Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Calais Migrants Go On Hunger Strike

As of 12am French time today a group of migrants in Calais started a highly visible hunger strike in a public place. The migrants, from regions including Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, Palestine, and Egypt, say they will continue the strike until Western countries co-operate to offer them asylum. They are also demanding that no migrant in Calais is readmitted to Greece, Italy or Malta.

The migrants face constant harassment from police. Every day some amongst their number are arrested, taken to the police station only to be released in four to six hours. Occasionally they are held for as long as two days. Repression intensified recently with the destruction of the jungle where many migrants lived, the trigger-happy use of tear gas including on pregnant women, destruction of personal belongings and the targeting of migrants observing fasting during Ramadan by arresting them at nightfall and throwing away their food. If the police try to separate the hunger strikers or arrest them on spurious grounds, they say they will continue the hunger strike while under arrest and move again to a public space to continue the action when freed.

No Borders activists are already supporting the hunger strikers by standing alongside them, but the migrants are calling for support from all over the world. Messages of support can be left at the calaishungerstrike blog and the hunger strikers welcome anyone who wants to join the hunger strike in solidarity whether in Calais or elsewhere.

Benjamin, 38, an asylum seeker from Iran, says: “The police tell us we cannot be here but we have nowhere to go. The world is ignoring us so we are making our suffering public by going on hunger strike in full view. Tourists moving through the port and exercising their freedom of movement will be forced to see our lack of freedom until Western governments work together to offer us somewhere to build a new life safely.”

With migrants facing increasing repression and winter approaching, the situation is urgent. But they say Western countries should not abrogate their responsibilities by readmitting migrants to the first European country they were fingerprinted in. Many migrants who are readmitted to Italy, Greece and Malta say the situation is much worse there than living clandestinely in Calais and that they are oppressed there. In Greece, readmitted migrants are often locked up for three months and increasingly for six months. On release, migrants still have nowhere to go and continue to be targeted by police who beat them and sometimes rip up their papers. Readmission is not the solution according to the hunger strikers – countries including the UK, Canada, USA and Sweden should take a proportion of the hunger strikers.

For further information, or to arrange an interview with one of the hunger strikers, call 0033634810710.
Calais Migrant Solidarity
Sign up to the Calais Solidarity Twitter feed.

The start of the hunger strike has been delayed until tomorrow as police intervened to arrest some of the migrants on their way to the start location and held activists for over 4 hours.

Monday, 28 September 2009

UKBA In 'Fingerprint & Lock Up Children For Fun' Scandal

In what appears to be a bizarre PR stunt, the UK Borders Agency are offering to have "fully-kitted arrest team officers" fingerprint, handcuff and bang up children and pensioners in Immigration Service cell vans at county shows across the south of England so they can have a taste of the rich and rewarding Immigration Detention and Deportation Experience! For the parents who thought their children too young to be locked in a cell (an option not open to the parents of deported children), there was the chance to make "fingerprint paintings". We kid you not.

According to UKBA's in-house 'London & South East Region Stakeholder Newsletter', this "great opportunity to explain the importance of our work" had apparently had improved the opinion of the work of the service in 239 visitors surveyed, while 13 said it was the same. What they don't say is how many found it a totally humiliating and degrading experience and how many were too flabbergasted to even respond, never mind too outraged to even take part.

You can request an electronic copy of this 'newsletter' from:

Friday, 25 September 2009

Libya: Inside The Detention Centres

Second part of a two part article (with Italy: Abandon Hope All Who Sail Near) on Italian-Libyan cooperation to block the Libya - Lampedusa/Malta migration route.

On May 14 Libya took delivery of three patrol boats of the Guardia di Finanza as part of a deal struck between the Gadaffi and Berlusconi regimes to try and block one of the main clandestine migration routes into southern Europe via Italy. The loan of the three boats, to be followed by 3 more later this year, is part of Italy's new 'push-back' policy that involves the Libyans intercepting boats leaving their coastal waters in addition to accepting migrants that have been intercepted by Italian naval forces and returned to Libya. These returnees are immediately locked up in the numerous prisons and detention centres doted along Libya's Mediterranean coast.

Since Libya 'came in from the cold' in 2004, the EU, and Italy in particular, has been increasingly involving the country in its overall policy of outsourcing its immigration and asylum effort. Deals have been signed and money and equipment handed over, channelled via Frontex and the International Organisation for Migration, in exchange for patrolling Europe's southern border and for increasing the rate of deportation of migrants back to sub-Saharan countries.*

The 3 patrol boats are used to monitor the most popular setting-off point for Lampedusa and Sicily, the sparsely populated coastline between the Tunisian border and Sabratah, a stretch of coast already monitored by a police tent sited on the beach, every ten kilometres. This blanket coverage has been very effective, intercepting 500 boats in its first week of operation and provoking a fall-off in clandestine traffic, with only 400 boats interdicted in the following 8 weeks. Inevitably, migrants will be forced to risk longer and more hazardous sea crossings to try and circumvent the patrols, with the obvious consequence being more deaths.


“There are no refugees in Libya,” Brigadier General Mohamed Bashir Al Shabbani, director of the Office of Immigration at the General People’s Committee for Public Security, told Human Rights Watch. “They are people who sneak into the country illegally and they cannot be described as refugees.” And according to current estimates, there are two million of these "people who sneak into the country illegally" living precarious in Libya.

Unlike Italy and the rest of the EU, Libya itself is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Therefore, if you are not a Libyan citizen or do not hold a valid visa, you are liable to be detained and disappear into Libya's notorious prison system alongside those migrants who have been forcibly returned by Italy. Even if you do manage to avoid the ubiquitous police patrols and survive the 8 months wait for an appointment with the UNHCR, who themselves have only been operating in Libya since 2008, any refugee papers issued are effectively worthless as refugees routinely have them torn up by the police after their arrest. And once inside the prison system, as a diplomatic source in Libya told Human Rights Watch, migrants can be detained for anything “from a few weeks to 20 years.”

Libya's Gulags

There are believed to be at least 28 facilities used to hold migrant detainees. These fall into 3 types: concentration camps, like those of Sebha, Kufrah and Misratah, where migrants and refugees are concentrated waiting for their deportation. Then there are smaller facilities, such as Qatrun, Shat, Ghat, many ols warehouses where they are held for a shorter periods before being sent to the bigger camps. The remainder of these facilities however are the prisons: Jadida, Fellah, Ain Zarah and Kufar. Conditions in them are uniformly bad; foul drinking water, bad food, no chance to wash, overcrowded, constant beatings, often with cattle-prods and many women detainees raped by guards. The exceptions are a select handful of 'show home' prison and even these the Libyan authorities are reluctant to allow organisations such as the UNHCR to visit.

So, when Human Rights Watch came to compile their report, 'Pushed Back, Pushed Around', they were forced to rely on the testimonies of ex-detainees. They found that the migrants returned from Italy to Libya mostly ended up in Kufra detention centre, deep in the desert near the Sudanese border. Ostensibly a state prison, it consists of a courtyard surrounded by 6 large detention rooms, each capable of holding more than 100 migrants. These rooms are windowless, with air holes in ceiling for ventilation. Everyone sleeps on the floor and, if you are lucky, you might share a filthy mattress. Detainees are only allowed outside once a day when guards conduct the prisoner count. There they can grab a breathe of fresh air and they often receive a beating too. The prison, like most other Libyan jails, has no medical staff.

There are also buildings at Kufra that are owned and run by people smugglers, who work hand in fist with the prison guards. They too wear uniforms and it is impossible for the migrants to tell guards and smugglers apart. Once in the hands of these smugglers, migrants have no option but to pay their captors the money for their passage to Italy or they end up dumped in desert to die.** Many migrants also end up coming back to Kufra in what seems like an endless round of 'pay the smugglers, get caught and returned to Kufra', only to have to pay up again. In some Libyan prisons migrants can bribed their guards to buy their freedom. The going rate is $1,000-$1,200, exactly the cost of the boat ride to Europe. In other prisons guards just sell their captives to the smugglers for as little as 30 Libyan dinars, about €18.

