[ 16. Aug 2009 ]

Observations in Calais Jungles, August 2009


Collected articles from people in Calais. They went there to show solidarity with the migrants, treated by police every day.


A Sunrise Cycle-Tour of Calais Slums

My alarm went off at 4am. This is the earliest morning I have seen since my first retreat. Knowing that in England it was an hour earlier made me feel the cold and dark even more. Still, the spirit of adventure was with me as three of us crawled out of our tents, unlocked our bikes and peddled out into the night. We were going to check out a rumour told to us by some of the street cleaners - that the CRS gather at 5am every morning outside the train station, before moving off to the Jungles to carry out dawn raids and arrests.

We positioned ourselves opposite the station and sipped black coffee in plastic cups while keeping a bleary eye on the road opposite. Nothing. We waited until around 5:30am, moving a little into the park behind us when we realised how conspicuous we must look.

I hadn't seen this park before. It currently has a display of aerial scenes from around the world with an environmental focus. Some of them are really stunning. This is the place activists recently fly-posted pictures of migrants, making connections between migration and environmental crises, as well as saying, "look - this is what's going on here, in Calais, right under your noses!"

The moon was still high in the black sky and deep in the even blacker waters of the pond when we left the park and I was given a cycle-tour of Calais. I can report that even Calais is beautiful at sunrise.

We didn't enter any of the Jungles as early morning is when people try to sleep after having spent the night attempting to stow-away or cling under trucks, jump trains, steal boats or swim...

I saw the squat by the railway that the Ethiopians live in. The police recently bricked it up, with wounded and a pregnant woman still inside. Activists came and knocked through a doorway while the cement was still wet, but police came back again. Now access is only via a wooden plank going up to a wall and a rickety wooden ladder on the other side. This means the wounded people and pregnant woman must remain inside the whole time as the route in and out is too dangerous. The only bonus of this is that the police have effectively blockaded themselves out. They tried to get in but the first was too fat and they gave up. People have been taking food and vitamins to the pregnant woman.

I have an instinctive urge to find this woman and see if I can help her situation in any way. It occurs to me that any of us could spend our time helping any one person and of course it would be worthwhile, but there are up to 2,000 migrants in Calais living like this. Everything we do seems so ineffectual, like a sticking-plaster on a gunshot.

We cycled past the Eritrean squat and the Palestinian Jungle, which had been trashed by the police a day earlier. A few tiny pallet structures covered in blankets remained or had since been rebuilt.

We made our way back to camp where we drank more coffee and I passed out for a couple of hours before the sun got too hot on the tent. D was cooking something hot and spicy for breakfast, but alas the emergency phone rang and it was abandoned as we all sped off to the Pashtun Jungle to check a report that 20-30 CRS vans were headed there. False alarm. The only action was a few Afghan men gathering water in containers from the pump out front and slooshing it over their heads. Back to camp and breakfast - finally!

The Palestinian Jungle - 10th August 09

We have a piece of writing about who we are that has already been translated into Pasto and Dari. We still need some other languages, especially Arabic and Kurdish. B and I headed down to the "Palestinian Jungle" to say hi and hopefully make some contacts there.

As with all the Jungles I have visited, the people sitting around makeshift structures in the port were friendly and pleased to see us. We brought them candles and some oranges, which they shared with us.

We chatted to a weathered-looking man from Sudan who told us he has been living in Calais for the past eight years, in the structure nearest to where we were sitting. B and I were both shocked. Eight years is by far the longest any of us has heard of someone living in the Jungle. I asked if he was trying to get to England but he shook his head slowly, pointed to his hair, his knees, his tattered clothes. "I am fifty-seven, nearly fifty-eight. I stay here in Calais."

We spoke with some of the other men, mostly from Sudan, one from Eritrea. Most spoke reasonably good English. There were no Palestinians in sight and I have since discovered it has been mis-named, although some people report having met at least one Palestinian there previously. This is the most international of the Jungles with a mixture of different nationalities living together.

After three games of dominoes in which the winner was unclear (I never did understand the rules of that game), the CRS police suddenly showed up. Some of the men got up. Some shouted, some ran away and were chased by police with truncheons. One man hid behind the sofa we were sitting on. The remaining men stayed where they were sitting and laughed at the others being chased by the cops. This was obviously such a familiar scene that it had become a source of some amusement. To us it came as something of a shock. B went over to the police to confront them. I was on my way to back him up when I saw them check his ID Shit - I still don't have my passport! I backed off and went back to the guys still sitting around the dominoes table. Some of the others were standing near to the waters edge, pretending they were about to jump whenever the cops came near. It seemed to work really well. The police obviously weren't too keen in jumping in after them. The men by the dominoes table thought it was a hoot! Eventually I managed to figure out that I had our emergency phone number in my pocket and after a couple of botched attempts I succeeded in remembering the French code.

