Archivio mensile:agosto 2015

Calais. Behind the headlines. Beyond the border.

IMG_4538There were many little jungles in and around Calais. Now there are still some small squats in the centre of town and three camps, two inhabited by Syrians and one by Sudanese. Most of these places are under eviction. Most people have been forced to move into a wilderness by the day centre Jules Ferry, 7 miles outside Calais. I did not think it would have lasted: I thought the camp would self-destroy, as it is unthinkable so many people of so many different nationalities can live all together after being forcibly and suddenly relocated in some dumping ground. I saw many multi-ethnic camps develop, but it took time, diplomacy and developing relations between different communities. When many new people arrive there are always problems. In the new jungle at least 70 new people arrive every day. Nobody knows exactly how many people are there, but well over 3000 according to the volunteers who go there every day to help; more than there were on my last visit, one month ago, for sure. Many more. The camp is very crowded indeed, and the shelters are overcrowded: often people sleep on top of each other. I am not new to Calais jungle, I have kept going there since 2009, supporting the people in camps and squats; but every time I go to the new jungle I get a shock.

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How the people have managed to keep things together is a mystery to me, and nothing short of a miracle. There were big fights at the beginning, often involving hundreds of people; during the last big fight a large section of the camp, near the church, and some isolated shelters were set ablaze, the whole camp risked to go up in flames, several people ended up in hospital with broken bones, cuts requiring stitches, cranial trauma etc. There has not been any fight to speak of since- besides small fights due to stress and excessive drinking that are quickly sedated. Relations between different communities are very good, many friendships are flowering across different nations and races and the solidarity amongst people is wonderful and extraordinary. If anyone ever doubts that people are good they should come to Calais.
However, as the prospect of a rapid and catastrophic end to the new jungle draws farther, another prospect not less terrifying is nearing: the shanty town is becoming more and more permanent, it looks like a city now with its street lights, its shops, mosques, church, schools, restaurants. and even bars and night clubs- the poor people do their best to create life, beauty and some sense of normality in the most abnormal situation you could imagine; they do their best to preserve their values, culture, religion, traditions, and have some fun when they are not busy trying to go to England. However they are well conscious of where they are, and they suffer terribly, they do have feelings and a strong sense of dignity, and besides suffering physical discomfort they are hurt in their hearts and souls, they cannot understand why they are being treated worst than animals, neither can I, who can understand? This is not a city, it is not even a migrant camp, refugees camps in Darfur are much better, here there is nothing, not even the most basic facilities, only makeshift shelters built with the help of associations and concerned people, and what will be when the cold season comes? Access to food, water, medical care etc. is totally inadequate. There are not even sewers.

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Yet, according to the Minister of Interior Bernard Cazeneuve,”there is no jungle in Calais’ and ”the conditions of reception have been humanized”
In reality the centre Jules-Ferry represents the institutional will to provide as little as possible, one meal only per day for instance, the ‘tolerated’ shanty town near it is the apotheosis of racist segregation and living conditions are absolutely awful. “Calais is the best the Republic can produce” Cazeneuve said in a previous speech. He must love the Republic. Two months after people were forced into this huge slum the French State still had not done anything: no toilets, no roads, no rubbish collections and access to water, outside the opening hours of Jules Ferry, limited to six water taps just outside the centre for 3000 people suffering hunger and thirst. One nurse inside the centre for three hours, seeing a max of 20 people per day. The local hospital is very far away. Some local associations wrote a strongly worded open letter to the Prime Minister Manuel Valls and to the local authorities denouncing the situation, and threatened to stop all their help because, they said, they could not work in such conditions. As a result a meeting with the local authorities was called, a road was built, lights installed to make the camp safer at night, and some minimal water points: just flying pipes that break every moment, with a few taps pierced into them. Some chemical toilets were brought – one for 200 people or more, usually dirty and overflowing. Better going in the sand. (these stinky disgusting toilets are placed at one entrance to the camp and in other places of passage, I wish they just took them away.) Four associations then launched an emergency plan ‘like the ones usually reserved for a humanitarian catastrophe’: Secours Catholique and Medicins du Monde joined forces with Secours Isamique and Solidarites Intenational, again without any funding or help from the government, to provide essential humanitarian aid, at the same time denouncing the State’s persistent refusal to provide the most basic things, leaving the people to survive at the level of a humanitarian catastrophe. MdM built a dispensary in the jungle, consisting of some tents where they are treating minor ailments, stomach problems and skin infections due to the terrible living conditions, colds, coughs, and injuries in great number, mostly sustained when people try to cross and are injured in accidents, or by police.


