Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Calais: Whither The Apocalypse?

Well, civilisation as we know it failed to end during last week's No Border Camp in Calais. No riots occurred, no fences at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel were torn down, no hotels were set on fire, no babies were found with their heads bitten off. In fact nothing much happened to disturb the tranquillity of the town whatsoever, unless you include the antics of the local authorities, the police and the press.

During the build-up to the Camp the police, judiciary, town and regional authorities had, to varying degrees, sought to create an atmosphere of fear and trepidation. Initially they chose to ignore us, not returning phone calls and cancelling meetings. Then, when they realised we were not going to go away, they started to brief against us, co-opting the press into what moved from being a campaign of disinformation to one of vilification. There were constant media enquiries as to whether we had any 'violence' planned, whether we expected the 'black-block' to 'infiltrate' the protests, etc. (see previous posts).

And they then started to believe their own propaganda, planning for a massive police operation to combat what they now believed would be mass civil insurrection. Additional CRS companies were ordered into the area; new summary orders were passed banning the sale of petrol, gas canisters and knives; temporary laws banning the wearing of masks and hoodies and gatherings of 5 or more people were introduced.

So what happened to all the 'terrorists'? Well their were certainly plenty on the streets. Many were gathered at road blocks and in groups armed with riot gear and dressed in the dark blue uniform, others were charging around in groups of 4 in unmarked BAC (Brigade Anti-Criminalité - the cowboys who patrol les Banlieues) cars. All were terrorising the locals as the No Border campers alike.

The police briefed the media that there were up to 3,000 of them in the area and, given that they outnumbered the 500 at most on the Camp site 2 to 1 (assuming they ran 3 eight hour shifts), they had little else to do apart from the constant harassment of the stopping and searching of anyone who vaguely looked like they might be involved with the Camp.

In fact, there was little or no Freedom of Movement in Calais through out their presence. Someone from the Camp were even stopped, beaten up, handcuffed and thrown into the back of a van whilst going to buy loo rolls. He was told "we're not your English bobbies!" and only got away without further injury because the cops were 10 minutes from the end of their shift and just let him go.

Much was made in the UK press, well the Mail and the Sun, of the arrests made during the week. The full count is not in yet but, apart from the arrests from the blockade of the detention centre at Lille (26 detained, 15 released after 24 hours & charged with organising an unapproved demo; others refuse to give fingerprints and held for 35 hours without water, access to a doctor or vegetarian food, abused and forced to sleep on the floor) and the one woman caught shoplifting, almost all stem from the temporary legal orders brought in before the camp.

Twenty people were arrested for handing out copies of the camp newspaper, Nomade, in the centre of town on Boulevard Lafayette. Startled onlookers watched as dozens of CRS and BAC officers arrived within seconds of the leafleting beginning. All were handcuffed, some after being wrestled to the floor, and arrested for an 'unauthorised demonstration'. They were kept for hours in custody and 2 face additional charges of 'insubordination' i.e. being rude to the police. (Activists were also told by the police that there was an unofficial ban on them downtown as well.)

The rest were for possession of camping equipment (camping knifes, tent poles, mallets for tent pegs, machette for chopping fire wood), the possession of hoodies (hooded jackets including waterproof cagoules and scarves were routinely confiscated) or banners (banners and banner poles were also confiscated). One person was arrested for possession of petanque balls (the banning of boules games!

Of the 'outrages' expected by the authorities, the only thing approaching that was on Friday evening when a small number of activists temporarily blocked the A15 motorway down into the Docks. The police responded by firing tear gas at the handful of protesters and smoke grenades into the camp site. The CRS however managed to block the motorway with their vans for nearly an hour! And that was it.

On Saturday the police were at their most unhelpful. At first they tries to stop and search all 500 people making their way from the Camp to the start of the big demonstration at the Lighthouse. They confiscated a few jackets and scarves and even tried scanning peoples' SIM cards in an info trawl but this was stopped when camp lawyers got in touch with the sub-prefecture (people detained by the police also said that all videos and photos on phones and cameras seized even though it's illegal).

Eventually they realised there were too few of them to achieve this and gave up on the idea. But rather than allowing the group to make their way directly to the Lighthouse (a half hour walk at most), the CRS constantly blocked the route and it ended up taking nearly 3 hours to get there. Fortunately the March had waited for the Camp to arrive, and it set off at 12:15 on the route eventually negotiated between local trades unions and the Calais sub-prefect (the original route to the Coquelles CRE was redundant as it had been emptied of migrants and the authorities had refused to negotiate with No Borders).

