Between the summer of 2007 and May 2008, we stayed a few times with the immigrants in Calais in order to give you an account of their life. [...] This is what we recorded...
On the 17th of January 2008, the residents of the dunes area were painfully waken up with truncheons and teargas. You might say that it's nothing unusual for the immigrants in Calais. But what was quite different on that day was the spirit of revenge which drove the policemen who did the waking up : since the previous Saturday, a squad of the riot police were contaminated by scabies and one of their guys was sent at the hospital. It did not calm their fiery temper for sure. So a score of policemen with dogs just arrived in five vehicles in order to catch all the foreigners living in the Afghan 'jungle'. And they ended up setting their shelters on fire. In short that was a decontamination operation. The Afghans, that we had met the day before, told us how they were shocked when the policemen dragged them out of their shelters pulling them by the feet as they were beaten and kicked by truncheons and boots. Then they were carted off to the police vans which were parked in the Tioxide factory. They did not see anything but when they came back everything was burnt down. It was a most horrible sight. Only the ashes could testify to what happened there. Nobody but the immigrants saw that drama. Nothing was left over but pieces of bricks and burnt saucepans, plus heaps of burnt clothes and tyres, corrugated iron and railings twisted by the heat...
At about 1 pm, in a square of wasteland at 'Quai de la Moselle', you always see the same young but craggy faces, the same teenagers kneeling along the railings, the same people wearing worn clothes who have been getting food given by associations here for five years. Exiled from countries at war and hurt by life, they do not have the same names but their destinies are strangely similar. Whether they are from Afghanistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Eritrea or Somalia, Palestine or Iran, they have always lived the same sad stories. They also always have the same look in their eyes showing a mix of hope, fear and melancholy. [...] Their names are Rasul, Abdullah, Walli, Safiullah, Ahmed, Hassan and even John sometimes. They are either their true names or aliases. They flee from death, poverty, hunger, or for lack of liberties, but they are not recognized as refugees here, even if the Geneva convention recognizes as a refugee 'everyone who has reasons to be afraid of being persecuted because of his race, his religion, his nationality, his belonging to a social group in particular or his opinions[...].'
Not so miserable
Within the queue waiting for the meal next to the 'Cabina', the mobile home which remains in the middle of that area at 'Quai de la Moselle', you could recently meet an Iraqi Kurd who hid his face with a black scarf. He said that he used to be the bodyguard of the prime minister of Kurdistan Nechirvan Barzani. There was also Wahed Ulah who used to be an English teacher in Afghanistan. John is African who was a PhD student of politics in Eritrea, a young Afghan who was a translator for the American army, a tall stocky guy who was a police officer in Iraq, Muhammad who had a business in Iran, Sami, a stutent of medicine who fled from Eritrea in order to continue his studies and avoid being forced into joining the army : 'Why do we flee from our countries ? Most of the time we have a job and a family there. If we could live there freely and in peace, we would not left. But we are threatened there and it is the first reason of our departure.' They welcome you with a big smile, they talk to you with sincerity and they even propose to share the food they got from the association 'La Belle Etoile'. They are curious and ask who we are, what we do for a living or ask if we are married, they wonder what we think of our president and often conclude the conversations by saying 'Police no good' which reveals a lot about what they suffer away from the city-centre. While talking to them, you quickly understand how they are and how they feel about the violence of the police, the injustice of their conditions and the absurdity of the prejudices about them. First there is the traditional 'we cannot welcome all the miserable people of the world' which is a forceful argument for all those people who think that the presence of 'the alien' is a handicap. The western minds are obsessed with the picture of 'the foreigner who steals our jobs', 'the tramp who begs at the doors of Europe' or 'the invader'. The immigrants are seen as people who take advantage of our advant ages or as tramps in rags who come to beg and take the places of 'honest European citizens'. However, these are more like middle-class; They are well-educated, they have diplomas and qualifications and some have spent up to 10 000 euros to pay for a journey towards what should have been liberty. And even if poverty was the reason for their coming, should we not give them a place where they can stay ?
6:30 pm, the immigrants come to the 'quai Paul Dévot' for the evening distribution of food. They bring with them the saddening stories of their daily fight for survival : wounds, truncheons and races through the thorn bushes. But there are also some irritating bad news like the one about that young Kurd who had his face scalded with coffee by a lorry-driver or about that Eritrean who was stabbed in the neck by a fascist, about that teenager who fell off a lorry and had his leg run over, that young Eritrean girl who was killed on the motorway... not to mention the acts of wanton violence done by the police all day long. As we walk in Calais, an Eritrean who was visibly panicked came running to us. He explained that he had just been arrested and taken into custody by the police. When they were about to let him go, one policeman put him to the ground and beat him up. He walked with a limp and held his arm. We led him to the 'PASS', a sort of mini-hospital for the destitute where dozens of immigrants come every afternoon to rest, take a shower and overall avoid being constantly oppressed by the police. The nurse said it was a luxation which was confirmed by an X-ray photograph : Mica had his shoulder dislocated. He refused to be healed : 'no treatment in this nazi country. First I want to meet mister Justice.' From the hospital he got a document testifying to his wounds. Accompanied by Sylvie from the association 'Salam' he intended to lodge a complaint. Obviously that was useless : how do you lodge a complaint against the police, at the police station ?
Loads of solidarity
As for the associations, their members are tired of the situation, [...] but nothing seems to stop their good will. Distribution of tea at 11 am and lunch at the 'Cabina', dinner at the 'quai Paul Dévot', locker room at the Church 'Notre Dame' on saturdays, showers at 'Secours Catholique', medical team at the 'PASS' on 'rue des soupirants' and so on. [...] The volunteers have always seen myriads of journalists asking the same old questions and taking the same old pictures. They have also seen a lot of politicians who came to blow their own trumpet or show that they could not do anything : Dominique Voynet, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, José Bové or Isabelle Carré... [...] Public opinion does not seem to change either : it has not been understood that putting missile batteries along the border could not stop men and women who have nothing to lose.
From La Brique n°8, juin-sept 20080, http://www.labrique.net and translated by Nomade, the Calais Noborder camp magazine.