- Fifty police officers in riot gear crack down on peaceful protest by migrants demanding respect for basic rights
- Officers declare orders to destroy all migrant shelters in the area
- Escalation in repressive tactics leave migrants with nowhere to go
In a rare show of defiance, around 100 migrants camped around a gym which had been used by local charities to provide urgently needed night shelter over the harshest weeks of winter, before its closure on Tuesday. The migrants, primarily from war-torn Afghanistan, also burned some blankets and banners in opposition to the closure, which comes on theback of the repeated eviction of migrants from their camps. Within half an hour, scores of police officers descended on the site threatening to destroy the makeshift camp on failure to disperse. Following a stand off, the migrants were permitted to leave the area, but were closely pursued as they searched for alternative sites to shelter.
Having actually been advised by some police officers to do so, some men set up shelters on the site of one of the former camps, or ‘jungles’, and were given assurances that the police would not attack. But within hours, the officers had entered the camp several times, arresting six people, in what has now become a daily routine of arresting those without identity documents in Calais in an attempt to flush them out of the area. By midday on Wednesday, 20 CRS (riot police) vehicles had surrounded the new camp, and anything resembling a shelter was destroyed.
Following a relentless routine of police pursuit, arrest and assault this winter, the migrants returned in desperation to the closed night shelter and installed some of the tents that had been discarded by the authorities following the eviction that morning. The police promptly arrived at the scene, announced that they had orders to disperse assemblies and destroy shelters, before seizing the remaining tents.
Throughout the night, the hunt continued as migrants were followed by groups of police, who pre-emptively destroyed any half-erected structures they found.
“The police were quite literally swarming everywhere last night. They were pursuing migrants in case they dare set up shelter, or following any activists who might assist them,” said Joanne, a British activist from the No Borders network who is present at the scene.
“This is all part of a carefully planned strategy by the French and British governments to drive the migrants away from the area. But when you think that many of these people are coming from conflict zones like Helmand province, where else are they expected to go?” Joanne continued.
Alex has been involved in documenting – and directly intervening in – the police harassment in Calais for some time. “As shocking as it is, we find that the presence of European citizens during police raids can make a real difference, because the arrests are so arbitrary. It shows that ordinary people do have the power to help migrants defeat this enormous show of force by our governments. I really think that resistance from the migrants themselves and support from ordinary people is the only hope we have of stopping this horrendous repression.”
This morning at 8.15am at the Paul Devot Dock more than 15 CRS vanssurrounded the squats of the various communities that found solace there. Some 50 police then arrested over 30 migrants who were unable to leave as the police had blockaded the front exit with their vans and a new fence had been placed in the back exit the night previously which left them caged in from all sides. A No Borders activist was there at the time also and attempted to videotape the arrests but she was evicted from the premises. The Chamber of Commerce then had two large blue
containers deposited for the migrants’ belongings and then with the use of tractors the destruction of the sleeping bags, mattresses, clothes and homes of the migrants could begin.
For years, this place has served as a shelter for these communities and activists have visited on a nightly basis to monitor the activities of the police due to reports of beatings and the use of CS gas on the members of the communities there. Although the people there were on private property – a property open to everyone, which didn’t seem to disturb anyone – it is difficult to see how that justifies the destruction of their private belongings. For the time being, we have no idea where the arrested migrants are; we hope they will be released shortly, they will in any case be released at some point, and then their battle to find a place to sleep will occur once more, in the rain, the wind and the cold.
After having refused to give these people the freedom of movement which most European citizens enjoy, after having placed them in this artificial and useless destitution, the state has found it useful to worsen the poverty with this new destruction, in the sick hope that it would push them to abandon that which they have an inalienable right to.
The state has destroyed much but the migrants are still there, and so are we.
SOLIDARITE AVEC LES SANS PAPIERS.
(photo from Calais Migrant Solidarity)
No Borders London reports the latest development in the state abuse of the refugees formerly of the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais:
30 September, 2009 – 17:40 — London NoBorders
As of 9am French time today 11 migrants in Calais started a highly visible hunger strike. The migrants, from regions including Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, Palestine, and Egypt, say they will continue the strike until Western countries co-operate to offer them asylum. They are also demanding that no migrant in Calais is readmitted to Greece, Italy or Malta.
The migrants face constant harassment from police. Every day some amongst their number are arrested, taken to the police station only to be released in four to six hours. Occasionally they are held for as long as two days. Repression intensified recently with the destruction of the jungle where many migrants lived, the trigger-happy use of tear gas including on pregnant women, destruction of personal belongings and the targeting of migrants observing fasting during Ramadan by arresting them at nightfall and throwing
away their food. If the police try to separate the hunger strikers or arrest them on spurious grounds, they say they will continue the hunger strike while under arrest and move again to a public space to continue the action when freed.
No Borders activists are already supporting the hunger strikers by standing alongside them, but the migrants are calling for support from all over the world. Messages of support can be left at http://calaishungerstrike.wordpress.com and the hunger strikers welcome anyone who wants to join the hunger strike in solidarity whether in Calais
Benjamin, 38, an asylum seeker from Iran, says: “The police tell us we cannot be here but we have nowhere to go. The world is ignoring us so we are making our suffering public by going on hunger strike in full view. Tourists moving through the port and exercising their freedom of movement will be forced to see our lack of freedom until Western governments work together to offer us somewhere to build a new life safely.”
