Repression and struggles in Calais 2013 -2014

In 2012 we had the lowest number of migrants present in Calais, between 150 and 200 only. All jungles had been destroyed and squats closed. People were just sleeping rough. In 2013 numbers started going up again. Migrants managed to open some squats. At the end of 2013 the mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart (UMP, same party of Sarkozy) started a new campaign of evictions. On the 21st of September over 100 Sudanese and other Africans where evicted from a squat called the Beer House (because situated in a disused cash-and-carry full of millions of expired beer cans); a squat next door inhabited by 20+ Syrians was also evicted at the same time. Every other squat had already been evicted, except the squat opened by No Borders in vboulevard Victor Hugo, that was the safe house for women and their children. The mayor Bouchart very much wanted to evict the women’s shelter, but thanks to a sustained campaign and the media involved we managed to keep it. The people evicted from the Beer House and the other squats were prevented from resettling in any other building and in many cases arrested and they were arrested also when they tried to sleep in the streets or in the parks. All winter long No Borders activists tried unsuccessfully to open new squats for migrants. All new squats were evicted immediatly, even when the occupiers could prove they had been there longer than 48 hours – in which case a squat could only be legally evicted after court proceedings. Bouchart made a call to delation, inviting neighbours to call the police if they saw activists or migrants around empty buildings. A few days later a new facebook group appeared, Sauvons Calais (Let’s save Calais). The coordinator of this group is Kevin Reche, a local kid who was claiming not to be a nazi but has a swastika tattooed on his chest. In opposition, another facebook group was set up, Sauvons Calais des petit esprits (Let’s save Calais from the small minded), later renamed Calais, Ouverture, Humanite’, collecting the moderate opposition to the racists and supporting migrants’ rights. Naziskins have been present in Calais long before Sauvons Calais. In 2007 they were responsible for a number of attacks on migrants in which two Africans were badly injuried, one lost an eye. In 2011 a new wave of attacks on migrants ended with the arrests of 4 adults, of which 3 were given prison sentences, and 7 minors. As one would expect, attacks on migrants and on those who support them have multiplied since Sauvons Calais began inciting violence and racial hatred.
After the evictions in September 2013, 65 Syrians occupied the pedestrian entrance to the ferry port and 20 went on hunger strike. Their demands were: to meet a representative of the UK government, in order to be allowed to go to England, and to be given decent accommodation in the meantime. The Syrians however were disappointed in their demands: when a representative of the UK government finally came, he told them they cold die of hunger but they were not going to be allowed in the UK. No accommodation was provided. The Syrians however were left to set camp undisturbed in front of the food distribution place. The Syrian camp was initially safe from police harassment because very visible and because the protests by the Syrians had brought some media attention to Calais; the shameful treatment of Syrian refugees is a bit of an embarrassment to European governments. The Syrian camp progressively grew to become a multi-ethnic camp where the majority were Pashtuns from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They moved from their jungle in the dunes because police was going there every morning to round up and arrest people, break their tents, beat them up. We have numerous reports of people gassed and beaten. Activists who went there to defend the Afghans were usually arrested as well, their photos and film destroyed. There was also a big group of Hazaras in the Syrian camp, the third most numerous ethnic group in Afghanistan. There were a group of Kurdish, there were other Arabs besides the Syrians. Most Egyptians moved to a squat they opened, that is now under eviction. There were a few Black Africans who liked it stayed there, and three Polish who had lost their documents. Many minors were in the camp and hardly any women, since women could go to the women’s squat Victor Hugo with their children. It was not a cold winter but quite uncomfortable if you are sleeping outside, especially if there is not enough wood to burn and not enough food to eat. Food distributions are down to one per day since the association la Belle Etoile, who were providing lunch, dissolved. To find wood to burn has became increasingly difficult due to the presence of racists and anti-immigrant managers in some of the businesses from where volunteers used to collect pallets. Before Christmas police started coming in the morning to arrest people at random, usually in small scale operations. Constant watch by a couple of activists who were also sleeping in the camp kept the gas and beatings away – at the worst police were kicking people when still sleeping, to get them out the tents. Living conditions were appalling: no water except six taps in the food distribution place and three chemical toilets provided by the Council, who never cleaned the toilets and only emptied them when they were about