Ranged against the 2,000 or so people on the demonstration was a helicopter, water cannon at the port entrance, mobile fences blocking off the side roads, police armed with automatic weapons, smoke & tear gas grenades, rubber bullets and body armour; and that was just the plain clothes BAC, never mind the CRS who probably outnumbered the demonstrators just by themselves.

Needless to say, the march (just like the Camp itself) past of peacefully (even more peacefully as there were NO arrests*). The only disturbances were to the cops' macho demeanour when they were faced by the Rebel Clown Army, a force never before witnessed on the streets of Calais.

All in all, the Calais survived the police occupation force though it did put a dampener on Camp activities (and Camp numbers as a number of activists were scared away by the thought of constant harassment if not the cracked heads that had been promised by some of the Lille CRS). Many migrants preferred not to run the gauntlet of police around the Camp, though those that did enjoyed participating in the Camp; the food, the films, the free internet access and especially the chance to play football - the cops always break up any football game the migrants normally try to hold.

The other thing all the migrants enjoyed for the duration of the Camp, even those that didn't make it there, was the fact that the cops were all too busy harassing the Camp (and the Calaisiens who looked like they might have anything to do with the camp) to bother with them for the week. But no doubt they can expect to be regularly tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and have the 'Jungles' and their few meagre possessions destroyed now the Camp has gone.

*That didn't stop the Telegraph on Saturday and the Sunday Express claiming, respectively, that there were "brawls" when "2,000 demonstrators were met by a similar number of French riot squad officers, who deployed tear gas in efforts to disperse troublemakers" and "protest in support of illegal migrants trying to get into Britain turned violent yesterday" under the title Riot at Migrant Protest.

More Anti-Deportation Actions Today

In another protest against deportations today, activists blockaded the Yarl's Wood detention centre near Bedford. This coincides with the demonstration at the WH Tours depot at Crawley this morning. Other actions were planned for today in Dublin, where the flight is due to stop over for Irish detainees to board, and at the Home Office in London.

Yarl's Wood is the scene of an on-going hungers strike against the detention of children in immigration prisons, health care and food provision, and up to 20 people including children were understood to be due to be deported today.

Both actions were eventually broken up by the police. In the case of the Yarl's Wood blockade, up to 40 police finally removed the demonstrators after a 2 hour sit-in in the road.

A One Way Ticket With WH Tours

Crawley bus firm WH Tours was visited this morning by anti-deportation campaigners seeking to protest about their regular involvement in transporting immigration detainees from Tinsley House and Brook House detention centres at Gatwick Airport.

Campaigners had got wind of a planned deportations via a charter flight to Nigeria later today. Many of the deportees had recently been involved in the hunger strike at Yarl's Wood against the detention of their children and inadequate health care provision, during which they were brutalised by SERCO guards and dispersed to other detention centres around the country.

Unfortunately the protesters arrived shortly after the WH Tours coach had already left and were unable to carry out the planned blockade. In conversation, WH Tours staff admitted that they were in fact involved in providing transport for UK Borders Agency mass expulsions, something that had previously been confirmed by the G4S (the company that run the 2 Gatwick detention centres) press office.

The protesters have vowed to continue their campaign against WH Tours (a company that promotes itself with the legend "Relaxing Short Breaks & Day Trips Across UK & Europe") and other the companies that profit from the misery involved in this form of human trafficking.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Why Let The Facts Spoil A Good Story (Again)?

Yes the Daily Mail is at it again, pedalling lies and reactionary propaganda. In a story entitled "Police arrest 47 anarchists threatening to lead swarms of illegal migrants through Channel tunnel to Britain", this right-wing rag has sought to create yet another non-story out of half-truths and innuendo.

Lets take the lies and half-truths one by one:
1. The headline clearly implies that 47 people were caught in the act of trying to tear down the fences at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. FACT - 29 of the 30 people blockading Losquin CRE in Lille (60 miles/95 km from Calais) with 29 being detained.
2. "Weapons including machetes, metal poles and a spiked club were found hidden by the activists during raids in Calais late on Wednesday." 3 people were detained at the train station for carrying camping equipment! If one goes camping one normally takes tent poles (metal poles with a spike), a mallet (club with no spikes) to drive in tent pegs and of course a knife as either cutlery or for those essentials like slicing apples or getting stones out of horses' hooves. They were later released after having the knives confiscated and being charged with minor 'common law' charges.
3. One woman was arrested for shoplifting and was later released.
4. Of the other 13 people arrested, all were for 'common law' offences which the police refuse to specify. 5 remain in custody on, as yet, unknown charges.

No one was arrested anywhere near the Channel Tunnel entrance.