With migrants facing increasing repression and winter approaching, the situation is urgent. But they say Western countries should not abrogate their responsibilities by readmitting migrants to the first European country they were fingerprinted in. Many migrants who are readmitted to Italy, Greece and Malta say the situation is much worse there than living clandestinely in Calais and that they are oppressed there. In Greece,
readmitted migrants are often locked up for three months and increasingly for six months. On release, migrants still have nowhere to go and continue to be targeted by police who beat them and sometimes rip up their papers. Readmission is not the solution according to the hunger strikers – countries including the UK, Canada, USA and Sweden should take a proportion of the hunger strikers.
For further information, or to arrange an interview with one of the hunger strikers, call 0033634810710.
2pm, Wednesday 30th August 2009. Parc Saint Pierre, Calais
Benjamin: This is Benjamin, I am from Iran. I just came in Calais, like,three weeks ago. From three weeks ago the police authority and Frenchgovernment I think they decide to destroy the jungle. First they destroy thePashtun jungle, after that they destroy the Kurdish jungle. All people, theymoved to the town from jungle. Now we are in town. And Iranian jungle theydestroy as well. Now we are in town and the police disturb us every morningevery night.
Ali: Four O’Clock in the morning. And at night, 2 pm.
Interviewer: Where are you sleeping?
Benjamin: In the parks, under the bridge. Ali: They are all the time taking us in detention for a few hours. They wantto make us crazy. What are they doing? We don’t know. Nothing.
Benjamin: They just trying to disturb us to leave Calais. And now we startto have a hunger strike to get help from other countries. We ask for otherWestern countries to come and help us. And we start hunger strike from today12, at noon. We need help. We need help actually. And we don’t want to stayany more in France because of police and because of government. They don’trespect anybody. They don’t respect anyone in Calais and in Paris it is thesame. Our situation is very bad. We have no good food. All the time we aregetting is the same food, same as yesterday, usually only bread and bananas.We have nowhere to sleep. We are looking for somewhere safe at least tosleep, to get some respect from people, from government, frompoliceauthorities. Actually I can tell you about one day, the police come,just like five days ago, they come, they talk with us; they hit a friend ofmine next to me, they hit him with a stick into his head, and we havewitnesses and evidence of this too. We said stop this, they say they dontcare, they will do anything we we want. And they searched our bags andbaggage and
(interview pauses, as two police vans and more police on footappear from around the corner, gesturing; Video ends here, as interviewer,friends and migrants are asked for ID and dispersed for being a larger crowdthan three people)
VIOLENCES POLICIERES ENVERS LES MIGRANTS A CALAIS Août 2009
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When we dehumanise other human beings we lose part of what makes us human. If I had the time and resources I would have gladly attended the protests at the ‘Jungle’ outside Calais, the camp from which the mainly Afghan refugees were forcibly removed this week. Sadly though I had to watch from afar again, as people in search of a better life were deemed unacceptable, and unworthy of the human rights to which they are entitled. Jason Parkinson’s piece below shows you the brutal reality of what happened:
When French immigration minister Eric Besson calls the Calais “jungle” camp clearance a “dignified” success, Alan Johnson expresses his “delight” and immigration minister Phil Woolas questions whether these refugees deserve sanctuary, they expose the asylum system as profoundly broken.
What I saw at 8am on Tuesday was not dignified or humane. Men were wrestled and thrown to the ground, others head-locked and throttled. One boy collapsed and was removed. Not by the police, but by protesters.
As Parkinson points out, EU law says that asylum seekers must claim asylum in the first country they land in. But it’s an horrific cop out to suggest to people genuinely fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq or Eritrea (few of whom will do so by air) can only claim asylum in member states which are essentially the closest to them. Italy? With its current persecution of Roma? Greece? With its treatment of refugees? That system has resulted in:
illegal push-backs of migrants at the Turkish border, the puncturing of boats in the Aegean Sea, deplorable conditions of detention, police brutality, and various legal and administrative tricks to keep asylum seekers from lodging a claim, all of which Human Rights Watch exhaustively documented in two reports published late last year.
The Dublin Convention is clearly a failure, yet Britain and France express delight at the prospect of sending refugees back to the first EU country they entered, which in many cases for refugees formerly living in the Calais ‘jungle’ was Greece. This is particularly alarming considering many fellow EU governments have stopped transferring asylum seekers back there. Yet immigration minister Phil Woolas:
rejected suggestions that (even) those (merely) with family links should be allowed to come to Britain to claim asylum: “If they were asylum seekers they would have claimed asylum in France or in the first country they came to,” he said. The home secretary said “genuine refugees” would be offered protection if they claimed asylum in the first safe country they reached. The rest were expected to go home.
Such compassion. No doubt there will be economic migrants in their number, no doubt hardened criminals too. But to dismiss the genuine needs and concerns of refugees, and falling back on an asylum system which benefits neither refugee nor host country is just monstrous. Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MEP has spoken out, saying:
“Rather than fulfilling their responsibilities to seekers of asylum under both EU and international law, the French and British governments are turning a blind eye to the suffering taking place on their own doorsteps. Home Secretary Alan Johnson‘s glee in the wake of this aggressive police raid is particularly disturbing.
“The plan for mass deportations of these refugees rides roughshod over the European Convention on Human Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Geneva Convention. And given that so many facing expulsion are children, the plans may also breach the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“This short term ‘solution’ is not only inhumane – it will not work. The French are not playing their part in allowing people to claim asylum in Calais, and must commit to making the official procedures for seeking asylum more accessible to those in need. Equally, other EU Member states must recognise their duty to share the responsibility.”