This picture is not untypical. In 2006, when Gabriele del Grande visited Misratah prison, 210 km east of Tripoli, he found more than 600 Eritrean asylum seekers, mostly between 20 to 30 years old, and including 58 women and several children and babies, crammed 20 to 4 by 5 metre room, again with no windows. Some detainees had been there for more than 2 years and none had seen a lawyer or the inside of a court.

Fully Culpable

And it is not as though the Italian authorities*** are in the dark about the fate of the migrants caught up in its 'push-back' operations. In 2005, the former director of the Italian secret service (SISDe), Prefect Mario Mori, informed the Italian Parliament that: "Undocumented migrants in Libya are caught like dogs” and that they are put in to prisons so overcrowded that “policemen must wear a dust mask on the mouth because of the nauseating odours". It is clear that the Italian government is fully cognisant of the conditions that it sends the migrants back to and of the fact that it is guilty of serious violations of international law relating to the refoulement**** of refugees.

* It is also not the first time that a 'push-back' policy has been operated by a European country. Italy and Malta have tried it in 2005 and 2006 respectively and it is routine for Greek coast guards to tow boats back to Turkish waters and to sink them there, forcing their passengers to swim ashore.
** Before the guards at Kufra discovered that they could sell the migrants to people smugglers, the migrants were often loaded into the converted container lorries used to transport migrants around Libya and taken out into the desert and dumped with little or no water.
*** Or any other European government, a number of whom have in recent years concluded prisoner transfer treaties.
**** The forced return of people to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened or where they would face a risk of torture.

The Office Of The Chief Of Police In Calais Occupied

Twenty French and UK No Borders activists staged a sit-in at the the sous-prefecture (Chief of Police) in Calais, demanding an immediate end to the persecution of migrants and calling for freedom of movement for all. They unfurled a banner proclaiming 'Human Rights have No Borders', alongside others made by migrants in response to their eviction on Tuesday. One banner read, 'The jungle is our house, please don’t destroy it. If you do, so then where is the place to go?'

The clearances, which began on Tuesday, were due to end today. However, Besson has now admitted that the operation is likely to continue for weeks. Meanwhile, many of the migrants arrested on Tuesday have already been released, most just with the clothes on their back, and activists and humanitarian groups in Calais are trying to find shelter for them, under the constant threat of their, and the migrants, being arrested.

All the activists were eventually arrested and at the time of posting are still in police custody.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Italy: Abandon Hope All Who Sail Near

This Wednesday saw the publication of a Human Rights Watch report called 'Pushed Back, Pushed Around', based on interviews with 91 migrants and asylum seekers in Italy and Malta since May this year. The report's subtitle sums up the contents well: 'Italy’s Forced Return of Boat Migrants and Asylum Seekers, Libya’s Mistreatment of Migrants and Asylum Seekers', as Italy's new 'push-back' policy operates hand in glove with its complicity in the appalling treatment meted out to migrants it returns to fester in Libya's detention centres and prisons.

The dire living conditions and the routine brutality of prison guards that the African migrant victims of Italy's new 'final' solution to its migrant problem suffer also featured in a Channel 4 News story on the same day, based on smuggled out film footage and interviews and on the extensive reporting sourced from the Fortress Europe blog.

Both highlight an ugly story of people who have been denied due process under the international laws and conventions that Italy has signed up to but which Libya has not. An ugly story of European governments pursuing racist policies and ignoring the consequences visited upon the men, women and children they have abandoned to their fates in one of the most squalid and oppressive immigration detention systems in the world.


"On May 6, 2009, for the first time in the post-World War II era, a European state ordered its coast guard and naval vessels to interdict and forcibly return boat migrants on the high seas without doing any screening whatsoever to determine whether any passengers needed protection or were particularly vulnerable. The interdicting state was Italy; the receiving state was Libya. Italian coast guard and finance guard patrol boats towed migrant boats from international waters without even a cursory screening to see whether some might be refugees or whether others might be sick or injured, pregnant women, unaccompanied children, or victims of trafficking or other forms of violence against women. The Italians disembarked the exhausted passengers on a dock in Tripoli where the Libyan authorities immediately apprehended and detained them." - 'Pushed Back, Pushed Around'

There have been eight 'push-back operations' since the policy was launched in May, in which 757 people had been taken back to Libya. Yet, according to Nitto Francesco Palma, an Under Secretary at the Italian Interior Ministry, "Not a single request for international protection was made during this journey," despite the journey taking 10 hours, "anyone could have asked for protection or informed staff they feared persecution but no one did". Who is he trying to fool?*

These 'push-back operations' are part of an overall deal with the Libyan government to severely limit the number of boats leaving the Libyan coast for Italy as well reaching Italian shores. And the policy seems the be working. In its first week of operation, 500 boats intercepted and migrant landings have decreased by 94 per cent since the 'push-back' agreement came into effect.** At the beginning of the year, the detention centres in Lampedusa held nearly 2,000 people, and migrants were sleeping on the floors, but in early June they were completely empty. Yet Italy still claims to be dealing with more migrants than it can cope with. According to Palma, in the first eight months of 2009 Italy processed 17,203 asylum applications and granted refugee status to 1,246 people. A further 5,418 people received another form of protection while around 10,000 had their claims refused. This compares to the 31,164 new asylum applications received in 2008 (i.e. a fall of roughly 450 applications a month).

However, we have no breakdown of figures for arrivals month by month for that period, so it is difficult to tell how much of an overall effect on numbers arriving in Italy the policy is having (the 757 migrants returned only represents half of the decrease seen during the first 8 months of this year). One thing that is certain however is that the decrease in boat arrivals will lead to a reduction in both in the total number of asylum application granted and in the overall percentage. Part of the reason for this is that 75% of those who arrived in Italy by sea in 2008 applied for asylum and 50% of them received some form of international protection, whereas the overall level of applications granted was lower at about 40%.

A significant contribution to the higher rate of successful applications came from Eritrean refugees. Italy is the main route in to the EU for Ertirean migrants fleeing forced conscription and political and religious persecution, and the vast majority of the 3,000 Eritreans who reached Italy by sea in 2008, and apply for asylum, received a residence permit for international protection. Similarly, many other such arrivals are refugees from conflict zones such as Somalia or Darfur and therefore also have strong claims to be granted international protection. So one can see why the Italians might was to cut this asylum route.


Which brings us to the recent criticism of the 'push-back' policy and the fact that it falls foul of international law. Refoulement is the forced return of people to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened or where they would face a risk of torture, and it is prohibited under numerous international conventions, all of which Italy is a signatory to. This fact was again pointed out to the Italian government by the combined forces of the United Nations Refugee Commissioner, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, the European Commission Vice-President and Human Rights Watch this week. And Italy is deemed guilty not just because the Eritreans risk being returned to Eritrea by Libya but because Libya itself has one of the worst human rights records in Africa. (see Libya: Inside The Detention Centres tomorrow)

Much of this renewed international interest is due to the story of the deaths of the 73 Eritrean migrants en rote to Italy, who drifted for three weeks in the Mediterranean without rescue. The 5 surviving refugees said a dozen fishing boats passed but only one answered their calls, throwing food to them but refusing to board. Previously Sicilian fishing boats were renown for rescuing migrants' boats when in trouble but according to Laura Boldrini of the UNHCR, "with Italy's new law making immigration a crime, they've become too afraid".