Some photo documentation of the conditions in the camp can be found here:

There are many Sudanese in Calais (the vast majority of migrants present); the number of Eritreans, who were the majority last Winter, has gone down very much, but they are still many, and they keep arriving; Ethiopians slightly down; up numbers of Afghans and Pakistanis (mostly Pashtoons from the regions bordering Afghanistan, that have been engulfed in the war); numbers of Syrians up and Egyptians stable.
There are many more women and children that I’ve ever seen, little children with family or with one parent, usually the mother, the youngest are two; most of the women are from Eritrea and Ethiopia, where women are forced to do military service and possibly sent to the front line to fight . There are often Syrian women – civilians are being bombed and killed everywhere in Syria. More rarely Sudanese women arrive; Sudanese men do not think women should take such perilous journeys. Afghan women are rare, and never from the Pashtoons, who say women in Afghanistan are not in danger, i.e. they are not forced to fight. There is a huge and growing number of unaccompanied minors in the jungle, the youngest are 9 and many are between 11 and 15, that is, really young and vulnerable-but the boys do not think like that, they are very tough cookies and never admit being under 15 . Most are boys and from Afghanistan, but there are also many young Eritreans and some young Ethiopians, sometimes girls too; Sudanese minors tend to be a bit bigger but there are also Sudanese under 16; underage Syrians and Egyptians are often very young. All these kids are living in the jungle, looked after by their own communities. There is a centre for minors in St Omer, near Calais, but it is small and kids can only stay 5 days; besides, nobody want to stay there because they want to go to England. Child protection, to summarize, is non existent. Women protection is non existent. The shelter for women & kids in the Jules-Ferry compound is too small, 100 women and their children stuck like sardines in three prefab cabins, and it is not really safe, so many women prefer to sleep out with their kids, and husbands and brothers if they are with family; anyway, every time they go outside Jules Ferry they are in the jungle. Prostitution is widespread, due hunger and extreme poverty, the women earn as little as 5 euros, 10 for a whole night, and if men want to force them into prostitution, women cannot get away from them, they have nowhere to go. Women do need a separate space, with a door that can be safely locked, and far away from 2000 + men most of whom are sex starved – 1000 at least are women and kids; most men are incredibly restrained and well behaved towards women, but there is also a sizable minority who are not so restrained, particularly when they are drunk.
While David Cameron is using outrageous language in describing an imaginary invasion of the UK by migrants ‘swarming’ from Calais, people are suffering and dying. The 12 million euros fence bought by the UK with ‘taxpayers money’ to secure their border in France is costing an unprecedented number of lives: at least 12 people have died since the beginning of June while trying to cross the border, including a new born baby, two underage boys and two women. One of the women, a 23 years old from Eritrea, was stopped by the French police with a group of 5 other migrants who then were all sprayed in the face with CS gas. Afterwards the police let them go again, and they crossed the motorway one by one. The woman’s eyes were so irritated she could not see where she was going, so she was run over by a car and died. Baby Samir was born premature after his heavily pregnant mother, also from Eritrea, fell from a lorry and was rushed to hospital. The mother survived, the baby did not, despite efforts by medical personnel to save his life. He is now buried in Calais North cemetery, in a plot dedicated to migrants who have died in Calais. Plus some bodies have been found, though to be of migrants who tried to swim across the Channel – which is only possible if you are an expert swimmer and well trained.

Honour the dead. Justice for the living. Listcompiled by Calais Migrant Solidarity:

July 24th : A young Eritrean woman hit by a car about 5:30 on the A16.

