undocumented.

Why Calais?

We have chosen Calais for two main reasons; it is an important location in the history, development and practice of European migration controls and has long been a major bottleneck for those seeking to get to Britain. But more importantly, it is also a focus of the struggle between those who would see an end to all migration into the EU, and those trying to break down the barriers between peoples, the borders that prevent the freedom of movement for all, not just the privileged few.

Since the mid-nineties tens of thousands have lived in destitution, sleeping rough in Calais, waiting for their chance to cross the channel to England. Between 1999 and 2002 the Red Cross ran a centre at neighbouring Sangatte but this was forced to close after political pressure from France and Britain. Since then, the massive police presence and repression in Calais has forced thousands of men woman and children to wander the Calais region and all along the North coast of France, Belgium and Holland. They are routinely brutalised by the police; tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and repeatedly interned at the nearby Coquelles detention centre. The police regularly burn their shelters and the few meagre possessions that they contain. The local groups that support the migrants by providing food and other humanitarian aid are coming under increasing attack from the police and a number of activists have been arrested in recent months. Meanwhile British Immigration Minister Phil Woolas has been calling for the construction of a permanent holding/detention centre for migrants in Calais docks.

The Bigger Picture

Calais however remains only one small part of the overall picture of European migration controls, a major internal border within the hi-tech EU borders regime. Since the beginning of the decade, the EU been attempting to build 'Fortress Europe'; externalising EU borders into Africa and Asia with EU border guards patrolling the Mediterranean, in Libya and off the West Coast of Africa courtesy of the Frontex borders agency; and via the European Neighbourhood Policy, where countries from the Ukraine all the way round the Mediterranean to Morocco are now paid by the EU to do its migration prevention work for it.

Migrants’ Rights Are Workers’ Rights

Through this system of border controls, authorities create two kinds of migrants: a small number of ‘skilled’ migrants, who are designated as ‘useful’ to the state; and a massive number of undocumented workers who have no rights and are therefore exploitable as cheap labour. Thus is our fight for freedom of movement also a fight for the rights of all workers.

Transnational Solidarity Works!

Building links and working together allows us to share information between us on a transnational level. It also allows us to exploit the fault-lines and cracks in Fortress Europe. Last November, transnational solidarity helped to prevent the planned deportation of Afghans from Calais to Kabul.

Campaigning Against Borders

This camp will continue the tradition of the No Border camps across the world since the late 1990s and, like the camp taking place this year in Lesvos in August, it will be a space to share information, skills, knowledge and experiences; a place to plan and take action together against the system of borders which divides us all. For centuries European imperial powers have exploited the land, resources and people of the majority world to become wealthy and powerful, leaving war, environmental destruction and massive inequality in their wake. Those who attempt the journey to the UK or elsewhere in Europe are challenging this injustice by their movement. The situation in Calais is a result of the compromise and conflict of interest between French and UK immigration policy and we call on groups, networks and individuals here to take action across Europe and to become part of a global movement of solidarity that defends their right to choose where they move.

Equal Rights For All!!

*No One Is Illegal. Freedom Of Movement And The Right To Stay For All*


UK e-mail contact: calais@riseup.net

Calais Mass Arrests Update

The French authorities have slowly been releasing some of the migrants detained in the early morning mass-raids in and around Calais yesterday. Far from being an action to break any people-smuggling rings as claimed, it now appears that it was merely an attempt at mass intimidation of those Afghans amongst the arrested.

The first person to be released from PAF Coquelles was a 16 year old Afghan, who said he had been pressured into accepting 1000 euros in return for agreeing to return to Afghanistan, despite the fact that he is a minor and has the right to remain in France under French law. There is speculation that those Afghans who continue to be held in Coquelles will not be released until they too have signed up to return to Afghanistan. It also appears that most of the migrants transported to Boulogne were released late yesterday afternoon and have walked the 6 hour 19 mile journey back to Calais.

In separate news Natacha Bouchart, the right-wing mayor of Calais, has called for the French army to be brought in to destroy the 'Jungles' in and around Calais, one and for all. This follows hot on the heels of her claim a couple of days ago that the 'problem' of the migrants in Northern France lies solely at Britain's door, claiming that asylum seekers in Britain lead some mythic easy life and that Britain should either sign up to Schengen or pay the estimated £12M that the Calais Chamber of Trade spend on port security each year (as if that is all spent on preventing migrants entering the port area).

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Mass Raids In The Calais Area

Early this morning, 2 days before the French Immigration Minister Eric Besson is due in town, a major police operation took place in the Calais area that saw nearly 300 police and CRS arrest some 200 undocumented migrants.

Police surrounded one of the major migrant squatter camps, known as 'Jungles', in Calais shortly after 07.00, arresting 150 migrants in an operation that ended at 10:30. A further 33 were arrested at motorway rest stops outside the city and 11 in the nearby town of Saint Omer. Most appear to have been taken to police stations in Calais, Boulogne and Lille as well as the detention centre at Coquelles.

The arrests were allegedly "an attempt to dismantle people trafficking networks. It's an operation to destabilise the networks and try to find the smugglers," according to Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart. However, it follows a week of almost constant attacks by police on the 'Jungles' in and around Calais, that saw regular tear gassing of the migrants' squats and arrest of their occupants.

Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the situation will realise that the traffickers would not be in the Jungles at 7 o'clock in the morning - they do not live in the Jungles and most of the occupants would be asleep anyway after a night out trying to gain access to the lorries parked-up waiting to cross the Channel. This appears merely to be more of the same intimidation tactics that the police and CRS routinely use against the migrants. Except this time it is on a larger scale, no doubt in order to impress Besson in advance of his visit to Calais.

**The will be a No Border Camp in Calais from 23-29 June, jointly organised by the UK No Borders Network and activists from Northern France, Belgium and Holland, details of which will appear here in the run-up to the camp.**

Monday, 20 April 2009

Italy-Malta Refugee Stand-Off Ends

The four day stand-off between Italian and Maltese authorities over the fate of 150 migrants, who included 2 pregnant women and who were stranded on a Turkish cargo vessel in the Mediterranean in stormy weather, is finally over. However, for the migrants themselves, their problems have only just begun.

They were rescued off the Italian island of Lampedusa by the Turkish ship, the Pinar, last Thursday after having spent 6 days at sea in boats that were low on food and water and were in danger of sinking.

Italy initially refused to accept responsibility for the rescued migrants as the Italian authorities claimed the migrants were picked up in Malta's search and rescue area. Malta, who have a long running dispute with the EU, and in particular Italy, over the number of migrants that they routinely have to deal with*, in turn washed its hands of responsibility for the migrants, insisting that under international conventions the migrants should be landed at the nearest safe point i.e Italy. [see map]

In response the Italian government softened its stance and the Italian coastguard delivered drinking water to the Pinar and announced plans to deliver hot meals via helicopter, which subsequently thwarted by bad weather and high seas. Some of the migrants suffering from hypothermia and other medical issues were also evacuated by helicopter to Lampedusa.

Yesterday the Italian authorities agreed to allow the ship to dock and release the migrants into Italian custody on Sicily, where they were taken to detention centres. Most, if not all, will now suffer the fate of of the refugees who have already made it to Italy under their own steam: endless shunting between internment camps around an unwelcoming Italy, till they can be forcibly returned to their countries of origin, if those countries can in fact be established. If not, they will languish in the Italian detention system, where many have committed suicide in recent years rather than suffer the indignity of prolonged incarceration with little or no hope for release or the chance to move on to a European country willing to accept them. [Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

* Malta is a very reluctant host to many thousands of destitute migrants from Africa, none of whom set out from their home countries with Malta in their sights. Having set out from the Libyan coast with few navigation aids but heading for Italy, they end up landing at Malta or get into trouble at sea and have to be rescued by Maltese coastguards. Many of the migrants then have to spend upwards of 18 months in the crowded and unsanitary conditions of the Maltese detention centres before being returned to Africa. [see: 6, 7]

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Delit De Solidarité Demonstrations

There were demonstration in 80 French towns yesterday to oppose the 'delit de solidarité' laws which means that anyone who provides ‘help’ to undocumented migrants can be prosecuted. The demonstrations were called by a coalition of associations including Emmaüs, La Cimade, Secours Catholique and France Terre d’Asile

As well as fixing the shameful target of 27,000 deportations for 2009, the French government has also fixed targets or quotas of 5,000 arrests of people who ‘help’ undocumented migrants.

Currently the law prescribes a punishment of five years in prison and €30,000 for “anyone who, by direct or indirect help, facilitates or tries to facilitate the entry, the circulation or the unlawful residence of a foreigner in France.” This law is particularly relevant to those who help migrants in and around Calais.

While the French government has denied that anyone has been prosecuted for the ‘delit de solidarité' and claim that these laws are aimed at ‘passeurs’ (people smugglers). Yet there is a deliberate obscurity in the law that allows many people who have shown solidarity for sans papiers to be arrested and accused of the ‘delit’ (a 'middle level' crime in France) of helping people in an irregular situation.

Some French people, especially in Calais, have been fined for helping migrants, providing them with a roof or for trying to defend migrants against Police harrassment and violence. The recent Marie-Noëlle Guès, Monique Pouille and Jean-Claude Lenoir cases are prime examples, where there simple act of being present at police actions led to charges of ‘outrage’ (disrespect) against Police officers.

There have also been attempts by the police to suggest to the press that some of those arrested in Calais have been involved in people smuggling and so to criminalize the local people attempts to support migrants.

The Police now do not hesitate to enter peoples homes to search for undocumented migrants and the practice is becoming more widespread. In Marseille last month police raided a charity for homeless people looking for undocumented migrants and arrested the manager.

The demonstrations come on top of a call to abolish the 'délit de solidarité' proposed by the Socialists, which will be debated at the National Assembly at the end of the month.

Criminalised For Daring To Film The Police

Marie-Noëlle Guès is well known to the police in Calais as 'the journalist'. Outside of school hours (she is a teacher) she has been a regular on the streets of Calais since 2004, filming and monitoring the actions of the CRS and Border police against the migrants in the area.

