At the end of January, two No Borders activists from South Wales joined with others from Bristol, Brighton, London, Leeds and Newcastle to visit Calais and Lille in north-east France to begin organising for the No Border camp that is planned to happen in the region of Calais in late June this year.
In 2002 an agreement between UK and French governments meant that the Red Cross running Sangatte centre in Calais was shut down. Sangatte had provided shelter for up to 2000 people and since its closure the situation for migrants in the Calais region has reached crisis point. Migrants including large groups from Afghanistan, Eritrea Iraq, Sudan and Palestine gather in Calais before attempting to cross the channel in search of a better life in the UK. Some migrants cross clinging on to the underside of lorries, some attempt to walk the length of the channel tunnel, with considerable risk to their lives. (There is a recent video from france24)
Whilst in Calais, we met with two local humanitarian groups who distribute free food to migrants. There is no state support available to migrants in Calais and it is against the law to help so called ‘illegal’ migrants here, so these volunteers risk arrest daily by simply feeding people. In the wind and rain on a piece of wasteland near the port, we witnessed the Catholic group La Belle Etoile giving packages of bread from a small van to hundreds of queueing migrants.
The same day we visited the kitchens of the SALAM Association, where volunteers prepare hot food for around 500-600 migrants each night, every night and serve from a van behind a warehouse close to the port. That evening, we were shocked by the number of migrants we saw, most were men, at the food distribution point and felt that what we were witnessing in Calais was a humanitarian crisis. Speaking to some of the migrants we learnt how up to 1000 people without status are living in woods near to the ferry port, this being known as ‘the jungle’, all waiting for a chance to travel to the UK in whatever way they can. They told us how police regularly destroy or burn their temporary structures and put tear gas in their tents. They told us how they have been caught by police before and driven to isolated places miles from Calais and left there.
Many of the men we spoke with were from Afghanistan. One had worked for the British Army as a translator and has had to flee his village as the Taliban have threatened him for being a ‘traitor’. Others had family with status in the UK that they were trying to reach. Another Afghani man told us how this wasn’t a choice to be in Calais as there “is no choice” for them; they have not chosen to have to leave their countries but have been forced to.
And the state repression of migrants in Calais looks set to get worse. At the end of January this year during a visit to Calais, the French immigration minister Eric Besson stated that he wants to see an ‘exclusion zone’ for migrants in the region.
Activists from both the UK and France have been working together to plan for a no border protest camp in Calais at the end of June this year. There is an organising meeting on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th March in Calais to discuss the political and practical aspects of the camp and its mobilisation. The meeting is open to any individuals or groups who act in solidarity with migrants and their struggle for freedom of movement. No Borders South Wales will be taking part in the process, if your interested in attending the No Border Camp please get in touch.