to overflow. Disgusting. The overcrowding was very severe. More and more people came to live there, until it became quite possibly the most overcrowded place on Earth. At the end, over 600 people were living amassed in a piece of land that is rather small. Relations between different national and ethnic groups were good, apart from occasional squabbles over wood between Pashtuns and Arabs. I trace to this time the emerging ability of migrant communities to make strong connections and organize together. Even though it fell short of becoming a proper protest camp with banners and all, the camp was very visible, and a right eyesore on the way to the ferry port. Mayor Bouchart and her administration were desperate to evict it. However, the Regional Council who owns the land was refusing to request the eviction. In the meantime, another camp was growing by the canal, in view of the Town Hall, on land also owned by the Regional Council. Eritreans, Ethiopians and Sudanese kept arriving in larger and larger numbers, coming from Libya via Italy. Conditions were even worse than in the other camp. There was only one water tap nearby, and no toilets. As the influx was very sudden and supplies scarce, even the most basic things were lacking. I saw 10 Eritrean minors sharing a tent that was for 4. They took turns to sleep, or did not sleep at all and just stayed awake, joking and giggling as teenagers do. Next door there were 10 other young Eritreans under a tent that had collapsed. They come younger and younger. Women and minors under 14 usually slept in the squat Victor Hugo. At the beginning, relations between Sudanese and Eritreans were good, they were saying they are all brothers, but as numbers rapidly increased tensions rapidly built up over scarce resources, erupting in a big fight that engulfed the streets nearby. Relations between Eritreans and Ethiopians had been very difficult for quite some time because of rivalry over the control of a lorry park. Some migrants have been in Calais for months. They are used to the hardship. They have adapted, know how to survive, know how to keep things together and they teach the others. But when new people arrive so numerous and so suddenly there is no time to pass over that knowledge. So it is difficult to keep things together. Eventually people manage, out of necessity.
In spring some No Borders activists called for a week of action to open new squats. The first building to be squatted was a farmhouse in Coulogne, near to Calais but outside its administration. A mob of 70/80 fascists and racists including many of the neighbours turned up, answering a call from Sauvons Calais; they surrounded the building, pelted the roof with stones until they destroyed it and threaten to burn the building – they had molovs. The police just stood by and watched. I was very relieved when the activists finally abandoned the building. The fascists finished to burn it down. The organizers of the week of action had plenty of warnings from local people that Coulogne is a place where there is a strong far-right presence but they didn’t pay attention. That unlucky squat in Coulogne was also the convergence centre for activists who arrived for the week of action. Some turned their heels and went back home. Some slept in the squat Victor Hugo or on the beach – they improvised a camp there. At the end the activists managed to open 4 new squats and keep 3, through illegal evictions, re-occupations, violent arrests of activists, some of whom had their head smashed on the walls by cops. I salute their courage and spirit of self sacrifice. The three new squats were home to 100, 50, 20 people respectively, a minority of migrants present in Calais, who were well over 1000 already. The Sudanese moved to the squat in rue Massena after their jungle was destroyed by police (the jungle by LeaderPrice, now reborn and hosting some 400 Sudanese). That winter police had a passion for destroying that jungle, they destroyed it over and over again but never so completely. Nobody can doubt that it is better to live in a safe squat where the police cannot enter rather than in a jungle. After the episode of Coulogne the facebook group of Sauvons Calais was taken down. Sauvons Calais continued their activity attacking isolated migrants, activists and volunteers. Sauvons Calais tried to organize a big demonstration – two previous demos attracted less than 50 people each. The prefect had forbidden it, but Sauvons Calais promised to gather anyway. The night before the demo 40 drunken nazis went to sing the Marseillese to the Africans by the canal. They quickly disappeared when migrants and activists who were keeping watch on the camp came out to confront them. The day of the demo over 150 antifa and noborders turned up from Paris, Lille, England and other places. The fash did not turn up at all and were nowhere to e seen.
On the 28th of May the two main camps were evicted, the African camp and the Syrian camp, together with a smaller camp near the Syrian camp. All tents and shelters were destroyed. The mayor Natacha Bouchart had finally managed to persuade the Regional Council to request the evictions. Lots of media were present. The migrants evicted from the camps barricaded inside the place of food distribution, resisting with the help of activists and volunteers the gendarmerie in riot geat who were trying to enter and get them. The gendarmerie backed off.