Within a few minutes around ten activists were on the scene on bikes, some with cameras - filming the cops filming us. The CRS were clearly not very pleased to see us. They were checking IDs and photographing people, sometimes a few cm's away from people's faces, an intimidation tactic familiar to me from experiences in the UK.

To my shame I stayed well back, fearful of arrest without any ID. The migrants have to put up with this everyday - sometimes more than once a day. Yes, I am a coward. But I am getting better. At least I am here in Calais.

The police left without arresting anyone, but unfortunately returned later when most of us had gone and took three people.

11th August, 2009, Palestinian squat: CRS have returned

As Immigration Minister Besson announced last night (10/8/09) that he would provide free showers to migrants (four of them for 120-1800 people) as a measure to treat the scabies epidemic (showers do not treat scabies, which he knows being a former doctor) and demanding that the local authority support this work for "as long as it takes" (the same local authority that in July refused to allow humanitarian associations to set up showers), this photo show the reality of the "dignified" treatment of migrants in Calais that Besson has been infamously quoted as saying he supports.

2.00pm CRS arrest two people by the marina in the centre of town. This is filmed and documented. As the unmarked arrest van and CRS van escorting it wait for the swing bridge to shut and make their way back into town, there is a call from the Palestinian squat near by (attacked by police yesterday) that CRS have returned. Activists and journalists arrived as a CRS van pulled up and an officer jumped out wielding his baton in the air, making towards a group of migrants sat by the local fishing boat dock. As activists cycled up a second officer was getting out of the van with his tear gas canister ready, saw he was being watched and called his colleague back. The arrest van and escort CRS van arrived, the escort van immediately headed off , leaving two vans of CRS to confront activists.

The journalists filmed and observed discreetly from inside the Palestinian squat. Activists placed themselves between the vans and migrants at the dock and in the squat. After a brief standoff activists were made to hand over ID for checking. During the radio check demands to "back off" were repeatedly made by the police; "if you can’t speak French go back to England"; when we spoke in French being told we could not take photos of police. We were asked if we had press idea, and that "if you are press you can take photos, no press, no photos" so they seem to have understood that bit of law. We were also informed several times that "we are the police, you are not the police", which was a helpful confirmation of our respective roles.

In French law you can photograph police, but it is the way in which those images, and anyone else’s images in France, are subsequently used that is the issue. Activists were then photographed from about two feet away, an attempt at intimidation as much as one of intelligence gathering.

We occupied their time for at least 30 to 40 minutes, while some migrants walked off, or remained cooking their meals unhindered. This felt like a real practical prevention of police attempts to hassle, arrest and quite clearly attack (evidenced by the raised baton and charged tear gas canister) migrants in broad daylight in the centre of Calais in front of tourists and Calaisiens. This was made possible by our numbers increasing only slightly today, so come to Calais and continue the work to support migrants here. Lots of recent info elsewhere on this blog.

Around 9.ooam the CRS had blocked off the road leading to the middle of the Pashtun (Afghan) jungle and unconfirmed reports of 20 to 30 CRS vans driving past. Also unconfirmed reports of them driving into the jungle, spraying the one water hydrant with tear gas, and filming people in the jungle. When we arrived a man with a fresh head wound pointed towards a recent police presence. It may be that this was a CRS battalion, usually of around 24 vehicles, redeploying and making a show of force on its way out of Calais. There is one battalion of CRS riot police for each department (province) in France, with the Pays de Calais battalion permanently deployed in Calais and one from elsewhere, making a permanent prescence of 2 battalions at any one time, with about 100 officers each.

Iranian Jungle - 11th August 09

Some of us met some Kurdish guys in the park the other day with very good English. They lived in Liverpool for a few years before being deported back to Iraq. Now they are back in Calais and again trying to reach England. They are young, around 18 and dress like typical London teenagers. One of them calls himself J. J was here during the No Borders Camp and he and his friends remember it well. They say they enjoyed it, lots going on and the police could not get onsite. The camp was held in the park we were sitting in, a regular hang-out for Kurdish people. I asked J if he could translate our 'Who We Are' statement into Kurdish and he agreed, so today M and I went back to find him.