5. No Borders is a transnational network of groups and activists across the world who struggle for the freedom of movement and equal rights for all people and fight against all immigration controls. It is not a single group.
6. Neither is No Borders an anarchist organisation. If you have to label us as part of you attempts to marginalise us, we are part of the anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist spectrum and our views are shared by many who are not in a No Borders group.
7. The Camp is not "aimed at helping the migrants to ‘tear down the borders’ to England."
8. There have been no "email threats by protesters pledging to destroy wire fences and other security measures around the Channel Tunnel." This is a fabrication.
9. There have been no "threats to burn ‘symbols of capitalism’ including local government offices, and even hotels run by prominent global chains."
10. Police intelligence is an oxymoron and has not "revealed plans for wide scale violence".
11. The views of Sarkozy and Bouchart are not "heartily supported by the militants organising the ‘No Border’ demonstrations." They are a pair of reactionary, right-wing ideologues. One is directly responsible for the increased repression of the migrants in Calais, the routine tear-gassing of them as they sleep in the 'Jungles', the routine harassment and beating they endure, the daily arrests and detention. In fact it was he who was key to bringing about the end of the Red Cross humanitarian effort at the Sangatte camp in 2002. The other has tried at every turn to put barriers in the way of the current efforts of groups like Belle Etoile and Salam to provide humanitarian aid to the migrants in Calais. She has also sought to demonise the No Border Camp and to prevent it from ever happening. It is an insult to even suggest that No Borders has anything in common with them.

The truth is Calais is under siege from hundreds of CRS riots police who constantly stop and search anyone who even vaguely looks as if they may be associated with the Camp. And the local population are getting very pissed off with the whole thing. If you have black clothes, are wearing a hoodie, have badges on your clothes, look like a punk or have piercings you are a target. So, to an extent, both the campers and some of the locals are getting just a small taste of what the migrants do through daily throughout the year.

And the Camp members are not even allowed to hand out the free Camp newspaper Nomade. Yesterday about 30 campers left for the centre of town to had out copies to shoppers and 25 were handcuffed and detained for an hour whilst ID checks were carried out. This is harassment pure and simple.

The authorities, in the guise of Pierre de Bousquet de Florian (the préfet of Pas-de-Calais) and Jean-Philippe Joubert (the Boulogne-sur-Mer prosecutor), have clearly decided that not only protest but any form of peaceful assembly is banned for the duration even if they cannot enforce that under the law. Instead they are just going to make it so painful for the campers that they will never think about coming back to Calais ever again!

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Nomade - the Calais No Border Camp Newspaper

The Calais No Border Camp has a daily newspaper which is designed to cover both the events planned for the Camp itself but to also communicate with the residents of Calais and the migrants in and around the town. All the issues will be available for download from the Camp website site. [Issue 1, Issue 2]

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Another UKBA Farce

The government's attempt to find an alternative to imprisoning the children of 'refused' asylum seekers, a practice that is still going on as the current Yarl's Wood hunger strike proves, has been ridiculed in the press and heavily criticised by the Children's Society.

The £1m pilot scheme to house families supposedly due to be returned was run by Migrant Helpline in Kent. However, due to alleged UK Borders Agency ineptitude, of the 260 families due to be processed during the trial, only 13 actually made it there. Of those, only 1 family actually was returned to their country of origin.

The families were given seven days to sell their possessions, take their children out of school and move to the centre after supposedly having taken an informed decision to leave the country. Yet most of the families didn't actually know what the scheme was about, other than it was supposed to be an alternative to a long stay in a detention centre.

On top of that most of the people the UKBA referred to the scheme still had outstanding asylum applications and should not have been there. This lead to the Children's Society stating that the project was "mismanaged from start to finish" and the Border Agency had no clear objectives or evaluation criteria, "so they didn't know actually what it was they were trying to achieve".

Keith Vaz, the Chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee chairman was also quoted as saying in response to the story that "it is never acceptable to lock children up with or without their parents." So when are the government going to outlaw this practice as they are bound to do under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

More Daily Mail Lies

True to their history of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story, that well known organ of racism and reaction the Daily Mail have printed another story on the Calais No Border Camp by one Peter Allen.

Members of the Calais Camp press team were surprised to be phoned yesterday by reporters asking about an 'attempt to storm' the Channel Tunnel entrance. This was the first we had heard about it. Then we saw the Mail story and we knew what all the fuss was about. Absolutely nothing!

The Mail continues to push the line that the Camp has been set up to help migrants "tear down the borders to England". Utter bollocks! What do they expect us to do? Storm the port and commandeer ferries? Hijack a Eurostar train and ask the driver to "Take me to England?" I repeat, utter bollocks.