Other Developments

In other moves, two Italian public prosecutor's offices have instigated legal challenges to the new Bossi-Fini immigration law, claiming that it violates the Italian constitution and as such should be unenforceable. One case, in the northern city of Turin, involves a nine-month-old baby born in Italy to a Moroccan mother, legally resident in the country, and an Egyptian father without a residence permit. The couple are unable to register the baby either as Italian or Egyptian, while the father, a trained psychologist, is under threat of deportation. This decision on this case, which cites the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child guaranteeing minors the right ''to their personal identity and to citizenship from birth", is expected in early October.

The second case, in the Sicilian city of Agrigento, involves 21 migrants who are being prosecuted for arriving in southern Sicily without papers. The prosecutor's office this time is citing the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (2000), which they say obliges signatory states to assist and protect migrants in difficulty, not prosecute them. Simply entering Italy without permission or overstaying a permit should not of itself be proof that someone represents a threat to public safety. This case is currently adjourned, awaiting a ruling from Italy's Constitutional Court.

Hopefully the mounting pressure on the Italian government will force them to back-track on this law but, given the high public rating of the Berlusconi regime and the increasing popularity of the blackshirt-style anti-migrant citizens street patrols, it seems highly unlikely. After all, this is not the first time that Italy has had its wrists slapped for something like this***, and it is not just Italy but the whole of the rest of the EU that is relying on policies like 'push-back' and deals with the Libyan regime to cut clandestine migration into Fortress Europe.

* See the Paris Match photos for a typical expulsion.
** Deaths on the Libya - Lampedusa/Malta route have also fallen - there were 339 victims in the first 6 months of 2009, compared with 650 in the same period of 2008.
*** A previous Italian series of collective expulsions towards Libya where condemned in 2005 by the European Parliament and by the European Court of Human Rights.

MailWatch #4 Part 2

Part 2 of the latest instalment of our occasional service debunking migration stories in the Daily Mail, self-styled 'Last Bulwark Against The Tide Of Filth That Is Threatening To Engulf Civilisation'™

Yesterday saw the first new MailWatch post in nearly a month and the simple reason for its absence till now has been that the Mail has been laying off the immigration and 'race' stories lately. They seem to have been loathe to feature Calais migrants stories as well, which may or may not be linked to a current Press Complaints Commission investigation into their Calais coverage - they even failed to do their worst when provided with the 'Jungle' eviction story. (see Part 1)


In fact, the only stories in the past month directly related to Calais have been 'Border Agency sniffer dog uncovers three Vietnamese immigrants in a lorry heading for Britain' [23/08/09]*, rehashed by the Mail's ubiquitous Paris correspondent Peter Allen as 'Vietnamese illegal immigrants hidden among speciality food on truck bound for UK' the following day.

And that was it more or less until Besson announced what the Mail has been campaigning for for years - ' 'The Jungle' may be closed by French Immigration Minister within a month' [04/09/09] - and again the paper wasn't trumpeting the possibility! Then, as D-Day approached (again, strange that the paper wasn't gloating with D-Day-style headlines), we had 'When 'The Jungle' is razed, how many migrants will Britain take from Calais this time?' [19/09/2009] regarding the suggestion, made by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, that Britain take some of the displaced Calais migrants which, according to the Mail, "raised the prospect of a repeat of the British humiliation when France closed the Red Cross refugee camp at Sangatte seven years ago."

After 'D-Day', we did however see some gloating (tempered with a hefty dollop of cynicism, as it dawned on even this reactionary blow-hard tabloid that the destruction of the 'Jungle' was not going to change much), 'Razed to the ground: Jungle migrant camp emptied after raid by Calais police (but will it stop asylum-seekers flooding into Britain?)' [22/09/2009]. This article was itself a rewritten version of 'Next stop UK: As riot police storm The Jungle migrant camp at Calais, a defiant message from the asylum seekers' that was discussed at length yesterday and also found favour with a number of fascist websites (Google it ans see!). This was followed up yesterday and today by 'We'll STILL reach the UK, insist migrants evicted from Jungle' and 'Pictured: New squalid migrant camp pops up in Calais hours after the Jungle is razed' respectively.

Yesterday's piece contained some priceless lines. For example, "Many of the immigrants, encouraged by a group of anarchists chanting, 'We will fight, we will fight', refused to go. Some had to be dragged out kicking and screaming", clearly a dig at No Borders activists there. This was followed by a bit of Muslim extremism, "The worst trouble took place around the makeshift mosque, which the mainly Afghan Muslim residents of the camp had promised to defend 'at all costs'. 'It is the centre of our camp, and leaving it pains us massively,' said Omar, a 26-year-old originally from Kabul, shortly before he was arrested." All topped off with this dire warning to its readers: "'The police can try to stop us as much as they like, but nothing will stop us getting to England.'"

Stout stuff, then throw in a few photographs of violent arrests - sorry, that should be protesters resisting arrest: "One of the migrants is hauled away by French riot police" "Screaming defiance". Then there's the photo of 3 activists holding a banner with the words 'Human Rights Have No Borders' and the caption "Some of the would-be immigrants protest as the clear-out operation begins"! The usual high standard of journalism there then.

Some of that tosh was contributed by our friend peter Allen again and he struck again today with, 'Pictured: New squalid migrant camp pops up in Calais hours after the Jungle is razed'. In this not only does he get to use one of his favourite migrant-related word 'squalid' again and again, but he also drops this bombshell: "Just 24 hours after a mile-square stretch of wasteland was cleared of hundreds of mainly Afghan young men, the town’s mayor said she had ‘spotted between fifteen and twenty squats’ nearby". Except she had said this 6 days ago "Combien de squats avez-vous comptabilisé sur Calais ? « J'en ai repéré entre 15 et 20... » " in a Nord Littoral interview. So either there are in fact no new squats or this is old news.

Not Calais

One of the Mail's favourite tricks is placing photos of Calais migrants in stories that ostensibly have nothing to actually do with Calais or the Calais migrants. So, recently we have the same stock photo by Mail staff photographer Jamie Wiseman of Calais migrants sitting on a fence at what looks like the quai Paul Devot eating a Salam-provided meal. The first occurrence is in 'Britain must take more war refugees as Brussels wants us to open the doors to thousands' [03/09/2009], where it bears the caption "Asylum seekers in Calais queue for food handouts distributed by local charity workers", except they are not in any queue and they already have their food!

The next caption is even more ludicrous. The story was, 'France dumps controversial plan to DNA test all new arrivals into the country' [13/09/09], referring to the news that Besson had announced the scrapping of a bizarre plan to test migrants' DNA to determine their country of origin "because it was 'damaging' his country's image".** This article featured the same picture, this time with the caption "Asylum seekers gather at a refugee centre in France." You can draw your own conclusions on that one. Interestingly the Mail offered Besson a bit of encouragement the next day with, 'France's hardline immigration minister Eric Besson calls for 'debased' burkha to be banned'. This is a theme the Mail has featured before, and may well be due to jealousy of the ability of the secular French state to consider banning Islamic dress, but they still manage to defend good-old Anglo-Saxon Christian values with stories like 'Christian hotel owners face ruin after 'defending their faith' in row with a Muslim guest' [21/09/2009].

Still on the 'wrong side' of the English Channel (and proud of it), other stories that caught our eye over the month were 'Paris police evict hundreds of Britain-bound migrants from gardens dubbed 'Little Kabul'' [20/08/09] by the Mail's Paris correspondent, one Peter Allen; along with the non-French 'Muslim lovers to be caned for trying to have sex in a car' [22/09/2009] and 'Iran bans curves: Police order shop owners to cover mannequins up' [23/09/2009] - I don't know, those crazy sex obsessed Muslims!