July 23rd : A teenager was found dead in the English part of the Eurotunnel at Folkestone.

July 19th : Houmed Moussa, an Eritrean teenager of 17, drowned on the site of Eurotunnel.

July 16th : Achrat Mohamad, a young Pakistani man of 23 years has died of his injuries from an accident in the Channel Tunnel on the night of July 13 to 14.

On the night of July 13th  to the 14th : A Sudanese man died trying to go to England by the Channel Tunnel.

July 7th : A Sudanese exile is found dead during the inspection of a freight train in the Channel Tunnel.

July 4th : Samir, an Eritrean baby died one hour after birth. Her mother, twenty years old, fell from the truck triggering a premature delivery at twenty-two weeks.

June 29th to 30th : The body of Zebiba is found along the A16 between Calais and Marck, struck on the highway. She had gone with two friends to try to go to England.

June 26th : Getenet Legese Yacob, an Ethiopian man of 32 years died while trying to climb onto a train going through the Channel Tunnel.

June 1st, 2015: At 4 am, a refugee is hit by a car on the A16 and dies.


The new barbed-wired fence extends for miles, blocking most of the access to the motorway. People are trying, in desperation, to board moving lorries, or to reach the Eurotunnel in their hundreds -whence the story of ‘assaults’ or ‘invasions’- with very dramatic scenes of desperate attempts, bravery and resistance –migrants break through the fences shouting: We are not animals! and: Where are our human rights? Open the border! They also organize protests and blockades the motorway, that are broken by police with great use of tear gas and truncheons.


Instead the police have been very lazy at catching the nazis and racists who attack migrants and also attack activists, volunteers from associations, local people who help the migrants, including a schoolgirl and a grandmother. Though it happens occasionally that a policeman is injured during the night rush hour, it is usually the migrants who get injured, either by French police, who are using appalling violence against those who are trying to cross, or are hit by cars, or crushed by lorries, or electrocuted while trying to board the shuttles that go to the Tunnel. Activists in Calais and the local section of Medicins du Monde have documented a long catalogue of injuries, often horrendous. Recently the police have also attacked migrants in the jungle, a truly worrying development.

Videos of  police violence and migrants protests:

1000/ 1500 is the total number of people stopped by the French police in a whole night, not the number of people who take part in a single ‘assault’. There are 3000+ people in the Calais jungle, 4000 + in the region in similarly terrible conditions and numbers are going up. Most are refugees from some of the most oppressed and war-torn countries in the world: Darfur and South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Syria. They cannot be deported back to their countries because, unlike the UK, France does not deport to countries at war – but sometimes they do try, they have deported a Sudanese who was in Calais and threatened to deport other Sudanese and some Afghans. If someone asks why more Calais migrants do no apply for asylum in France: refusal rates are very high, for instance 73% of Sudanese applications last year were refused, while in UK the majority were accepted; possibilities to find a job and integrate are very low; asylum seekers are left in the streets for months or even years: by law they should be given accommodation, but they are told that there are no places as the French government did not bother building more accommodation centres. There are many hundreds asylum seekers sleeping in the jungle of Calais or in the streets of Paris.
3000 is a very large number for a small city like Calais, but it is nothing compared to 60+ millions refugees worldwide. Of which most are internally displaced, and of those who leave, most remain in neighbouring countries. In Turkey for instance there are over 1.9 millions  refugees, over 2 millions in Iraq. According to the Refugee Council: “asylum applications to the UK remain low: in 2014, just 24,914 applications were received in Britain, 31,433 including dependants. Given the world is in the grips of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, few people are making it to the Britain in their search for safety. Britain is not Europe’s top recipient of asylum applications. Germany, Sweden, France and Italy all receive significantly more applications than we do”,
So, if someone asks the very silly question: why do they all want to go to England? They don’t.
May be worth of notice the vast majority of migrants who arrive in the UK do not come from Calais, but travel through other routes. Most fly to the UK airports – either with real documents or with forged ones. If it was not for the fact that England has created an internal border in Europe and is now trying to seal it, there would not be 3000 refugees trapped in Calais. If the EU States obeyed by their international obligations and by the human rights conventions they signed, they would open the borders, or at least create humanitarian corridors for those fleeing conflict, instead of building fences and militarize the borders, causing countless people to die. At least 25.000 people have died trying to enter Europe from 2000 to 2014, according to the IOM. Most have died in the Mediterranean. Over 2000 have died in the Mediterranean this year alone, the deadliest year ever.
Calais ‘migrant crisis’ is a manufactured crisis of spectacular visibility through its resonance in the media – not to diminish the all-too-real tragedy of the people trapped at the Calais border. Rivers of ink are being poured to describe an imaginary invasion and a migrant crisis that is not even the tip of the iceberg. From the point of view of propaganda, the fact that Calais is so near to our shores is useful to represent migrants as a threat. Cameron is strongly stating that the situation is ‘unacceptable’ and tough measures need to be taken, and the most rabid tabloids are calling for the Army to be sent in. Even the British journalists who are sympathetic to the plight of migrants usually fail to distance themselves from the prevailing narrative of a major migrant crisis in Calais and immigrants storming through the border – ‘illegally’, of course. The spectre of a migrant invasion is used by Cameron and other politicians to whip up racism and xenophobia, divert attention from the real problems affecting the people in the UK, justify more repression, and to test how much migrants can be abused before the public has an adverse reaction.
Since we are in the realm of fiction, the fable that first comes to my mind is that of the Lion and the Lamb. Britain has invaded most of the countries around the globe at different times of her history tinted of Empire and colonialism.The most recent are the illegal invasion of Iraq (1.500.000 Iraqi dead) and Afghanistan. Recently the UK took part in bombing Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria – Cameron bombed Syria without Parliament approval, that is totally illegal. Refugees do not set out to invade us, they come from wars the US, UK and allies are waging or fuelling for the control of resources; the so called economic migrants are forced to move because land grabs and the pillage of their resources have destroyed their livelihoods; more and more people are displaced by climate change (again, the greatest consumers of fossil fuels are in the Northern hemisphere). Cameron was the first European leader who refused to take part in rescue operations in the Mediterranean, saying it would ‘encourage’ migrants to come to Europe. Rescues are now almost totally shouldered by the Italian coastguard and passing vessels and cargo ships. (Ireland has sent three ships alternating and Sweden one). The first counties migrants arrive are Italy and Greece, two countries hardly hit by the crisis created by the banks, where there are no jobs and no resources to take care of the newly arrived. So many go North, defying the Dublin regulations according to which refugees should all stay in the first ‘safe third country’ they reached. Thousands are deported back to Italy, where they have no other prospects other than to sleep in the streets and eat at the Caritas. To stop the newly arrived exiting Italy, France has sent lots of riot police to close the border with Italy, causing another ‘migrant crisis’ at Ventimiglia., where refugees are protesting their right to pass and there is a permanent presence of anti-racists and No Borders activists. A new fence is being built at the border between Hungary and Serbia. More walls, more repression. The EU States are thinking of ways to deport more people back to their countries. In UK in June the HO published some shameful Country of Origin re. Eritrea, denying the basic facts that prompt some 4000 Eritreans to flee their country every month: compulsory and prolonged military service, human rights abuses by the government, etc. Many asylum claims by Eritreans have been refused since – before, most Eritreans got asylum. At the same time the UK government are doing business and brokering arm deals with Eritrea’s dictator Isaias Afewerki and the EU are planning to offer the criminal dictator a loan of 312 million euros in aid between now and 2020.