There's also the minor point of there are currently only 500 people at the Camp against the estimated 2,000 police in the area, just waiting for an excuse to wade into the protesters and crack a few heads as they have admitted to local activists on a number of occasions recently. The activists involved in the Camp are not as stupid as the Mail would have us believe (though it clearly thinks its readers are stupid enough to believe such rubbish).

The reporter also claims that there have been email threats by the protesters "pledging to destroy wire fences and other security measures around the Channel Tunnel along with "threats to burn ‘symbols of capitalism’ including local government offices, and even hotels run by prominent global chains". Where is the proof? Why is it that the Mail believes any old tosh that the police press office tells them but nothing from No Borders itself? Oh, I forgot - the need for a good story.

The article does allow itself one positive point about the Camp when it quotes a migrant as saying that, "the camp organisers have offered us food and drink." But no, it has to spoil it by adding that we are also offering the migrants "a chance to get to England." More lies. We have specifically told the migrants in leaflets handed out prior to the Camp that we cannot do this. Why would we seek to raise the hopes of people who live for months in conditions that you and I would find it hard to survive by offering to do something we know we cannot hope to follow up on. We don't want to leave the migrants in worse situation after the camp has left than the one they were in before we cam. That is why we are offering no false hopes.

What the article doesn't say is that the locals around the Camp site have been reacting positively to our presence despite the hysteria from the press and local authorities. Some have even been helping in the Camp set-up. Nouchi Pierre, the president of the Union des Métiers de l'Hotel du Calais, has called on its members, the owners of cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels, "not to panic" and to stay open during the week of the Camp. This despite the local paper Nord Littoral stirring things up by suggesting that hotels belonging to the Accor group might be a target after the Strasbourg anti-NATO camp events.

Finally, the paper states that "an uneasy stand-off soon developed with the protesters as a ‘spotter’ helicopter circled the area and police patrols swamped the town." The simple fact is that the only 'uneasy stand-off' here is between the Daily Mail and the truth.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Roma Driven Out Of Northern Ireland

It seems that the Loyalist racists have finally gotten their way and have driven the Roma out of Northern Ireland. Despite claims by the Police Service of Northern Ireland that the violence directed against the Romanian families wasn't sectarian, the latest round of Combat18 text and e-mails doing the rounds on the Loyalist estates prove different.

The Roma are a people that have survived centuries of persecution across Europe and have been subjected to numerous pogroms especially in Romania. That they have now chosen to return to a land where they have always been treated as second (if not third) class citizens, rather than remain in Belfast and continue to face the racist violence of recent months, says much about the state of Ulster society.

Following the fall of the Iron Curtain and the demise of the Communist governments that had largely kept the lid on the centuries-old endemic anti-Roma racism, an upsurge in racist persecution in the 80's and 90's drove large numbers of the Roma community into Western Europe. In the UK they faced widespread hostility and long waits for their asylum applications to be processed (s19D of the Race Relations Act 1976 specifically allowed discrimination against Roma in the asylum process that continued to exist until the 2000 Act was passed) but following Romania's accession to the EU in January 2007, they became European citizens and therefore had a legal right to remain.*

Many chose Northern Ireland and, with the sectarian troubles in the province, the right-wing bigots in the Loyalist groups had their hands too full hating the Fenians to bother with the Roma. But the end of the 'Troubles' put an end to that and the racists had to look for new more 'acceptable' targets. In 2004 there were estimated to be around 450 race hate crimes in the country. In the past 12 months this has risen to 1,000.

In April this year Poles were driven from their homes in Belfast in a series of coordinated attacks by Loyalist youths times to coincide with a Northern Ireland-Poland World Cup football match. This follows attacks against the Chinese and Slovak communities in the preceding years. Now it is the Roma and, with the electoral successes of the BNP and the growth of far-right splinter groups, it can only get worse.

*In Italy for example, the Roma have also come under increasing attack and the Berlusconi regime has introduced blatantly racist legislation, the likes of which has not been seen since the days of the Blackshirts.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Migrant Camps in Northern France Bulldozed

It seems that the French authorities are taking the (as they clearly see it) opportunity to up the ante further before the arrival of the No Border Camp in Calais next week by hitting the migrants camps around Calais hard. And maybe even get a bit of practice in before hand for the Camp itself?

At 9 a.m. on the 17th June the bulldozers went into the 'Jungles' at Loon-Plage and Teteghem near Dunkerque, destroying the makeshift homes built of pallets, old doors and tarpaulins, leaving more than a hundred people without even this meagre form of roof over their heads.

In one of the camps the police acted so quickly that the migrants didn't even have enough time to gather together what little they had by way of possessions and they had to leave clothes, money and their copies of the Koran amongst the rubble.

