Information from activists and migrants on the ground in Calais.
Why are there migrants in Calais & what are they doing?
The migrants in Calais include peoples from the most troubled flashpoints of political conflict around the world. I have personally met Hazara Afghan's who have had their homes destroyed by the ongoing war; Eritrean's escaping conscription from an army involved in conflict they do not want to be part of; Iranian's fleeing political prosecution & many others for example from Somalia, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Pashtun Afghanistan, Sudan, Palestine & Egypt. All seeking sanctuary, all looking to build a better & new life for themselves.
Yet what the migrants in the camps/"jungles" and streets of Calais have experienced is far from sanctuary or descent "European hospitality". In fact since their arrival into Europe through the most common countries of entry (Italy, Greece & Malta) they face constant harrassment from the authorities. There are false claims that the migrants in Calais can't be 'genuine' refugees, or they would have claimed asylum in the first 'safe' country they came to (regardless of whether they had family in other countries, like the UK for example). This ignores the fact that many migrants just don't have a chance to gain asylum in these 'safe' countries, since they often do not adhere to the UN guidelines on hosting refugees.
In Greece, fewer than 1% of asylum claims were accepted last year, with migrants often being locked up for three to six months to only have their claims rejected anyway. On release, migrants still have nowhere to go and continue to be targeted by police who beat them and sometimes rip up the papers given to them by the authorities in the first place. While in Italy thousands were intercepted and turned away without even having their claims looked at. Police beating and intimidation through repeated arrests, continues from country to country throughout Europe.
The Dublin II regulation (which states that the majority of migrants can only claim asylum in the first EU country they got finger-printed) is a policy of systematic human rights abuse against migrants and refugees and needs to be abolished immediately.
Since the closure of Sangatte (Red Cross refugee reception centre) in 2002, and the closure of various migrant camps/'jungles' since September 2009, the crisis in Calais has predictably worsened - since people do not just disappear. The ruthless actions of the authorities fail to address the key issue of Europe's responsibility to refugees and their obligations under the UNHCR. Whilst military invasions, economic domination and climate change continue to make people's homelands impossible to live in, refugees will always exist. European governments aren't looking to help migrants, for them the "solution" lies in exploiting those migrants they might, and keeping out those they won't.
The migrants of Calais hope to find real sanctuary in the UK but the joint British-French border regime offers them a different version of reality. A brutal one that since september 22nd has become all the more sadistic and unrelenting, for on that morning Eric Bresson, France's Immigration Minister, declared he was "closing the 'jungle' at Calais".
Even before the Pashtun "Jungle" closure migrants in Calais regularly experienced police raids, often late at night and early in the morning, suffering beatings, CS gassing in confined areas, multiple arrests and prolonged detention. There was also the targeting of migrants observing fasting during Ramadan by arresting them at nightfall and throwing away their food - thus preventing them from eating after a day of fasting. A form of cruelty all too common amongst Fortress Europe's brave border defenders.
The international public spectacle of bulldozing the Pashtun "Jungle" infront of the press resulted in the arrests of hundreds. Since then those released are left to roam the streets, homeless, often targetted with further police harressment. Though Afghan's may be being targetted by specific race-related oppression, out of the media focus state sadism targets all migrants. With Calais' Eritrean House (a squat) now having been evicted & totally demolished. Then, October 7th, the Paul Devot Dock was also evicted under mass-arrest and demolition. Since then the Sudanese camp has also been evicted.
Every day migrants are arrested and often taken to the police station only to be released in four to six hours, though occasionally they are held for as long as two days. Released - arrested - released - arrested, a cycle of intimidation. Intensified repression recently includes even more trigger-happy use of tear gas, including on pregnant women, and the destruction of personal belongings. Nothing but constant harrassment - the european tactic of "clearing my back yard" so that others have to deal with the "problem". Calais authorities try to force migrants out of their town for others to "deal" with elsewhere. Now with specially charted, mass deportations straight to Afghanistan and Iraq - countries devastated by invasions from the West, the inhumane policies just get worse. Real solutions mean acceptance, help and cooperation, something unacceptable to the established elite of Europe.
Why should opportunity be restricted to citizenship decided by place of birth? Humanity is shared - we are all in essence migrants and so all borders are an injustice! Capital can roam the globe freely, those with enough money and the right papers can also travel freely. Whereas the obscene reality is that the majority of the people of the world are stopped from roaming our shared world freely. The greed of the wealthy nations through gross consumption continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world - through conflict over resources; political domination or climate change forcing people to flee their lands. In Fortress Europe if you have no papers you have no rights, therefore the brutal "law of the jungle" reigns. Are we not all human then why divide ourselves with borders, we all must have the freedom of movement!
