[ 25. Jun 2010 ]

One Year of Solidarity in Calais

No Borders -- Protest in Calais, March 11, 2010

After the noborder camp in Calais in June 2009 some activist left there monitoring police violence and supporting migrants as good as possible. This was the start for a permanent solidarity project calling itself Calais Migrant Solidarity.


Background: Since the 1990s, Calais has shown itself to be a startling case study in the way that Western countries create the conditions that cause people to flee countries outside the EU, while pouring billions into building a border regime designed to punish those who try to move into it.

The present situation in Calais started in 2002, when the Red Cross Sangatte humanitarian centre was demolished on the pretext of trying to stem the flow of undocumented migrants to Calais. Funnily enough, they didn't stop coming to Calais, as it turns out people do not leave their families, become tens of thousands of dollars in debt to people smuggling mafia rackets, travel by clinging on underneath trucks, risk drowning in small crowded dinghies at night, risk being shot at by various Mediterranean navies, get thrown in over-crowded prisons, risk hypothermia and starvation by walking huge distances across mountain passes to avoid border police, simply because they have heard that they can get some hot Heinz tomato soup in Sangatte.

So, since 2002, anywhere between 200 to 1000 (at any given time) Afghan, Iraqi, Kurdish, Iranian, Darfuri, Somalian, Eritrean, Ethiopian and Palestinian migrants, among many others, arriving in Calais have had to fend for themselves. The scrub land around Calais has since been dotted with different home-built camps (known popularly as 'jungles'), which are made from discarded wood, metal and plastic, as well as squatted houses and warehouses.

The incredibly harsh winters and degrading living conditions are made even worse by a deliberate policy of police repression. The elite public order police, the CRS, have a permanent base within Calais and it is their job to drive migrants out of Calais by making their lives impossibly miserable. So they raid camps and squats on a daily basis, constantly arrest migrants in the middle of the night, refuse to let them sleep, assault them, verbally abuse them, destroy their camps, sometimes with fire, steal or slash their possessions including sleeping bags, tents, clothes and food, and can liberally use CS gas.

Solidarity: While charities have been giving food and clothing to migrants since the closure of Sangatte, organised political resistance built on the principles of freedom of movement and mutual aid started 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.

Working long and intense hours, we have spent our time resisting violent demolitions of migrant squats and camps, trying to squat new buildings for migrants, providing tents and then protection from the police slashing them with knifes, organising protests, continuing to patrol and stay in new squats and camps that migrants keep defiantly creating, resisting raids, providing support to migrants thrown in prison, in addition to collecting and distributing basic things such as tarpaulin, clothing, water, wood and tea (of course!). We have also supported a group of Iranian migrants going on hunger strike and continue to use video and other equipment to document and distribute footage of police repression in Calais, some of which has been used by various media networks.

Additionally, in late August 2009 we received funding for an office space in the centre of Calais, which migrants used as a safe space throughout the bitterly cold winter. In February, with the police stepping up their brutality, it was decided to step up our resistance. In defiance of the ban on providing accommodation to the migrants, we decided to rent an empty warehouse in Calais and turn it into a safe space for migrants to stay and organise. The opening evening saw about 100 migrants and activists pushing past road blocks of tooled-up police to use the warehouse, despite their all night siege with the CRS surrounding the building. The following day saw the CRS smash through the doors and arrest all the activists and then shut the warehouse. We boldly opened it up again, only to meet a similarly violent closure, this time for good.

The story of the warehouse was massive news in France and went around Europe, with fresh waves of activists from the Netherlands, Hungry, Spain, Germany and Belgium, among others, coming to Calais since then, and a day of solidarity actions also took place on May 15th, 2010 amongst a new network of No Borders activists in Paris.

We hope the increasing flow of activists to Calais sustains itself throughout the summer. Our year in Calais continues to be a massive learning experience for us all; organising across cultures with people who speak numerous languages and with people who have the most unimaginable stories, as well as with different organisations in Calais that don't share our approach. Nowhere so close to home can one see so clearly the full force of the state and its ability to strip people of their most basic rights every single day of the week.

Calais is a multi-faceted struggle; if you are fighting against border controls and fascism, for human rights, or even for climate justice and workers rights, then Calais really does offer a site to learn and unite.

This article by Tom, Calais Migrant Solidarity, was published first in :: Resistance bulletin issue 123 June 2010,