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.

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