Contrary to the French Immigration minister Besson's claims that there are hardly any migrants left in Calais now there are approximately 400, surviving in desperate conditions .The repression has been escalating dramatically since the destruction of the 'jungles', with increased police raids, mass arrests and destruction of people's shelters and property. The aim is to make these people's lives so miserable they eventually leave Calais. However people do not go away, they mainly move along the coast or further South to escape police brutality. Eventually, they return to Calais to try and cross the Channel.
FILM: "The Hardest Winter in Calais" [10:00]
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The present situation in Calais originates in 2002, when the French government, under pressure by the UK government, closed the emergency accommodation centre of Sangatte near Calais, run by the Red Cross, in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants coming to the UK. Sarkozy was then the French Immigration minister.
The closure of Sangatte did not stop the migrants from coming to Calais, as the politics that create the conditions for mass migration outside the EU have not changed. However increased border controls mean that people get stranded in Calais for longer periods, usually for months now, sometimes for more than one year. The hardship inflicted on the migrants did not stop them to come to try and save their lives, moving away from countries devastated by war, poverty and starvation - usually the product of Western foreign policies and global capitalism. In 2002 the majority of the people coming to Calais were refugees from Iraq, now they are refugees from Afghanistan, most from the Pashto ethnic group, many of whom were unaccompanied boys under 18.
After the closure of Sangatte the migrants moved to derelict buildings without water, electricity or sanitation, or built makeshift camps, known as ‘jungles’, in the woods and amongst the dunes around Calais. The harsh winters and appalling living conditions were made much worse by a deliberate policy of State repression. The riot police, the CRS, raid camps and squats on a regular basis, migrants are arrested repeatedly and often for no reason, they are hit with truncheons and pepper spray is used on them, their camps are destroyed, their possessions confiscated or destroyed including blankets, tents, clothes and food. All these are well-rehearsed tactics used to 'persuade' migrants to leave Calais; they have been used against the migrants for years.
However the situation has worsened further since 2009, when, after talks between the UK and French governments, the French Immigration minister Besson announced plans to close the jungles and to make of Calais 'a migrant- free zone'. There were around 1800 migrants in Calais at the time.
After the spectacular of the destruction of the Pashto jungle under the eyes of the world' media, where 276 Afghan refugees were arrested - 135 were minors -, the destruction of camps and squats continued, now with hardly any mention by the mainstream media, that had disappeared from Calais as suddenly as they had come.
The Afghans arrested were freed by the French judges, ahead of any attempt to mass deport them by charter flight to Afghanistan, and most returned to Calais. Police raids intensified, together with police brutality, arbitrary arrests and destruction of people's belongings. c The Iranian camp was destroyed and burned, the Hazara camp (another large majority ethnic group in Afghanistan), the Sudanese camp, the Eritrean squat was evicted and razed to the ground, the camp by the Docklands, inhabited by Palestinians, Egyptians, Sudanese and Eritreans was destroyed. All people were soon released from police custody, only to return to the streets of Calais with nowhere to go and the CRS chasing them to make sure they could not sleep anywhere. Eventually most migrants managed to rebuild their camps or to resettle in new or surviving squats. The Pashto were hit the most, they never managed to resettle anywhere and spent the hardest Winter in Europe for the past 30 years sleeping rough in the woods, with the CRS looking for them every night and slashing the plastic sheets they used to shelter. Nearly half of them are boys under 18. But Kurdish and Iranians had also little luck in finding accommodation.
The cold weather shelter (BCMO) only opens, by order of the authorities, when the temperature drops to -4 degrees, and is only open at night. The rest of the time, people are left out in the freezing cold.
After the closure of the BCMO the Pashto went to sleep on some disused trains. Now the trains have been moved away. Most of the migrants in Calais cannot be deported back to their countries because their countries are too dangerous - only the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway have no scruples to routinely deport people to the most war torn countries in the world. When a group of 9 Afghans were deported on a joint UK-France charter flight in November 2009 there were massive protests. However, after the Dublin 2 accords, migrants can be deported back to the first 'safe' country where they were identified (had their fingerprints taken). So many are taken from Coquelles deportation centre to Greece, Italy, Hungary....
While charities have been giving food and clothing to migrants since the closure of Sangatte, we started organising political resistance built on the principles of freedom of movement and mutual aid in June 2009 , with the week-long cross-channel No Borders Camp in Calais, which then became a permanent solidarity project calling itself Calais Migrant Solidarity.
People from UK, France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands keep going to Calais to work in solidarity with the migrants. We monitor and denounce police brutality, visit people in the places they sleep, using various tactics to try and prevent police raids, we organised protests and supported the protests the migrants initiated, we have built a fast growing transnational network against the border regime. Plus, we provide emergency aid such as tents, clothes, firewood, tea... and we make friends with the migrants, exchanging stories in the long nights around the fires.