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The migrants set up camp in the place of food distribution. They held meetings and organized resistance. For the first time, all communities were together, and leading the struggle. The word was that the migrants decide what to do, and we support them. There were general assemblies, meetings of the national communities and meetings of the delegates of the communities. In time general assemblies were neglected in favour of assemblies of delegates, which I thought was a great loss and a step backwards in people’s organization. Banners were hung on the fences surrounding the food distribution place. A big and lively solidarity gathering was held in place d’Armes, with speeches, music, dancing, a samba band; over 350 people attended: migrants, activists, associations, local people some bringing their children; a big group of antifascists, tired of the static demo, went running around town. The camp in the food distribution place was treated like a legal squat, police could not enter there. The associations were continuing to bring and distribute food. More distributions were organized by activists and migrants. Some migrants, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt went on hunger strike and kept it on for 3 weeks. They summarized their demands as follows:

– Houses in Calais for all the migrants who wish to go to England and for asylum seekers who are forced to live in the street
– Houses with decent hygienic conditions: toilets, showers, garbage collection
– Houses where we can come and go whenever we like, in order to be able to continue trying to cross to England
– Houses protected from police controls, harassment and evictions
– Access to three meals a day
– Negotiations between France and the United Kingdom to allow people access to British territory.

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The place was very packed from the beginning but became so overcrowded with new people arriving that people were sleeping on top of each other. At the end there were over 750 people there, including some women and many underage boys. The place of food distribution had been squatted already in 2012, but there were less than 100 people then. One sad day the court order for eviction was hanged on the two entrances of the place. I managed to take some pictures before the people tore it into pieces. There were also photos of the two camps that were evicted previously. The reasons given were: illegal settlement, unsanitary conditions, rubbish. people going to the toilet in the bushes (with pictures); rightly the people used these pictures as toilet paper. I cannot understand this thing about toilets: first the authorities refuse to provide accommodation and even toilets, and they don’t do rubbish collections, then they complain about rubbish and people going in the bushes. It must be peculiar to France.


The squatted place of food distribution, shortly before eviction

The eviction was brutal, gendarmerie in riot gear broke in at 6 in the morning on the 2nd July. At the same time the three legal squats, Massena and the others were also evicted. Lots of pepper spray was used in the camp when the gendarmerie entered. All activists and supporters present were grabbed and thrown out, afterwards some migrants were pepper-sprayed again and at close range. The migrants were all arrested, 300 people from the camp including many minors – others had moved out in advance to avoid trouble. The people in the squats were also arrested and all together the arrests were 600. Activists blocked the road trying to stop the arrest buses – belonging to Inglard Voyages and Mariot  –  but they were removed by gendarmerie. An activist was arrested and the president of the association SALAM, Jean Claude Lenoir. All tents, sleeping bags and people’s belonings were destroyed. For one day there were virtually NO MIGRANTS to be seen in Calais, all white. Sauvons Calais’s dream came true, but as in 2009 all people were released by the judges because the arrests were illegal, and came back from various deportation centres around the country, bar a few with Italian papers who were deported to Italy, some came back from Italy later. The associations had kept in store hundreds of tents for after the eviction. Most people moved to the new jungle near the Tioxide factory, most Sudanese went back to the jungle behind LeaderPrice supermarket.
There was a demonstration to protest the evictions: 450/ 500 people between migrants, No Border activists, all the local associations, Calais Ouverture Humanite, local people, a samba band. After marching through city centre, stopping in front of the Town Hall, marching down the boulevards, the demonstration arrived to a blind ally. There stands the building that had just been occupied, a 12.000 square meter legal squat. Big enough to accommodate every migrant in Calais. Everybody went in. There were speeches, a meeting, a kitchen was organized and a delicious meal cooked. There was live music and DJs and we danced into the night. No Borders activists and some of the great, lovely Sudanese people who had lived in Massena slept in the first night, the others joined later. The owner immediately requested a fast eviction, on grounds there may be toxic particles in the hangar, that was used to cut metals, and hydrocarburs in the ground. However the place is still there at time of writing. It is threatened with eviction, but may stay for another while as the authorities find it cheaper to hand over to us the responsibility to accommodate migrants, or leave them in the jungles.



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