In October 2007 she came across 2 Eritreans who had just been released from the Coquelles detention centre. They asked her to translate a document they had just been issued with. It turned out to be a deportation notice and she offered to go with them to the Lille Administrative Tribunal to help them challenge the order.

They subsequently stopped to talk to a number of other migrants, when a van-load of CRS turned up to 'check papers' and generally harass the migrants. Marie-Noëlle then tried to film the pursuit and arrest of some migrants who tried to flee the scene but was asked to move on by the police. She continued to surreptitiously film as she challenged the CRS's right to both prevent her from filming and to arrest the 2 Eritreans who had only been released from custody 4 hours before.

Eventually the police realised that Marie-Noëlle was still filming and violently arrested her. Handcuffing her and putting her in the back of their van, one radioed HQ that they had "arrested the journalist". She was held in custody for 24 hours and charged with contempt and 'rebellion'.

At her trial on 23 April 2008, the prosecution presented testimony from the CRS and the owner of the café the arrest occurred outside and asked for a 3 month prison sentence, but Marie-Noëlle was acquitted. The CRS and state prosecutor appealed the decision.

At the appeal hearing on 2 April 2009, the judge refused to view the film taken during the incident, which refutes the café-owner's version of events, and convicted Marie-Noëlle. Her sentence was to pay €4 per day for 90 days (€360) or a day in prison for each €4 unpaid, plus €100 per 'outraged' and 'attacked' CRS officer, €3-400 in prosecution legal costs.

Donations can be sent to a support fund at:
la Mouette Enragée
B.P 403
62 2206 Boulogne-Sur-Mer Cedex

The video taken by Marie-Noëlle at the incident can be seen at: wat.tv

Monday, 6 April 2009

18 Deaths A Year In U.S. Immigration Prisons

More than 90 prisoners held in immigrant detention centres have died in the past five years, the New York Times reports today, as revealed in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) document labelled "List of Detainee Deaths since October 2003." The record was obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, part of an ongoing investigation of deaths in immigrant prisons.

According to the Times, 32 of the 92 deaths occurred at jails run by private companies, including "at least 18" at facilities run by the notorious Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the country.

The list of detainee deaths, available here, charts prisoners' names, dates of birth, the facilities where they were held or died, and whether or not an autopsy was performed. The "Cause of Death" field lists everything from AIDS to heart disease, suggesting that many of the prisoners likely suffered from medical neglect. A number committed suicide; "hanging" is listed as the cause of death for six prisoners.

"Of the 92 people who died in detention," reports the Times, "21 were from Cuba, 19 from Mexico, 6 each from Guatemala and Honduras, 5 from El Salvador, three each from Colombia, Haiti and Jamaica; two each from Ghana, Guinea, India, Korea and one each from 18 other countries, including Germany, Brazil, Afghanistan and the Philippines." [from Alternet.org]

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Europe's Externalised Immigration Controls Results In Mass Drowning

Over 500 migrants are likely to have drowned crossing the Mediterranean from Libya as two boats sank and a third is still missing. The Libyan authorities put responsibility on strong winds rather than on the border regime they are implementing on behalf of Italy and European governments and paid for by the taxpayers of Italy and of the European Union.

"On 29 March 2009, 30 km from the Libyan coast, there was one of the largest shipwrecks in the history of immigration into Europe: out of three boats that set off from Libya, two sank and the third disappeared.

"Provisional figures refer to 23 survivors, 21 corpses recovered and over 500 disappeared people, undoubtedly swallowed up by the Channel of Sicily. As always happens for this sort of events, information is opaque and often contradictory. At first, the Libyan press agency limited itself to announcing that a majority of the migrants were Egyptian and that the three vessels had set off from the port of Sid Belal Janzur, with a total of 257 people on board. As for the International Organisation for Migrations (IOM), two days later, on 31 March, it announced that the number of victims from the three boats was estimated at 300. In Italy (the passengers’ destination), the press switched between repetition of the news from Libya and reports that the 257 people referred to were all on one of the three boats: which, if it were revealed to be true, would throw up a far more appalling estimate of the total number of people who have disappeared.

"Beyond these hideous estimates, the statements from Libya are shocking, as they explain away this tragedy as the consequence of a very strong wind that was prevalent at the time. Rather, should responsibility for this slaughter not be attributed to the European Union, which promises 20 million Euros to the Libyan state in exchange for its co-operation in the fight against "irregular" immigration ? Or to Italy, which has been signing various "friendship agreements" that include migration clauses with this dictatorship since 2000 ? And also to Libya, which, like its neighbours in the Maghreb, use migrants as an exchange currency to obtain a privileged position in international negotiations ?

"It is feared that the authorities’ reaction to this new tragedy will, once again, be to exploit these dramatic events without regard for the real causes that push migrants to take on deadly risks to reach Europe, in order to justify a hardening of controls.

"On this portion of the maritime borders, the effects of the Italian policy to externalise patrolling operations along the Libyan coasts are also to be feared, as they will only result in an increase in the number of tragedies at sea and of the instances in which people who are returned are placed at risk in the country not governed by the rule of law that is Libya."

[from Migreurop press release]