Nearer Home

Clearly the story that takes the prize seems to combine all that is Mail journalism
at its very worst, 'Revealed: The areas of Britain where there are more migrants chasing jobs than locals' [21/09/09]. In this we get a 'those bloody foreigners over here stealing our jobs' story together with the most stupid use of statistics that you are ever likely to come across, all neatly tied up with a ribbon in the guise of yet another bloody MigrationSquint-and-you-might-just-see-a-reasoned-argument quote in something that claims that "The true extent of the huge influx of foreign workers into Britain is revealed in an investigation by the Daily Mail." This tawdry piece of an insult to 'investigative' journalism has more holes in it than the proverbial string vest and, if you are interested in finding out why, we highly recommend the aptly titled 'Mail Compares Apples With Oranges Comes Up With Bananas'***

Of course there has been the Attorney General Patricia Scotland and her Tongan ex-cleaner story, goldmine stuff for the Mail. She's black, a woman in high office, a Labour appointment and there's an 'illegal' immigrants involved (except she is in fact a legal immigrant who has overstayed her visa, not quiet the same thing), what more could you want? 15 articles and comment pieces since the story broke last week!

We could go further with 'Feral youths: How a generation of violent, illiterate young men are living outside the boundaries of civilised society' [19/09/09] - "Round here, Poles do all of the work" - or 'Visa sham as just 29 out of 66,000 applicants from Pakistan interviewed despite supposed 'crackdown'' [10/09/09], or maybe 'Romanian fraudsters use trafficked babies and children for multi-million pound UK benefit scam' [23/08/2009] and that good old stand-by 'Local hero turns villain after she rents out her field to gipsies' [24/08/2009]. Then again there are the 'Overseas student surge hits 110,000: And all but a tenth decide they'll stay in Britain' [25/09/09], 'The migrant baby boom: Foreign mothers help push Britain's population past 61m' [28/08/2009] and the ''Immigrant baby boom' to cost taxpayers £1bn in new primary school places' [07/09/09] stories. But we wont, too much of this sort of thing tends to leave a rather nasty taste in the mouth.

* NB: on-line version has since been edited.
** Britain has recently announced that it is continuing to go ahead with this form of modern-day Eugenic analysis.
*** No, it's not what you're thinking. We hadn't come across this website until researching a piece on the Mail last month. A case of great minds think alike and fools never differ?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

MailWatch #4 Part 1

It's time for another instalment of our occasional service debunking migration stories in the Daily Mail, self-styled 'Last Bulwark Against The Tide Of Filth That Is Threatening To Engulf Civilisation'™ And this time we are going to focus on their coverage of the destruction of the 'Jungle' yesterday (the full annotated text of the web version is at the bottom of this article).

The Daily Mail’s front page coverage of the “operation to raze the squalid Calais refugee camp known as the Jungle” was quiet surprising. OK it started with its usual uniformed sensationalist use of language right from the headline “Riot police storm The Jungle” – anyone who has viewed the extensive film coverage (it was a worldwide PR event after all) could see that the gendarmes did not storm in; they walked in. Even the CRS, who are given to a great deal of sturm und drang, were fairly laid back for them – OK they did rough up activists and migrants alike, taking cheap shots against the Salam volunteers and No Borders activists trying to passively protect the obviously frightened youngsters in the camp, but that is nothing compared to their usual behaviour.

However, the thing that really jumped out of the page at you is the line “By Daily Mail Reporter”. What no Daily Mail reporter on the ground? A quick comparison with coverage in other newspapers clearly showed that large chunks of the text were cut and pasted from the Press Association (PA) news-wire article by Katie Hodge, with Associated Press (AP) pictures.** Now this is a very common occurrence in today’s 24/7 news media where, as Nick Davies in ‘Flat Earth News' named it, churnailsm has taken over from good old-fashioned journalism.

So, initially it looked as if the paper that has in the past boasted about its standards and the use of ‘senior and well-respected’ journalist on the ground collecting stories, had in fact not bothered to employ anybody to cover what it had been campaigning almost single-handedly amongst the tabloids, the closure of the ‘Jungle’. That and the usual stupid mistakes and bizarre spin, “Up to 500 officers were at the site - one for each remaining migrant”, implying that there might be up to 500 migrants in the camp when it was plain for anyone to see in the few days leading up to the eviction that there was fewer than 300 migrants present in the ‘Jungle’. Oh, and everyone else seemed to think that there were 600 police there but that is an easy mistake to make, estimating large numbers, as previous wildly oscillating estimates of the ‘Jungle’ inhabitants have shown.

Further inspection of the text and an earlier on-line version of the article (see a copy of the text here) published at 11:34 pm the night before, together with 2 articles [1, 2] in the Telegraph under the by-line Peter Allen, who has tried to cover the Calais story in the past with varying degrees of accuracy, reveal another source for some of the article (see below). In fact whole chunks have been tweaked used in both – lets hope he got paid twice.***

Other quotes from Jessica Nora Shadia of Dunkirk appeared elsewhere in the Guardian. Then that quote and the whole of the following 3 paragraphs appeared on-line at the Express and Channel4 sites, so it is difficult to tell where this came from originally. More wire service text?

As for the ‘real’ Mail text, we have to look no further than the first few paragraphs: “An operation to raze the squalid Calais refugee camp” – pure Mailese; “French riot police said to be armed with flamethrowers, stun guns and tear gas” – the flamethrower idea come from the Telegraph the day before, and yes the CRS are always armed with tear gas and stun guns, so no story there! We’ve covered the ‘500 officers for every ’remaining migrant’, so “many more asylum-seekers…are thought to have escaped the camp before nightfall”, well they didn’t so much escape as simply walk out just as the media were allowed to freely move into the camp. After all, the French authorities wanted as fewer migrants there as possible to make the who PR event run nice and smoothly.

And we go on, “military units are in reserve near the Channel Tunnel entrance in case of disorder”, dramatic but true – Natacha Bouchard for one was no doubt sad that she didn’t get her way and have the army used to destroy the ‘Jungle’; “efforts have so far been hampered by the presence of scores of camera crews and human rights organisation representatives” – not the Mail, we use AP pics on this story. Just what was being hampered by the presence of press and human rights representatives (those pesky leftie do-gooders!)? Certainly not the rounding up of 280 odd migrants by more than twice the number of armed police.

And that’s about it. There rest is lifted from wire service copy and Peter Allen’s ‘play up the Islam and defending the mosque’ angle. So all-in-all a thoroughly disappointing effort from the paper that has spent so much time, effort and newsprint in trying to demonise the Calais migrants. And what are they going to do now once the ‘Jungle’ problem has gone away? Except it hasn’t gone away and there will be lots of opportunity to play the ‘illegal’ immigration and Islamophobia cards in the days to come, as the ‘New squalid migrant camp pops up in Calais hours after the Jungle is razed’ story today proves (we will have an analysis and some other recent mail stories in MailWatch #4 Part 2 tomorrow).

* The original story was titles 'Next stop UK: As riot police storm The Jungle migrant camp at Calais, a defiant message from the asylum seekers' but the on-line version has been the subject of heavy and persistent editing, so there is no link to it. Instead the version in question is copied as text below. The same occurred with the Guardian article, also below.
** You certainly wouldn't blame the Mail photographer who did the 'Bloody siege of Calais' story [see], he is definitely a marked man. On that tack, it seems that some journalists will stop at nothing to get their story, even masquerading as No Borders activists in order to be taken into the confidence of Calais migrants. Just a little gripe, but such acts of duplicity have at times undermined the rapport that activists on the ground have put a lot of time and effort in to achieving. So the next time one of you journos doesn't find themselves greeted with smiles and openness, it's probably down to one of your 'trade' having just undermined the trust that you had spent time building up with us!
*** Especially as he wrote about migrants and left-wing protesters fighting with police. [See]

Next stop UK: As riot police storm The Jungle migrant camp at Calais, a defiant message from the asylum seekers

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 9:36 AM on 22nd September 2009

An operation to raze the squalid Calais refugee camp known as the Jungle was underway this morning, led by French riot police said to be armed with flamethrowers, stun guns and tear gas.

