Friday, 22 January 2010

Police Ratchet Up Repression Of Migrants In Calais

Since 15 December the BCMO gymnasium in Calais has been used as a cold shelter for up to 200 migrants in the area. The only luxuries available were the cardboard boxes used by the migrants to sleep on. No camp beds, blankets or sleeping bags unless the migrants managed to find their own and keep the police from confiscating and destroying them.

On Monday the cold shelter was closed and the migrants left to fend for themselves. This inevitably meant dodging the police whilst they tried to find a safe place which the police did not know about, so they might snatch a few hours sleep in the cold and wet.

On Tuesday the migrants held a demonstration outside the BCMO protesting its closure. Later that evening Salam, one of the local humanitarian groups that whose volunteers were involved in running the shelter, and who provide daily food handouts, distributed 150 tents to some of the migrants so, as Salam put it, "they can spend the night in a shelter with a minimum of protection." Whilst some migrants then went off to find a 'safe' place to pitch their tents, the majority of the Afghans decided to pitch theirs next to the empty BCMO.

Almost immediately 10 police vans and around 50 CRS turned up and told the migrants if they did not pack up and leave within 15 minutes their tents would be destroyed. After negotiation they agreed that the migrants could leave with tents in the direction of the old jungle and they would not stop anyone or destroy any tents. The police even escorted the migrants and the local activists who had tried to negotiate with the cops to he place where they claimed they would not interfere with them setting up camp. Yet at 2 am and 7 am they came back and arrested people.

At midday, 20 vans of CRS surrounded the jungle and destroyed the whole camp. Calais Migrant Solidarity activists managed to recover a few tents and sleeping bags from the municipal tip where it was dumped and the migrants returned to the BCMO again that evening to try and set up camp again. The Police came and removed all the tents near the BCMO, saying they had orders to prevent any gatherings and destroy forthwith anything that resembles a shelter on public land throughout the parks and in all the "jungles".

That night, a whole company of CRS played a game of cat-and-mouse with the migrants, following their every move and preventing them from stopping anywhere, hunting in the parks and from street to street. The local activists were also threatened with arrest under the offence of Delit de solidarité (the notorious Article 622). That evening representatives of the associations held a meeting with the sub-prefect to complain about the treatment of the migrants when the BCMO was open and to make sure that sufficient equipment including cots, blankets and cleaning equipment be made available if the cold shelter is reopened, and to make sure that the equipment issued to migrants by the associations no longer be destroyed by police. Activists held a demonstration outside the meeting to reinforce their organisations' anger at the situation.

In response to the immense distress caused to the migrants by the aggravated harassment policy since the closure of the BCMO, the World Medical Association with the help of volunteers from La Belle Etoile, Secours Catholique, C'SUR and No Borders will distribute 300 survival packs with duvets, sheets, rain ponchos, bags and flexible 5 litre jerry cans to the migrants.

In other bad news, on Sunday night someone broke in and wrecked C'SUR's second prefab shower unit, stealing showerheads and a hot water tank. The other unit was fire-bombed and destroyed last month, much to the delight of the Daily Mail (although they seem to have passed on the opportunity to print another gloating article this time).

Calais Migrant Solidarity Press Release:


or call 0033 954 621 951 (France) or 077 949 661 556 (UK)

- Fifty police officers in riot gear crack down on peaceful protest by migrants demanding respect for basic rights

- Officers declare orders to destroy all migrant shelters in the area

- Escalation in repressive tactics leave migrants with nowhere to go

In a rare show of defiance, around 100 migrants camped around a gym which had been used by local charities to provide urgently needed night shelter over the harshest weeks of winter, before its closure on Tuesday [1]. The migrants, primarily from war-torn Afghanistan, also burned some blankets and banners in opposition to the closure, which comes on the back of the repeated eviction of migrants from their camps. Within half an hour, scores of police officers descended on the site threatening to destroy the makeshift camp on failure to disperse. Following a stand off, the migrants were permitted to leave the area, but were closely pursued as they searched for alternative sites to shelter.

Having actually been advised by some police officers to do so, some men set up shelters on the site of one of the former camps, or 'jungles', and were given assurances that the police would not attack. But within hours, the officers had entered the camp several times, arresting six people, in what has now become a daily routine of arresting those without identity documents in Calais in an attempt to flush them out of the area [2]. By midday on Wednesday, 20 CRS (riot police) vehicles had surrounded the new camp, and anything resembling a shelter was destroyed.

Following a relentless routine of police pursuit, arrest and assault this winter, the migrants returned in desperation to the closed night shelter and installed some of the tents that had been discarded by the authorities following the eviction that morning. The police promptly arrived at the scene, announced that they had orders to disperse assemblies and destroy shelters, before seizing the remaining tents.

Throughout the night, the hunt continued as migrants were followed by groups of police, who pre-emptively destroyed any half-erected structures they found.

“The police were quite literally swarming everywhere last night. They were pursuing migrants in case they dare set up shelter, or following any activists who might assist them,” said Joanne, a British activist from the No Borders network who is present at the scene [3].

“This is all part of a carefully planned strategy by the French and British governments to drive the migrants away from the area. But when you think that many of these people are coming from conflict zones like Helmand province, where else are they expected to go?” Joanne continued.

Alex has been involved in documenting - and directly intervening in - the police harassment in Calais for some time. “As shocking as it is, we find that the presence of European citizens during police raids can make a real difference, because the arrests are so arbitrary. It shows that ordinary people do have the power to help migrants defeat this enormous show of force by our governments. I really think that resistance from the migrants themselves and support from ordinary people is the only hope we have of stopping this horrendous repression.”


[1] The night shelter opened on 15th December, and was intended to provide sleeping space for around 150 of the approximately 300 migrants in the town of Calais over an exceptionally cold few weeks

[2] For a summary of police activities in December, please see our report

[3] The No Borders Network use direct action and practical solidarity to fight for freedom of movement for all. They form part of the Calais Migrant Solidarity group which has maintained a continued presence in Calais since the Summer.

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