This action was swiftly denounced not only by the local support groups like Terre d'Errance* and MRAP** but also members of the Loon-Plage local council, who had helped finance the rebuilding of the camp after it had been bulldozed previously by the Border police during the severe cold in the middle of December last year.

This comes on top of the news from one unofficial police source that there are now around 1,500 - 1,600 CRS officers at the hotel Suithotel in Coquelles, just outside Calais, which is the semi-permanent CRS base. He bragged that they are going 'one-on-one with the No Border activists. This is total overkill. Clearly No Borders have hit a sensitive spot and every new response from the French state makes them look more and more desperate.

Now, in addition to the ban on sales of petrol and camping gas in the Calais area comes the banning of sales of alcohol - though we are sure that wont apply to les Flics, after all it's thirst work clubbing non-violent protesters. And that is what No Borders activist are, the police and press having still not come forward with any evidence from recent No Border camps despite being challenged to do so.

* Literally 'Land of the Wandering' - a humanitarian organisation that works at the various truck stops camps that exist all along the coast in Northern France and back inland towards Lille.
** Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l'amitié entre les peuples (Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples).

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Yarl's Wood Hunger Strike Picket

An emergency picket of the SERCO (who run Yarl's Wood) office at 22 Hand Court, Camden, WC1V 6JF (near Holborn tube - Map) is being organised for tomorrow (Friday 19th June) at 12 noon in support of the hunger strikers. Please bring banners and instruments!

More French Scare Stories

In another move designed to increase fear amongst Calaisiens, the local préfet Pierre de Bousquet has prohibited the local sale of petrol and gas canisters for the duration of the Camp. Clearly he thinks No Borders is a terrorist organisation. If so, then why isn't he arresting the camp organisers under the catch-all French Anti-Terrorist law of “criminal association in relation to a terrorist undertaking"? More likely he thinks that by denying campers gas to cook with he will starve them out of town. But then again, if they have no petrol to put in the vehicles they arrived in, how will they get away?

The No Border camp has nothing to do with the recent G20 or the anti-NATO camps at Strasbourg as de Bousquet has alleged. He talks about the history of violence at No Border Camps and I wonder where he's getting his history from. In 2007 there were 3 No Borders Camps (Ukraine, Gatwick and the Mexico-US border*) and there was no violence whatsoever at any of those. The Dikili Camp in Turkey in 2008 - totally peaceful again despite heavy-handed police tactics against the campers.

Maybe he's thinking of the Patras Camp last year. Yes, there was one incident where demonstrators clashed with riot police. And that was caused when the police got the bizarre idea into their head that a demonstration that has been publicly announced to be heading from the Camp site to the migrants camp (where conditions resemble a concentration camp, except in a concentration camp there are at least rudimentary medical facilities), was in fact heading to the port to hijack a ship to take the migrants to Italy. How stupid can you get?

They blocked the road to the port (the site of the migrants' camp) and there was a standoff with the march refusing to leave. Eventually the head of the port authority got the police to move aside and the march progressed peacefully to the camp to show its solidarity with the migrants. (Given the fact that any form of demonstration, whether it be a farmers' protest or student demonstration against grant cuts invariably end in a fight with the notorious Greek riot police, his was in fact an eminently peaceful event.)

This is exactly the sort of crass stupidity that the local authorities in Northern France are showing, creating a situation where their predictions of violence becomes more likely simply through their ramping up the levels of police repression.

De Bousquet says they "have intercepted messages in which the organisers have asked people to come with gas protections but also with tear gas bombs," and to "hire people who have experience of emergency medicine." Again lies. It is standard practice (and required under both French and UK law) in any public event to provide medical aid. The Climate Camp does it (and they hold peaceful events), even Glastonbury (which is on at the same time as the Calais Camp) does it.

And on the tear gas front, the messages he says the police have intercepted are clearly the ones that have gone out very recently on the camp organisational e-mail list (not a secret list but one open to everyone involved in any way in the organisation of the camp and which probably numbers nearly 100 members) asking for people with experience in treating tear gas victims to share their knowledge. This is an eminently sensible precaution since it became obvious that the police and prefecture are seeking confrontation whether the Camp is peaceful or not.

Ask the Jungle dwellers whether it matters whether they are engaged in violence or not as they endure being tear gassed as they sleep in their makeshift shelters during the daily early morning CRS riot police raids.

* There was an incident after the US Camp at the Mexico-US event had broken up where the US Border Patrol, without giving an order to disperse or other warning, brutally attacked those on the US side with point-blank rounds of pepper-spray pellets, batons, and swarm tactics, leaving several badly injured. (Link)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Sustained Media Campaign Against The Calais No Border Camp

The location for the Calais No Border Camp and the Camp programme have both been released. This is against the backdrop of a concerted media campaign to demonise No Borders activists as baby-eating monsters who, as one Daily Mail journalist fantasied, have "pledged to help illegal migrants 'tear down border controls and make for Britain'."