Up to 500 officers were at the site - one for each remaining migrant in the shanty town of tarpaulin tents and rickety shacks.

Many more asylum-seekers hoping to reach Britain are thought to have escaped the camp before nightfall so they can avoid being sent back to the European country they first entered.

Military units are in reserve near the Channel Tunnel entrance in case of disorder and efforts have so far been hampered by the presence of scores of camera crews and human rights organisation representatives.

A total of 278 people have so far been detained, French police confirmed.

Minor scuffles broke out and a dozen immigrants who were refusing to move were dragged and carried out of the camp by police. Some were still eating their breakfast in tents when police descended on the site. [second sentence a direct lift from the Press Association]

Around 150 migrants were standing quietly behind banners marked 'we need shelter and protection, we want peace'. [PA]

Some camp dwellers, many of whom were children, were dragged away by police officers and put into waiting buses. Others were escorted out. [PA]

Protesters, some in tears, shouted slogans at the police, including: 'Shame on France.' [PA]

Aid worker Sylvie Copyans, from the group Salam, described the heavy-handed police response was ‘disproportionate and sickening’. [PA rewrite]

To highlight this she told how a frightened Afghan boy called Ali was torn from her arms by police as she wept.

She said: 'I tried to hide him, he was very, very frightened.’ [PA]

Jessica Nora Shadia, 25, from Dunkirk, said: 'It's shameful. They treat people like animals. Children were being pushed to the floor as if people have nothing. It's so sad. [Guardian/Express/Channel4]

'We tried to help them,' she shrugged: 'What can you do.' [Express/Channel4]

An aid worker who declined to be named, added: 'I think it's not human. They dragged people out of their tents. It isn't fair. [Express/Channel4]

'These are people, young people, they deserve so much more than this. It's a scandal.' [Express/Channel4]

According to aid agencies, the immigrants were being taken in buses to police stations to be processed. [PA]

From there they will be sent back to the countries where they entered the European Union. [PA]

It was thought that many will end up in Greece, one of the main points of entry for the immigrants. But aid agencies have predicted that many will end up back on the streets. [PA]

Today French immigration minister Eric Besson insisted that the clearing of 'The Jungle' was an important step in making Calais ‘watertight’ to illegal migrants.

Just before the clearance operation began he said: ‘I want us to dismantle this camp which is a base for people traffickers.

‘There are traffickers who make these poor people pay an extremely high price for a ticket to England.

‘This is not a humanitarian camp. It's a base for people traffickers.’

But migrants, most of them from Afghanistan and Iraq, last night sent out the defiant message: 'The only place we are going from here is Britain'.

A 22-year-old from Kabul, who gave his name as Rezna, spoke for many when he said: 'We're determined to stay as close to the port as possible because it's the way to England. Nothing will stop us getting there. We are all absolutely determined to start a new life in Britain.'

The sheer squalor of the camp is one reason for its closure. Piles of rubbish lie strewn everywhere and the stench of rotting food and human waste fills the air.

Many of the camp's inhabitants, and most of the women and children who were there, have already fled, leaving behind a hard core of young men.

They are resigned to losing their temporary shelters but pledged yesterday to defend their makeshift mosque - by far the best-built structure on the camp. [Peter Allen rewrite]

'We are expecting the worst when the police arrive, but will defend our mosque at all costs,' said Rachid, a 21-year-old Afghan. 'It is extremely important to us. It is a holy place where we pray night and day - the police must not harm it.' [Peter Allen]

Mansoor, 32, another Afghan, said: 'We do not want any trouble, but fighting sometimes breaks out because of the way we are treated. If they show disrespect to our mosque then we will respond accordingly.' [Peter Allen]

The French authorities had waited until the end of Ramadan before tackling the Jungle. [Peter Allen]

The camp is a magnet for people from all over the world determined to cross the Channel and reach Britain. Once here, they claim asylum or disappear into the black economy. [Peter Allen]

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said yesterday he was delighted about the impending closure. [PA]

He shrugged off calls by Antonio Guterres, head of the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, who called on to take some of the inhabitants of the Jungle, arguing it could be the 'right solution'.

Mr Johnson said genuine refugees should apply for asylum in the country where they entered the EU. [PA]

He said: 'I met with Eric discuss the issue of illegal immigrants in northern France.

'I stressed the importance to our joint relationship of closing the Jungle at Calais and was delighted to be told that France is honouring our July agreement in Evian by closing the camp by the end of the week.

'The UK has a robust system for dealing with both asylum seekers and immigration and provides protection to those who are genuinely in need. [PA]

'Reports that the UK will be forced to take illegal immigrants from the Jungle are wrong. [PA]

'Both countries are committed to helping individuals who are genuine refugees, who should apply for protection in the first safe country they reach. [PA]

'We expect those who are not in need of protection to return home.' [PA]


Hundreds of police clear Calais migrant camp

By Katie Hodge, Press Association

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

French police today cleared a controversial immigrant camp in Calais known as 'the jungle'.

Hundreds of officers surrounded the camp at first light, rounding up dozens of people who had been living in the tent city on the edge of the Channel port.

There were minor scuffles as the camp dwellers, some in tears, were led away.

Dozens of protesters had also gathered at the site ahead of the operation and began chanting slogans at the police.

Around 150 migrants were at the camp, standing quietly behind banners which declared: "We need shelter and protection, we want peace."

But aid workers said the news that the French government was to close the camp, confirmed last night, prompted many more to flee.

As the police moved in, the activists began shouting: "No borders. No nation. No deportation."

About a dozen migrants who were refusing to move were dragged and carried out of the camp by police.

Some migrants were still eating their breakfast in tents when police descended on the site.

The camp had been home to hundreds of mainly Afghan asylum seekers, some of them just children.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he was "delighted" about its closure.

Britain has ruled out taking them in, and Mr Johnson said genuine refugees should apply for asylum in the country where they entered the EU.

Speaking after talks in Brussels with his French counterpart Eric Besson yesterday, Mr Johnson said reports that Britain could be "forced" to take the immigrants were "wrong".

EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot had reportedly demanded a change in European law to allow a "significant number" to be fast-tracked into Britain.

But Mr Johnson said: "The UK has a robust system for dealing with both asylum seekers and immigration and provides protection to those who are genuinely in need.

"Reports that the UK will be forced to take illegal immigrants from the 'jungle' are wrong.

"Both countries are committed to helping individuals who are genuine refugees, who should apply for protection in the first safe country that they reach.

"We expect those who are not in need of protection to return home."

However, Keith Best, chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service charity, warned that shutting the camp would simply shift the problem to another part of Calais.

He said: "I remember seven years ago when (former) home secretary David Blunkett and the then French minister of the interior Nicolas Sarkozy congratulated themselves on the closure of the Red Cross centre at Sangatte, but the hundreds of asylum seekers merely moved to the dockside of Calais.

"The liquidation of the jungle will have the same transitory effect."

"What is needed is a commitment by the French authorities at all levels to admit asylum seekers to their procedures promptly.

"At present it is very difficult to claim asylum in France as those to whom I spoke admitted.

"The French are not playing their part in allowing people to claim asylum in Calais, despite their obligation under the Refugee Convention."

Moments before the police launched today's operation, about 100 people were huddled around a fire in an attempt to ward off the cold as the Muslim call to prayer rang out.

Fifteen-year-old Sail Pardes, from eastern Afghanistan, has been at the camp for six months and is hoping to make his way to England.

He said: "The most important thing is to get to England. I want to go to school and become a better person."

Sylvie Copyans, of aid group Salam, said some of the immigrants have been in the camp for up to eight months.

She said: "It's exactly like when they closed Sangatte. It's now exactly the same. They are saying no immigrants in Calais, they can't stay here. But if they are made to leave they will just go to another squat. It's more and more difficult every day."