We found the Iranian Jungle first in the same park, and had just sat down with the men there to ask about Persian translations and how to find the Kurdish people when three CRS suddenly appeared, seemingly from nowhere. Neither the migrants nor us had a chance to go anywhere. They checked M's ID and asked if I could speak French. I replied no, only English. They asked for my ID. I said I don't have it. One of them saw my bag and told me to open it.
I asked "for what are you searching?"
He said "Just open it."
I said "Why?"
He replied "Because I am a policeman."
I said "That's not a reason"
But he said "Yes it is."
I opened my bag. I don't know French law and I didn't have my passport. I wanted to do the minimum amount possible to get them to leave me alone.
He saw my notebook and went to read it, but I grabbed it from him and said, "that's my notebook! What are you looking for?"
He saw my wallet and asked for it. I feigned shock and said "you want my money?!"
He said something about ID so I opened my wallet, took out my bank card and gave it to him. He looked at it and handed it back. That seemed to satisfy him.

They then moved onto their intended victims: the four Iranian men we had been sitting with. As the police were talking to them I began quietly writing a text message to send out to the emergency number, but I was seen by 'hands-on-hips CRS' and told to stop. We basically had to just sit there and watch while the cops took the men, despite protests from them that they had already been picked up early that morning. The CRS simply replied that this was "not possible". Before the cops arrived the men had been telling us of how there had been 11 arrests at 6am that morning when the police came and woke everyone up and took them all. Twice in one day! They wouldn't even let one man put his bag away in his tent.

P turned up as they were leaving and managed to take some pictures. My hands were shaking like crazy as I sent texts out saying what was going on.

Friday 14th August

Calais Migrant Solidarity learned that the Ethiopian squat in Calais had been blocked up by the CRS. They used breeze blocks to create a situation where entry to the building is limited to climbing a plank of wood over a high wall. All windows and doors have also been bricked up and sealed, leaving those inside in total darkness. At their request a delegation from No Borders South Wales was able to deliver some 12volt car batteries, lights, LED lamps, a volt meter and a car battery charger (all donated by those in sympathy with the migrants’ plight). We also handed out soap, razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste and some vitamins. The level of police repression toward migrants is astonishing; one Rastafarian even had his dreads cut off by police when he was last arrested, and yet they manage to keep a smile and share a cigarette with anyone who offers them help or companionship. They told us that some of the locals are friendly and often play music and wave to them from the nearby flats. The squat itself is a really unhealthy space, with massive gaps in unstable wooden floors, and the risks posed by prolonged inhalation of brick dust and ammonia. One of the women living there is pregnant; we found it astonishing that such vulnerable people are forced to live in such harsh conditions.

8.30pm The medics team reported, during today’s meeting, claims by migrants that the eritrean squat has been undergoing rock-throwing for the last 3 nights, around 3-4am. Also, they heard that racists had gone in and used pepper-spray on a pregnant woman, who then lost her baby, due to that. This still remains to be confirmed and detailed. The team hopes to speak to more people tomorrow and see if they can get converging testimonies. —- My own experience with white thugs in the neighborhood is similar, they are very much into shouting at passers-by at night, and they sometimes throw rocks/chunks of earth, either at people or at houses. Nevertheless, 4am is very very late for such things to happen. Usually the little thugs are quiet/home by that time. So it sounds more to me like action by racists.

Call for Rally in front of detention centre in Calais, 22nd August

SATURDAY 22nd AUGUST from 2pm

In Calais since 2002 and the closure of the Red Cross centre at Sangatte many migrants wander along the coast of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, hoping to find a way to get to England.

In Calais more that 1000 migrants live in the woods (the "jungle") and in squats, in indescribable conditions.

The French Minister of Immigration Besson has announced the eradication of all the jungles of Calais before the end of the year and he wants to make Calais a "migrant-free town".

In the last few days tension has been mounting in Calais. Following some alerts from humanitarians on the sanitary conditions and the scabies epidemic which has been rampant for several months, a campaign of eradication will start on the 17th August with Médecin du Monde. At the same time the préfect of Calais has requisitioned some showers (5 for 1000 migrants!).

The No Border activists present in Calais since the No Border Camp in June call for reinforcements to prevent the daily, systematic violence. and

We call everyone to gather in front of Coquelles detention centre on Saturday 22nd August at 2pm

We denounce the migration policies of our European countries
We demand freedom of movement and settlement for everyone
We demand the closure of retention/detention centres and the opening of borders

- Come to denounce the illegitimacy of the tribunal at CRA Coquelles.
- Come to distribute leaflets to people who come to shop at "Cité Europe"
- Come to try and communicate with detainees
- Come to learn about the No Border camp in Lesbos
- Come to discuss, sing, shout, dance, make music, and picnic until the evening

The CRA of Coquelles is near the Boulevard du Kent roundabout and the Boulevard de l'Europe roundabout, in the southern part of the shopping centre "Cité Europe" Autoroute exit 41
The map is :: here

But it misses some recent buildings, notably the "Electro-Dépot" warehouse next to the main entrance of the CRA, visible on street view :: here.