Why would we seek to make the situation of the migrants any more precarious that it already is, with their daily harassment and arrest by the French Police. It doesn't make any sense - then again almost all of the press coverage doesn't make any sense!

The mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart clearly considers herself to be the anvil on which the solution the the migrant 'problem' in Calais will be forged. She has sought at every occasion to demonise the migrants, migrants support groups and of course les Rosbifs, who she considers to be the cause of the migrants gathering in her backyard to try and cross the Channel - never mind the fact that most are fleeing wars and persecution across the globe and do not wish to stay in France a minute longer than they have to because of the persecution they face there from the French police and politicians like Bouchart.

Now the No Border Camp is her latest target of her ire. She has vehemently attacked No Borders in the local press. She has also chosen to turn Calais into a ghost town for the week of the Camp, cancelling the 1900 Parade festivities and inviting her constituents to flee town for the week - all blamed on No Borders. This is the last thing that we want to happen. We want to engage with the Calaisiens, not drive them into the surrounding hills.

She, the préfet of Pas-de-Calais Pierre de Bousquet de Florian and Jean-Philippe Joubert the Boulogne-sur-Mer prosecutor, have sought to paint as dark a picture of the Camp participants as possible.

Bousquet de Florian has said that, "Whenever a No Border Camp was organized, there have been ultra-violent tendencies." At the Gatwick No Border Camp in 2007, attended by more than 300 people, there was only one arrest and that was of a journalist on the Saturday march of more than 500 people, and he was released without charge.

Jean-Philippe Joubert in turn said, "We don't know exactly what this group intend to do." Well maybe if the local authorities has sought to engage more with the organisers rather than be obstructive at every occasion* then maybe they would be more in the picture, Anyway, all they need to do is go to the Camp website where a full programme is laid out.

Bouchart has complained that all they have heard about the camp is an anonymous letter at the beginning of April announcing that we are coming. Yet the camp organisers have been meeting openly in Calais on a regular basis at the Maison Pour Tous, a fact that she has been well aware of. Almost all No Borders' attempts to interact with the local authorities have been rebuffed until the last few weeks when it became obvious that their strategy of ignoring No Borders and maybe we'd go away.

Well we wont. We will be there and we will be seeking to minimise any disruption to the local community. In fact we invite them to come to the Camp and see that we are not the baby-eating monsters depicted in the press. To join with us in a debate about how to reach a sensible, humane solution to the situation in Calais faced both by the migrants and the Calaisiens themselves.

*Philippe Blet, president of the Communauté d'agglomération du Calaisis has consistently been abusive and sought to obstruct negotiations between the Camp organisers and his Commune over the land issue at every turn. And even when the Camp organisers thought they had successfully negotiated a site with the sub-préfecture they found that it had 'mysteriously' been double booked!

Yarl's Wood Update

At 4pm today around 30-40 guards came and took away all the men involved in the sit in protest, as well as two women, who were naked. There was a struggle as they pulled the men away from the women. In the struggle, one of the women’s child (aged 19 months) fell from her back and an officer stepped on the child. Her husband was dragged away injured and bleeding. The women are continuing with their hunger strike.

Hunger Strikers Attacked At Yarl's Wood

Mothers and Fathers at the SERCO-run Yarl's Wood detention centre near Bedford are in the second day of a hunger strike against inadequate medical care, problems over food provision and the continued detention of children there. Since opening in 2001, the Bedfordshire detention centre has been plagued by hunger strikes, self-harm incidents, a suicide and riots. It was severely damaged by fire during disturbances in 2002.

The provision of health care at Yarl's Wood has been the subject of concern and criticism for many years. In 2006 a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found that "systems were inadequate and the healthcare service was not geared to meet the needs of those with serious health problems or ... detainees held for longer periods for whom prolonged and uncertain detention was itself likely to be detrimental to their well being." And that "the delivery of healthcare was undermined by a lack of needs assessment, weak audit and clinical governance systems, inadequate staff training in relation to trauma. Mental health care provision was also insufficient."

At that time Yarl's Wood was managed by GSL and health care was sub-contracted out to another private company, Veritas, who were not registered with the Healthcare Commission unlike all public sector health care providers. GSL subsequently lost their contract to run the detention centre to SERCO, with the health care to be provided by a subsidiary SERCO Health. Following the change over, health care provision was again criticised by the Prison's Inspector in 2008 as patchy and that there were no specialist health services for children.

