Calais - Migrants fight for their lives

Thousands of destitute migrants including unaccompanied children are being forced to live in barbaric conditions in ‘the Jungle’, the makeshift campsite in Calais. They are faced with increasing repression from the French authorities. Most recently, demands have been made for all structures within 100 metres of a nearby motorway embankment to be vacated and moved or demolished. On 18 January, bulldozers were brought in, clearing the area. Many residents are anxious that these evictions won’t stop at the 100-metre mark, estimated to include approximately 20% of the camp, and the homes of 1,500 people. Amy Marineau reports.

Faking compassion, the French authorities set up a ‘container camp’ (shipping containers) to house the people displaced by the evictions. The camp is prison-like – surrounded by barbed wire, requiring a fingerprint scan to leave or enter. These evictions also disrupt the communities which have developed among the refugees. Many migrants are concerned that, if they are moved to this container camp, their options for residence would be restricted and they would perhaps be allowed refuge only in France.

The new container camp would also, by restricting movement and regimenting living conditions, confine resistance by the migrant community, which has been consistent and considerable in response to state violence. In response to the demands for eviction, the residents relayed this message through ‘Calais Migrant Solidarity’: ‘We, the united people of the Jungle of Calais, decline the demands of the French government with regards to reducing the size of the Jungle. We have decided to remain where we are and will peacefully resist the government’s plans to destroy our homes. We plead with the French authorities and the international communities that you understand our situation and respect our fundamental human rights’.

Migrants have held demonstrations, burning tents and materials cleared from the eviction zone, and chanting against the police, who have antagonised, intimidated and assaulted the residents, and against the Jungle itself – a symbol of the racist French and British states’ repressive reaction and indifference to the refugees’ rights. On 23 January, an estimated 2,000 refugees and supporters, including groups such as the International Coalition of People Without Papers and Migrants and the Association of French Maghrebian Workers, demonstrated in solidarity with the Jungle’s residents. The Spirit of Britain ferry was occupied by over 50 demonstrators, with the protest facing a barrage of rubber bullets and tear gas grenades from the CRS (French riot police). Calais Migrant Solidarity reports that three Italian nationals were detained and required to leave France, four people were released without charge, and around 100 sans-papiers (undocumented migrants) were held in migrant detention centres.

The Immigration Bill, which is expected to be made law in Britain in April, will extend ‘deport now, appeal later’ powers to more immigration cases, meaning appeals would have to be fought from the migrant’s country of origin – a fine request to make of those fleeing countries where their lives are threatened (often as a result of British action in the first place)! A group of four refugees from Syria who had been living in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, however, have (at the request of an immigration tribunal and due to all having older brothers legally settled in the UK) been granted permission to come to Britain immediately and to appeal for asylum in the UK, after France failed to process their claims. This is a great success, but the Immigration Bill threatens to hamper future appeals. Meanwhile thousands of migrants continue to endure the appalling conditions of the Jungle. But recent events show that through resistance, battles against British and French racism can be won.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 249 February/March 2016


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