She added: "They are young, they have a lot of hopes and wishes. They are brave and courageous. They often have no family, that is difficult for them."

Some camp dwellers were dragged away by police officers and put into waiting buses. Others were escorted out.

Protesters, some in tears, shouted slogans at the police, including: "Shame on France."

According to aid agencies, the immigrants were being taken in buses to police stations to be processed.

From there they will be sent back to the countries where they entered European Union.

It was thought that many will end up in Greece, one of the main points of entry for the immigrants.

But aid agencies have predicted that many will end up back on the streets.

The French authorities said there were 500-600 officers involved in today's operation.

They detained 278 people, of whom 132 declared themselves children, according to the Prefect of Pas-de-Calais Pierre de Bousquet de Florian.

The adults were being taken to various police stations and the children to "special centres", he said.

Four police divisions had been drafted in to help, including the national anti-riot force the CRS.

French immigration minister Eric Besson was expected to speak to journalists in Calais later today.

Calais Solidarity Protest Outside Brighton UKBA Office

Protesters stopped traffic outside of the UK Borders Agency Identity and Passport Services office in Fredrick Place, Brighton today in a display of support for the migrants in Calais. This last minute demonstration was organised following a public meeting held last night by Calais Migrants Solidarity

volunteers who were sharing their experiences of working with migrants in Calais over the summer.

As the meeting happened to coincide with the destruction of the Pashtun 'Jungle', feeling were running high and a dozen or so people agreed to reassemble today to protest outside the UKBA office here in town. There followed a short impromptu march round town to let all the local office staff on their lunch breaks know that not everyone is happy with the UK government's stance on the Calais migrants.

Destroying The Jungles: A False Solution

Joint Statement of organizations: La Belle Etoile, French Coalition for the Right of Asylum, GISTI, Secours Catholique, C’Sur, Salam, Migrants Fraternity Collective (Angres), Terre d’Errances Norrent-Fontes, Terre d’Errances Steenvoorde, Calais Migrant Solidarity, The Exiles of 10 ° (Paris), The Ligue de Droits de l’Homme (Pas-de-Calais Regional Federation), Medecins du Monde, Cimade, the Greens, NPA Calais, Amnesty International.

We, associations engaged daily with migrants, are convinced that the government plan to destroy jungles is ineffective and exacerbates the situation.

Smashing the shelters causes the scattering of camps, delivering migrants into the hands of criminal networks and does not settle anything at all . It is persisting in the error of 2002 (the closure of the Sangatte camp).

Since the speech of Mr. Besson at Calais in April, the visible number of migrants in Calais has fallen. Some went to England. Few were those able to apply for asylum in France. Most have fled the Police threats to Belgium and Holland, the others were scattered into nature. Forced to hide, they are more vulnerable than ever, without access to health care and food and delivered, against their will, into the only law of the mafias.

What will happen to those who are arrested in the coming days? Deported to their country of origin? Released into the wild without any information or help? Returned to Italy or Greece where the living conditions of refugees are dramatic?

The government offers assistance for voluntary return to countries at war and dictatorships. How many will agree to return to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea ... Knowing that in addition either voluntary return or forced return to some of these countries will prove diplomatically impossible ?

The government communicates a lot about the tradition of asylum in France but a small part of migrants had the opportunity to seek asylum. Most are prevented by the European Dublin II Regulation that France applies with zeal, without using the power it has to suspend its application. Since last April, only 170 asylum applications were filed in the sub-prefecture of Calais. Only 50 of them will be processed. The other applicants were sent back to the jungle and can be arrested at any moment and be deported by force, mainly to Italy and Greece where the living conditions of refugees are dramatic. In Greece, access to asylum is virtually impossible.

Mr Barrot, the European Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the recent failures of EU policy on asylum.

It is necessary that the European states no longer abdicate responsibility to their neighbours. European solidarity must become a reality. The Dublin II Regulation has to change, it traps the refugees in a deadlock and leaves them unprotected.

To break the ‘law of the jungle’, we must put the European asylum system on its feet in stopping the denial of the protection needs of individuals and providing a mechanism enabling them to seek asylum in the country of their choice or where they have family, linguistic or cultural ties. Whatever their choice, we must also ensure their reception conditions consistent with the dignity of people by providing accommodation facilities open to all.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

'Jungle' Zero Hour

Well it happened as anticipated. The massive PR event kicked off at 7:30 this morning as 600 police officers moved into action. The CRS surrounded the camp, forcing press and onlookers back, and ordinary Gendarmes went in to carry out the actual arrests. Most of the migrants who had remained in the 'Jungle' over the past few days had gathered before dawn around a fire with their improvised banners in English and Pashtu. "We need shelter and protection. We want asylum and peace. Jungle is our home", proclaimed one. They stood in silence as the police arrived. Few put up any resistance and some were even pulled from their beds.

Some No Borders activists and volunteers from the migrant solidarity groups in Calais (A vociferous and passionate group of human rights protesters chanted: "No border, no nation, stop deportation", as the BBC website put it), using a length of rope, had formed a human shield around a large group of traumatised teenage migrants. The CRS cut the rope and rushed them, knocking activists and migrants to the ground and it was then that the injuries seen in all the film and photo coverage occurred. The migrants were then led away to the waiting coaches and the bulldozers fired up to level the camp.

A total of 278 migrants, including 132 bewildered minors, were arrested along with one No Borders activist. The numbers of those injured have not been released yet. The adults taken away are believed to have been taken to various local police stations for processing. Those with take-able fingerprints will be check against Eurodac. If they have been registered in a 'Safe Third Country' (which, for some reason, Home Office ministers continue to call 'safe first country' - safe third country = first country of asylum under international law), they will be removed to a detention centre prior to deportation. If not, they will be offered the alternative of apply for asylum or take the International Organisation for Migration relocation grant bribe (this is paid to a third party, either to provide education in the country of return or as business start-up capital - no money is given directly to the migrant despite what the Daily Mail and BNP would have you believe).

Those without identifiable fingerprints will probably be dispersed to detention centres around the country* and held till their fingerprints can be taken and checked against the Eurodac database. The minors will be sent to the Metz-Queuleu detention centre, notorious for its high attempted suicide rate long before 16-year-old Nabil L. hanged himself in September 2008. In fact the detention of minors in France has become a bit of a cause célèbre in recent months.

So what will happen to those migrants that left the 'Jungle' before it was deforested today? Many have gone to other 'Jungles' and squats and some reports are of a large number near the Tunnel entrance earlier today. Some may well have also been detained during the raids at Grand Synthe and Graveline or have tries their luck further up and down the coast. Some too will no doubt start to drift back into Calais, once the media storm has died down, to find the dunes fenced off with razor wire and set up camp elsewhere. No doubt also the CRS will make every effort to keep them off balance with raids and arrests, but we all know that those migrants, together with the hundreds already en-route, will be there in an ever-shifting underground population as long as the border exists.

Oh, and we've had the usual hypocrisy and cant from British politicians. We've had Alan Johnson saying he was "delighted" that the 'Jungle' was gone, this from a man who has said that Britain would help genuine asylum seekers (as opposed to taking any of the migrants from Calais) knowing that they have little or no chance of reaching the UK's shores and that almost all would have come through Greece and Italy and have next to no chance of being granted refugee status in either country. Woolas was also doing the rounds of the TV and radio studios at lunchtime today, trotting out the old "these people have no right to claim asylum in the UK, in fact I seriously doubt if they are genuine asylum seekers anyway" argument and trying to blame everything on the people-traffickers. Then, to add insult to injury, he smugly trotted out this line: "Don't try to get in unless you are a genuine asylum seeker, which we work with the UN to look after"!