French and British authorities treat the migrants in Calais as less than human, and most of the media encourages us to view them this way too. We have the option to refuse to go along with this and instead to try to listen to their experiences. Migration is NOT a crime. We believe people should have freedom to move and live where they choose, whatever their reason for moving. We believe that adults and children should not be detained against their will, having committed no crime.
The No Borders position attempts to move beyond humanitarian responses to immigration controls and restrictions on freedom of movement. When confronted with human suffering you want to know what you can do to help - and help immediately. To say 'No Borders' is not a demand for rights, but an expression of solidarity with all those who resist oppression, exploitation and the global divisions of desire. In solidarity with migrants in Calais and everywhere, join us to demand that the French authorities stop their harassment of migrants in Calais, and that the UK offer asylum to those that want it!
There is a criticism of No Borders as being idealist and irrelevant to working class, anarchist, leftist politics - our response is No Borders is an axiom of political action, a principle of equality from which concrete, practical consequences must be drawn. It means recognizing, on the basis of our equality, solidarity in struggle irrespective of origins. It is this principle of equality which distinguishes the No Borders position from the ideology of free marketeers, whom also advocate the removal of controls on movement. Yet only the removal of controls on the movement of labour-power - which only means people who are to be exploited.
This political position has become mixed however with humanitarian concerns. The problem in Calais is that the immediate situation of the migrants living here is so bad - living without basic sanitation, medical care, adequate food, access to clean water and so on - that even in the space for political discussions made possible by Calais No Borders, humanitarian sentiments too often override more explicitly political discussions. The frustration felt by many at this situation was captured in a meeting during the Calais No Borders Camp (2009). A young Afghan interjected: 'Every time I come to the meetings we discuss about blankets, but we are not hungry, we do not come for blankets, open the borders!' A tension has thus manifested itself in No Borders political action with it often being carried out by those who can afford it (i.e. the citizen-activist) whilst those who can't afford it become objects of humanitarian concern (i.e. the non-citizen, the migrant).
Separate to any demands No Borders may make on European authorities (like at the Calais No Borders Camp 2009) the greatest subversive challenge to the borders are the actions of the migrants themselves, the actual attempts to cross day and night. No arrangement of words could ever match this force.
As the borders separate us, one human from another, politically we can see private interests dominating common ones. Separation has been further replicated amongst the divided social groupings within each of the bordered nations. With each social grouping choosing their own brand of politics from the mediated specacle of supermarket governance. This is why the lived defiance of the No Border position automatically places itself in opposition to the calculated interests of the established - who profit from a divided world. Which means that though a No Borders stance might spring just as easily from suffering as it might from a desire to self-determine your own agency, each acts through an identified vector of antagonism that the authorities would much rather remain hidden. Fight the borders and you fight control.
The opening of a new Calais No Borders office and crash-space for ativists has come at a difficult time, nevertheless the opportunities are there for the grasping. There has been an increased form of politicised resistance in Calais - on september 25th activists demonstrated at the sous-prefecture in Calais, demanding an immediate end to the persecution of migrants and calling for freedom of movement for all. Then on the 29th Iranian migrants went on hunger-strike. They declared that Western countries co-operate to offer them asylum, and that no migrant in Calais be readmitted to Greece, Italy or Malta (from where they would almost certainly be deported). On the same day, only an hour after the hunger-strike went public, the police came and arrested everyone for being a gathering of more than 3 people, which apparently constitutes a demo and is therefore illegal without first seeking permission. Though the hunger-strike was disrupted the struggle goes on.
Come to Calais! Whether you have two days or more, here your help is concretely needed. Witness the other side of "civilised europe", see the "solution" for yourself. Act autonomously, judge for yourself once you have met individual migrants calously treated by a false authority. Join other No Borders activists in consensus based direct action. People are needed, no special skills are required, but those with medical, legal or media skills will of course be useful. Most importantly come and show sollidarity by meeting the migrants on the streets - nothing is needed but a desire to speak from one person to another.
Resist the racist system - open the borders!
Contact & links
Calais No Borders Comms tel: 0033 6 34 81 07 10
email: calaisolidarity (at) gmail.com
Article by Calais No Borders, published first on 01. Nov 2009 in :: indymedia.org.uk