Calais resists

In February a French court authorised the demolition of the 70,000 square metre southern section of the ‘jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. Prior to the ruling, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve claimed that ‘it was never a question of evacuating the south zone in a brutal fashion’ but he has a poor memory, because as recently as January bulldozers were brought in to demolish an estimated 20% of the camp, housing approximately 1,500 people (see FRFI 249). Following the ruling, a brutal and violent eviction of the camp began, with the CRS (French ‘anti-riot’ police) using tear gas, and burning down shelters.

The migrant residents of the camp have continued to resist. Twelve Iranian asylum seekers began a hunger strike on 2 March, with demands including an end to forced eviction and an end to the use of tear gas.

The hunger strikers also demanded to meet with a representative of the UN and/or European Court of Human Rights. On 10 March a meeting was arranged between the nine men still on hunger strike and Veronique Njo, a newly appointed representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who was accompanied by a representative of the Calais region council and of an NGO which assists refugees to claim asylum in France, although not by an interpreter.

As reported on the Calais hunger strikers’ blog (calaishungerstrike2016blog.wordpress.com), the only ‘options’ put forward at this meeting were ones already rejected by the protesters: that they leave the camp and go to the new highly restrictive container camp set up by the French authorities, or that they travel to the so-called ‘welcome and orientation centres’ (CAOs) set up in various parts of France, to receive the overflow from Calais. Ms Njo was unwilling to discuss any issues relating to the conduct of the British or French government and made it clear that the UNHCR has decided it can do nothing about the evictions in the southern part of the camp.

In a cynical intervention and in an attempt to enforce control, the French authorities approached the nine hunger strikers, offering them immediate housing and a guarantee not to deport them to Iran. They responded: ‘We don’t do this for ourselves, we do this for everybody living in the jungle’. Despite the limits of short-term acts of defiance such as hunger strikes, the French authorities are aware of the danger posed by such a dramatic and public display of resistance and solidarity, the danger of an example which may inspire further resistance from the residents of the camp.

Amy Marineau

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 250 April/May 2016

 

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