* The norm for mass arrests in Calais has been for the Coquelles detention centre to be used once it has been emptied (with the migrants currently held there being transferred to other centres) . This has not happened this time.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Calais: Latest News III

No Borders and Calais Migrant Solidarity activists have been busy in and around the 'Jungles' and squats. Police are continuing to raid the camps but on Saturday night activists managed to prevent yet another CRS raid on the Ethiopian squat (the police seem to have a particular aversion to being photographed whilst brutalising migrants and this has become a useful tool for people monitoring the police's activities and trying to prevent arrests). The CRS were forced to leave without having detained anyone but those at the Etiopian camp were the very same ones that had been arrested the day before and released just that morning, which points up what activists have claimed all along - that the raids and arrests are harassment pure and simple.

In other news, at the request of the people in the main Pashtun 'Jungle' paint, brushes and sheets have been supplied by activists so that the migrants can make banners against the destruction of the 'Jungle', against deportations and in support of their human rights. They have also built a large fire which is acting as a beacon, drawing in supporters and the media to the camp.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Calais: Une Ville Occupée

In the run-up to the expected destruction of the main 'Jungle' zone on Tuesday morning, Calais is coming to resemble an occupied city by the hour. More and more military trucks have arrived, the CRS presence has increased and the streets are crawling with unmarked police cars (PAF - border police? BAC - Brigade Anti-Criminalité?). The Telegraph has even claimed that the army will use flame throwers. Its beginning to sound more like a re-enactment of the Sands of Iwo Jima rather than the Battle of Algiers in the Zones des Dunes!

And to top it all, Besson is expected in town tomorrow. Its obviously too good a photo opportunity to miss - first over the top come dawn. Or maybe he'll ride into the Pashtun 'Jungle' in the turret of a tank? And no doubt Calais own Iron Lady, Natacha Bouchart*, will be up there too, with her headscarf and tin hat à la Thatcher. She has already volunteered to mop-up the all the smaller 'Jungles', the squats in Calais itself, and has already claimed responsibility for the destruction of the Ethiopian squat (le squat Pagniez, where the arrested migrants have returned over the weekend after being released from detention, only to find all their possessions that they had left behind trashed by the CRS).

What ever happens in the next days, one thing is certain, this problem will not go away. Greece, as it has consistently done over the years, will not take any of the migrants that have passed through its territory (as the majority of the migrants in Calais most certainly have), Dublin II or no Dublin II. Which means either large-scale deportation flights or Green Cards all around. France may have deported 17,000 people in the first 7 months of the year, and its aim may be to deport 27,000 over the year as a whole, but they will find it difficult to return many of the migrants given that they come from war zones.

And inevitably the migrants will return, 'Jungles' will spring up elsewhere and the humanitarian associations in and around Calais will be left to pick up the pieces long after the media circus has left. Just as they were post Sangatte. Plus ça change...

* Bouchart has finally given examples of the "zone of lawlessness" - two attempted thefts!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Calais: Latest News II

According to the Nord Littoral, the main Pashtun 'Jungle' will begin to be dismantled next Tuesday, when Ramadan has ended. This is backed-up by the arrival of major police reinforcements in the area along with a number of bulldozers. So far however, the mobilisation of medical, interpreters and immigration department workers has not been observed. Already the Ethiopian 'Jungle' is empty and the police have thrown all the bedding and other equipment into the street. No one knows where the 30-40 people that were living there are.

Today volunteers from the various humanitarian associations have been in the main 'Jungles' giving what advice they can. Besson says that an "individual solution"* would be found for each and every migrant but that is of not comfort to the migrants, they are as desperate to get out of the 'Jungle' as Besson is to get rid of it. Needless to say as the migrants' situation gets ever more precarious those that prey on the, the traffickers, have upped their prices.

Also today, the Immigration Department released the text of a letter Besson sent to his European counterparts urging "the elaboration of a new doctrine of engagement for maritime operations", conducted in the Mediterranean by Frontex, that stopped all migrants from reaching European shores. Maybe he is aiming for a job in the Italian Government now?

There has been a lot of rhetoric flying around recently, most of it unedifying and some of it definitely contradictory. For example, what ever happened to 'Opération à Blanc' (Operation in White i.e. with health workers), the October dress rehearsal for the full scale dismantlement of the camps that was announced by Besson at the beginning of the month? Where is the evidence to back up the constant references to violence from the migrants that has apparently turned Calais into a "zone of lawlessness"?

Besson on Tuesday repeated these allegations on Tuesday as has Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, on repeated occasions but no one seems able to come up with any verifiable reports of such violence. However one thing is abundantly clear, the only people that appear to be being terrorised at the moment are the migrants being driven into hiding for fear of being returned to war-zones across the world or trying one last desperate attempt to cross the Channel.

Someone also needs to get their figure right. Besson on Wednesday: About 170 people had made requests for asylum in France this year and been issued with temporary leave to remain and accommodation, plus a further 180 had accepted voluntary return to their country of origin. prefect of Pas-de-Calais, Pierre de Bousquet de Florian on 25 August: 152 cases of asylum applications have been filed since the beginning of May, but only one agreed with 43 temporary residence permits. Surely M. Besson is being 'economic with the truth'? As the latest CFDA (Coordination Française pour le Droit d'Asile) press statement says, "How could Eritreans accept a "voluntary" repatriation to their country? Why would Afghans or Sudanese accept, under ... Dublin II, their transfer to Greece, regularly denounced and condemned for repeated abuse and bad treatment of asylum seekers and migrants in general?"

Here's something else that it looks as though the French authorities have not been too frank about either; whilst many of those in the 'Jungles' have slipped away out of sight, a lot of those who remain in there have already made asylum applications and are waiting for the current two and a half months Office Français d’Immigration et d’Intégration backlog in processing applications, having refused the offer of accommodation in a government hostel. Also many migrants who already have their 'green cards' chose to stay in the 'Jungle' rather than anywhere else.

A few other thoughts: if Calais' 'Jungles' and squats are cleared all at the same time, where will they put everyone? There just aren't enough paces in the French detention estate to accommodate all the Calais migrants? Maybe that is why they left it so long before going into action, hoping that the numbers would be lower as people had disappeared? Maybe they are going to revert to mass deportation after all, without processing papers and asylum applications? Deporting people without processing fully any applications or without checking to see if they have been in a 'safe third country' prior to arriving in France happens far more often that the French authorities will admit. Alternatively, they could just destroy all the camps and leave the migrants 'homeless' as they did after Sangatte was closed.

In other news on Calais, the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has said the UK government should consider granting entry to those who already have large families here. Inevitably, the UK Borders Agency stock reply was that the closure of the camps were "matters for the French government". Now that's a surprise isn't it? Sounds just like the UK Government line in 2002 before they agreed to take the majority of the migrants when the Sangatte camp was closed.

* This may just be PR as France has fallen foul of EU human right legislation over attempts that fall foul of Article 4 forbidding the "collective expulsion of foreigners". [See: Nov 08]

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Brighton Calais Information Night & Fundraiser

Calais Migrant Solidarity is holding a Calais Information Night with short films and a question and answer session with activists who have spent the summer monitoring police and working with the migrants in Calais.

Tuesday 22 September 8.00 - 11.00 pm

Members and Guest only.

Calais Migrant Solidarity Fundraising Gig on Friday 2 October 8.00 pm till late.

Sak-less Jack & The Lovely Brothers plus DJs.

Entry by donation.

Members and guests only.

Calais: Latest News

In an interview on France's main TV channel TF1 yesterday, French Interior Minister Eric Besson intimated that the destruction of the Pashtun 'Jungle' in Calais would happen within the next week. Whether this will actually be the case or he is anticipating that his statement will induce more of the 'Jungle's' inhabitants to leave, as has happened in recent months, with numbers down to less than 400, half the number present at the beginning of the summer, time will tell.