EU governments aim at stopping the migrants before they reach Europe, or push them back. Ghaddafi was given EU money to build detention centres in Libya, in a package with other business deals. Similar deals are being done with Tunisia, Morocco and other countries of transit. These countries have not signed any human rights conventions; torture, rape, starvation, even denial of drinking water and other forms of degrading and inhumane treatment are rife in their prisons and detention centres. The situation is particularly tragic in Libya, in the chaos and state of civil war that follows Ghaddafi’s demise: refugees are often kidnapped, sold etc. by militias and criminal gangs. Some Eritreans were kidnapped and beheaded by ISIS. Libya in chaos can no longer act as a watchdog for Europe. Criminal traffickers make their money by filling unseaworthy boats with their human cargo, never so many people have died in the Mediterranean. Their victims are held prisoners, sometimes for weeks, threatened, and killed if they rebel, women are raped. I am sorry to upset my few readers with such dark and horrible facts, but the truth needs to be told and most migrants in Calais have passed from Libya to Italy, on these terrible smugglers boats. Others pass from Turkey to Greece, then to Italy but mostly to the Balkans: this route is growing in importance especially lately, with ISIS advancing in Libya and the security situation deteriorated to the point that people are fleeing Libya and nobody want to go there any more – only an EU naval mission led by Cameron has gone with aim to attack the smugglers’ bases and boats, against the will of both the two Libyan governments and without permission from the UN. Smugglers are a by-product of border controls, not a cause of migration .
There have never been so many people arriving in the Greek islands near to the Turkish coast most from Syria and Afghanistan . It is dangerous, but less dangerous than going from Libya to Sicily. 7000 arrived in the island of Kos in a few days, the new Lampedusa. The racist major of Kos decided to lock them up in a stadium, women and kids included, at 40 + degrees, where they remained for up to 16 hours with hardly any water, no food and no toilets. Another ‘refugee crisis’ – in brackets because who causes the crisis is the EU, the refugees are a consequence of their foreign policies and the crisis a consequence of their immigration policies. The Greek coast guard was caught red handed i.e. filmed when deliberately sinking an inflatable boat full of refugees. The inhabitants of the island of Lesvos have been wonderful helping the refugees who arrive there. Some associations have launched in Lesvos an emergency plan similar to Calais. Some tourists have interrupted their holidays to help too. People in Athens are helping and defending refugees who have set up camp in a central park. It gives us hope. If you ever doubt people are good…
Solidarity from the UK is overwhelming too – every week a new convoy leaves for Calais, wit h clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, tents, food, medicines and other things donated. There is a facebook group, check it. Besides bringing much needed humanitarian aid, the English who go to Calais are also getting to meet the migrant people and see the situation first hand, and they are rising awareness about what the situation is really like .                            
French and international activists (working with Calais Migrant Solidarity original) are documenting the violence by the police and denouncing the situation. Check the blog.Their contacts are there, if you would like to get involved. The bravest are going with the migrants to the train and motorway to film the violence, the police hit and gas us as well if they can get us, numerous cameras and lots of footage have been destroyed by police; good legs are a distinctive advantage as most policemen cannot run very fast. You can also do less dangerous things, like taking interviews and collecting testimonies.
For those who read French there is a very good activist blog dedicated to Calais, Passeurs d’hospitalitees

Media items I recommend watching are these two videos from The Guardian (the latest incorporating some footage by CMS activists)

My wish list

What I would like to see is change, and more political action – solidarity action is amazing. There are many local migrant struggles and demonstrations in Calais, Paris, Ventimiglia, Italy, Greece, and beyond the borders of Europe. It would be great if all this energy could come together, creating trans-national action against border controls, for freedom of movement, for the right to life and dignity that ultimately is what refugees want and are asking for.

No Borders = abolition of borders, that is what I stand for. No one is illegal. Freedom to move, freedom to stay! An end to war. An end to all exploitation. No racism. All humans are equals.

Lesser demands:
Humanitarian corridors = diplomatic ways for people fleeing conflict to travel legally and safely, and reach the host counties. All EU States except the Vatican are resisting such demands.
Dignified reception and accommodation for those who reach Europe should be a must.
Abolition of the Dublin regulations. Each EU State should take a fair share of refugees arriving proportionate to their resources. People should be able to choose where they want to go and to join their families.
Imperialistic wars that produce refugees should stop. No to intervention.
Support and selling arms to dictators should stop.
No to interference in other countries’ affairs. Fomenting local wars should stop.
Exploitation of other countries’ resources should stop.