In a report entitled The Arrest and Detention of Children Subject to Immigration Control, written by the Children's Commissioner for England Alan Aynsley-Green, one of the key findings was "substantial evidence that detention is harmful and damaging to children and young people" and that children held at Yarl's Wood regarded it as little more than a prison. Health care provision for minors was again criticised with "particular areas of concern are: the recording and availability of patient information; provision of follow-up care; delivery of immunisations; inadequacy of clinical care; poor care provided to children and adults with mental health needs; and consideration before removal of healthcare needs thereafter." Also criticised was the service to pregnant women.

The main conclusion of the report was that the UK should end the practice of detaining children in immigration prisons in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet the practice continues, as does the criticisms of heath care provision at the detention centre. In yesterday's Daily Mail (of all places!) an article blew the story of the latest protests inside Yarl's Wood, with numerous detainees willing to go on the record with their complaints: a mass outbreak of a virus amongst the children; an epileptic woman who suffers multiple seizures (up to 6 a day) who only has a 14 year old son to look after her who was accused of 'faking it' by staff; pregnant women, some with complications, detained with a total disregard of their well-being; the list goes on. (See also)

One woman was even forced to dial 999 when her five-month old son's temperature shot up and the medical staff at the centre ignored her requests for medical care. "He was really sick and he'd never been in that condition before. I tried telling the staff, and the staff were calling the health care but no one was coming."

On top of that today, during a sit in protest SERCO guards attacked some of the protesters. This was was witnessed over the phone by a migrant support worker who was at the time talking to the wife of Solomom Ojeheonmon, who was quoted in the Mail article. She was unable to re-establish contact with those inside Yarl's Wood, but subsequent communication with the detention centre by Solomom's MP has elicited the admission that force may have been use when "guards removed some of the male ringleaders."

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

SOAS Anti-union Busting Occupation

Yesterday morning the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) director's office occupied by students and supporters in protest against detention of 9 University cleaners, who had recently won living wage representation in a dawn raid on Friday (June 12).

Five have already been deported, and the others could face deportation within days. One has had a suspected heart attack and was denied access to medical assistance and even water. One was over 6 months pregnant. Many have families who have no idea of their whereabouts.

The cleaners won the London Living Wage and trade union representation after a successful “Justice for Cleaners” campaign that united workers of all backgrounds and student activists. Many believe the raid is managers’ “revenge” for the campaign.

Immigration officers were called in by cleaning contractor ISS, even though it has employed many of the cleaners for years. Cleaning staff were told to attend an ‘emergency staff meeting’ at 6.30am on Friday.

This was used as a false pretext to lure the cleaners into a closed space from which the immigration officers were hiding to arrest them.

More than 40 officers were dressed in full riot gear and aggressively undertook interrogations and then escorted them to the detention centre. Neither legal representation nor union support were present due to the secrecy surrounding the action. Many were unable to communicate let alone fully understand what was taking place due to the denial of interpreters.

SOAS management were complicit in the immigration raid by enabling the officers to hide in the meeting room beforehand and giving no warning to them.

The cleaners were interviewed one by one. They were allowed no legal or trade union representation, or even a translator (many are native Spanish speakers).

The cleaners are members of the Unison union at SOAS. They recently went out on strike (Thursday 28 May) to protest the sacking of cleaner and union activist Jose Stalin Bermudez.

The occupation has issued a list of demands to SOAS management:

1. We call on the directorate to request the secretary of state to immediately release the detainees and to prevent the deportation of the three cleaners who are still in detention in the UK.
2. For the directorate to release a public statement condemning what has happened to the SOAS cleaners and calling for their immediate release and return.
3. To campaign for the return of the cleaners who have already been deported.
4. To bring all contract staff in house. SOAS should not use contractors, ISS or others.
5. To keep immigration officers from entering campus under ANY circumstances or other forms of collaboration with immigration or police. Universities are for education not for state violence and oppression.
6. A year's wage as reparations for all detained and deported staff.
7. To hold accountable SOAS managers who were complicit in facilitating the raid and detention of the cleaners, refusing to aid a sick worker and a pregnant woman.
8. To reinstate Jose Stalin Bermudez, the SOAS UNISON branch chair.
9. To respect the right to organise in Trade Unions unimpeded.
10. To provide space and resources for a public meeting to build support for the SOAS 9 and other migrants, in education and beyond, affected by immigration control and racism.
11. Amnesty for all those involved.

One of the detained cleaners stated, “We’re honest people not animals. We are just here to earn an honest living for our families. SOAS management are being unfair.”