Some of these have clearly been warned off by the government's statements about the 'Jungle's' destruction, others have been intimidated by the constant round of raids which have included daily sessions of forced filming and photographing of the 'Jungle' inhabitants. Another possibility is that it is going to be the mooted 'trial run' that Besson has mentioned in the pass. It should also be noted that Ramadan ends this weekend and even Sarkozy's government, despite its obvious anti-Islamic tendencies, would not carry out a full-scale destruction of the Pashtun 'Jungle' during this religious festival. We'll just have to wait and see.

One major concern is what is going to happen to the migrants when the shelters are destroyed. Will there be a series of mass deportations or will the migrants merely be driven out from where they have lived to wander the French countryside again, as happen when the Sangatte camp was closed. It is intimated by the French authorities that they will all be rounded up and held in detention centres prior to be offered the alternative of either applying for asylum in France of being deported. Besson has claimed that the vast number of arrests in the past 6 months* have only resulted in 170 people applying for asylum, with a further 'voluntarily' accepting deportation.

In the meantime, activists continue to monitor the police as the raids continue. On Tuesday around 200 migrants were arrested in police raids on the 'Jungle', with almost all being released within 24 hours. When the CRS turned up at the Pashtun 'Jungle' late last night, one migrants asked them if they were there to "arrest all of us?" "No, only 15" was the reply. Earlier in the day PAF (border police) officers arrested 25 Afghans near the town centre, 3 of whom were beaten in plain view of passersby.

We are also preparing for the aftermath. With winter coming, provison will have to be made on the ground by the associations and activists that will inevitably be left to pick up the pieces. To that end groups are starting to organise appeals for tents and sleeping bags and good old-fashioned hard currency.

* Almost all of which end up with the migrants being released within 24 hours, having been fingerprinted and photographed.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Egyptian Police Shoot Dead Ethiopian Migrants

Egyptian police have shot dead four Ethiopian refugees and wounded two others, one critically, as they tried to cross into Israel south of Rafiah. In a statement Amnesty International Israel said, "The unbridled violence Egypt shows is a result of pressure exerted by Israel is partly the result of Israeli pressure on Cairo to prevent the entry."

This is not the first such incident and Egyptian police have killed at least 12 African migrants at the frontier since May. This comes after a 6 month period with no such deaths and is likely to be linked to the increasingly severe humanitarian crisis in Eastern Africa.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Iconoclasts On Radio 4

Heartily recommended is the latest edition of Iconoclasts, where Philippe Legrain, a free-market economist and writer puts one of the best expositions of the No Borders position we've heard in a long time. And that from someone who has worked for the World Bank!

In the programme he takes on Andrew Green (Mr. Migrationwatch - has anyone ever come across somebody else who is in or works for Migrationwatch?), Labour MP Anne Cryer and some ex-immigration officer called Tony Saint. The irony of the programme is that the only one of the three 'challengers' is the ex-immigration officer.

The highlight of the programme though is when Legrain tells Green what we all have always thought, that he thinks he's a racist! Green threatens to set his lawyer on him unless he withdraws the 'accusation'. Pity, for a second there we thought someone had finally shot his fox (surely he must be pro-hunting as well).

Beware the programme is only available to listen to on-line till Wednesday 16th September.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Camp Besson, Agres, France.

Yesterday morning at 7am, 82 French police officers turned up at the migrants' camp sited in a small copse close to the A26 motorway at Angres, 30km south-west of Lille. The police arrested the 85 Vietnamese, who include 20 women, after first allowing them to collect a bag of personal belongings each. They then proceeded to cut down the trees and torch the camp. 52 of the migrants were taken to the detention centre at Coquelles near Calais and 28 detained at the National Police station in nearby Liévin.

An everyday occurrence across Nord-Pas-de-Calais you would think, except this camp has had strong local support. The camp itself had first sprung up in 2007 and started to receive support from local residents, a phenomenon that has occurred in small towns and villages across Northern France where these migrant camps have established themselves, often at the behest of the locals when they find homeless migrants in and around their communities.

In Angres locals formed a support network called Fraternité-migrants, which has helped them build structures, lend them equipment (some of which the police allowed Fraternité-migrants to retrieve yesterday before trashing the camp), welcoming them into the village for festivals including Tet, intervening when harassed and arrested by cops, etc. Basically Angres made the Vietnamese members of their community.

So when it was discovered that the Police had arrived to remove the camp, supporters rallied around. When the 28 migrants were released from Liévin police station they were there to pick then up and return them to Angres. At 6pm yesterday there was a town meeting at which it was decided to set up a camp outside the town hall to house the 28 released earlier and 7 others who were found wandering around after the camp's destruction. Tents were erected and food shared. Mayors and deputies from surrounding communities turned up and a big spontaneous community event took place.

The original camp had been attacked and 7 migrants hospitalised the previous Friday by what has been described as a large mob armed with guns and knives arrived in 3 or 4 cars and terrorised the migrants for a number of hours. The migrants claimed they were 'Mafia' and were probably either local racists or, more likely, people traffickers. So last night a number of volunteers stayed with the Vietnamese in the tents to help ward-off any further attacks by 'Mafia' of the police.

And today they get down to the task of finding out again what has happened to the Vietnamese members of their community that have been take to Coquelles and face deportation back to Viet Nam. Oh, and, as you may have guessed, they have decided to call the new camp Camp Besson!

UPDATE: Camp Besson has since been replaced by a new purpose built 'Jungle' in nearby woods and, of the migrants detained in Coquelles, 4 have been expelled back to Germany where they had previously been fingerprinted, 11 are due to be deported to Vietnam and one young woman is still detained awaiting an age determination. The rest of the 52 detained on the 8 September have been released.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Visa Overstayers No Longer Charged A$250,000 Room & Board

The Australian Senate today repealed a law which led to some clandestine migrants charged up to A$250,000 (£130,250) for the cost of their detention. The repealed legislation applied to migrants who had been found to be in Australia without a valid visa, had been detained by the Immigration Department but eventually allowed to stay because their country of origin was deemed unsafe preventing their forced return or they married an Australian national.

The legislation only just scraped through against strong right-wing opposition, despite the fact that the scheme recouped only 3% of the charges levied and that it cost more to administer than it collected. The far-from-Liberal Party opposition has staunchly opposed other recent small-scale immigration reforms* which have included halting the detention and deportation of visa overstayers.

This of course has made little difference to the estimated 5,000 plus UK passport holders who overstay their visas each year (which equals 10% of all overstayers). Even though Brits have traditionally made up the largest legal immigrant group at 18% of permanent settler arrivals, have also been amongst the largest 'illegal' immigrant group and the largest group of 'illegal' workers, they were never the ones that were locked up if caught.

In other Australian news, the controversy over the SIEV 36 (suspected illegal entry vessel) incident earlier this year has hit the news again. The boat with 47 Afghan asylum seekers and 2 Indonesian crew aboard was stopped by an Australian Defence Force (ADF) vessel HMAS Albany on 15 April and taken under tow en-route to Christmas Island. The next day petrol vapours on the migrants' boat ignited, causing an explosion and fire which left 5 Afghan refugees dead and more than a dozen seriously injured.

The Afghans abandoned ship and, when they tries to climb on board ADF rigid-hulled inflatable boats, they were kicked and beaten and pushed back in the ocean. The ADF made contradictory claims about the incident; one that they were merely trying to rescue their own personnel who had been blown into the sea after the explosion or that their actions may have been caused by concerns that their craft was in danger of capsizing. They did however eventually rescue 45 Afghans from the water.

The reason the case is back in the news is because The Australian newspaper has allegedly seen an ADF video of the incident and has called upon the Northern Territory Coroner, who is investigating the incident, to release the footage to the public. The ADF have neither confirmed nor denied their personnel used violent tactics to prevented the migrants from boarding their inflatables.

* Some have also been reversed by the Labour government themselves under no pressure from the Liberal opposition.