The same tactic has been widely used against undocumented migrants in low paid jobs. The fact is that the private sector companies that bid for sub-contracting tenders in the service sector rely on employing people on minimum wages (and even below that if they can get away with it, as they often do) at unsociable hours. And the people that tend to go for these are undocumented workers who can get no other work. The companies know this and employ them specifically because they are marginalised and vulnerable; ripe for exploitation as they cannot stick up for their rights. And when they dare to do just that, these companies feel no qualms about turning the workers into the UKBA, just as the cleaning contractor ISS did with tube cleaners in their employ when they went on strike, with the result that key activists were deported. This is the use of immigration law for union busting.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Unrest at Brook House IRC

A disturbance broke out last night just after 10:30pm at Brook House detention centre at Gatwick Airport. Up to 30 detainees were believed to be involved in setting a fire in an exercise area and causing other minor damaged. The cause of their grievances is not known at present. Police and Fire crews were in attendance and it is believed Prison service 'Tornado' teams were also involved in restoring order. A second fire is also believed to have been started when one of the detainees setting fire to his bedding this (Saturday) afternoon.

Brook House is a purpose-built Category B Prison Service standard building designed to hold up to 426 male detainees prior to their deportation. It is run by G4S, who also manage HMP Parc (and a further 3 IRCs and £ prisons under the guise of its subsidiary GSL) and was opened in March this year as part of a planned large-scale extension to the detention estate over the next couple of years.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Colnbrook IRC Heavily Criticised

The Colnbrook high security detention centre near Heathrow run by SERCO has been heavily criticised by the Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers in a new inspection report.

Anne Owers is quoted as saying, "Overall, we found little improvement at Colnbrook since our last visit. Indeed, there was evidence of the centre taking inappropriate steps to manage some of the challenges it faces; in particular, there were examples of separation being misused and the vulnerable persons unit was not fit for purpose.

"A significant number of complaints, including allegations of staff bullying, were not adequately investigated and replies lacked detail." And that "staff and managers readily admitted that Colnbrook was struggling to cope."

The full announced inspection took place last November and followed a similar critical report the previous year.

Amongst the criticisms were:
  • Between 80% and 90% of the immigration removal centre (IRC) population were former prisoners. More than a third in our survey reported spending more than four hours in an escort van. Vehicles often arrived late. There were a significant number of night-time journeys, and only 32% of respondents reported that they had been treated well by escort staff, against an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) comparator of 50%.
  • Only 37% of survey respondents said that they had been well treated by reception staff, which compared poorly with the IRC comparator of 59%.
  • Only 30% of the detainees surveyed said that they felt safe on their first night.
  • Overall, there was a relatively poor standard of staff-detainee relationships and, whilst 52% of detainees saying that most staff treated them with respect, similar to the figure at the previous inspection, the figure was significantly lower than the IRC comparator of 70%.
  • 49% of detainees said that they had been victimised by another detainee or group of detainees, which was significantly worse than the 30% comparator and also significantly worse than the 40% figure reported at the previous inspection. Thirty-four per cent said that they had felt threatened or intimidated by a member of staff, which was significantly worse than the 23% comparator. In line with the centre’s internal survey, our survey indicated a reluctance to report bullying. Only 48% of detainees who said that they had been victimised by detainees or staff said that they had reported it. This was significantly worse than the 63% comparator in the previous survey.
  • Colnbrook's control and restraint (C&R) was heavily criticised for being oppressive: There was insufficient de-escalation of use of force incidents, and the monitoring of these incidents was inadequate. Kept too long in isolation after incident de-escalated. Complaints were inadequately investigated. The standard of replies was poor, many were not answered within the prescribed timescale and the standard of replies was insufficiently monitored.
  • Rule 40 (removal from association in the interests of security or safety) was regularly used as punishment. The Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme used as system of punishment rather than as the system of reward as it was designed to be.
  • The unit for vulnerable detainees was an oppressive and degrading environment. It offered no privacy and was an oppressive and degrading environment. Arrangements for the support of potentially suicidal or self-harming detainees were inadequate, with poor documentation, and some inappropriate separation of vulnerable detainees. Use of force had increased and was not always well managed.
  • The Short term Holding Facility (STHF) had a restricted regime and detainees were locked up for 23 hours a day, with little access to information. Despite previous inspectorate recommendations, it continued to hold women in wholly inappropriate conditions, some of them extremely distressed, or co-located with male ex-prisoners.
  • Restraints used during all visits to outside medical or dental facilities irrespective of likelihood of flight posed by detainee.
  • There was relatively poor access to expert legal advice, with just over half of detainees surveyed indicating that they had a solicitor, which was significantly worse than the IRC comparator of 61%.
  • Bail applications were heard through the on-site video suite but UKBA summaries arrived by post - often late, only in English and limited ability to challenge court's assumptions.