Dozens of French riot police have invaded and destroyed the “jungle” migrant camps in Calais, using bulldozers and flame throwers, evicting thousands and arresting hundreds of people.
Nearly half of the 278 arrested are children and youth. Most of the ex-camp inmates are refugees from Afghanistan, with substantial groups from countries including Iraq and Somalia. They have been stuck in bureaucratic limbo and forced to live in appalling, insanitary, dangerous conditions.
They were in the “jungle” because in 2002 the French government closed the Red Cross camp at Sangatte, under pressure from the British government. Pressure from Britain seems to have been a key factor this time too: Home Secretary Alan Johnson has declared that he is “delighted” at the closure.
Both governments have used the excuse that the “jungle” was a base for people-traffickers.
That may be true, but the only answer to trafficking is freedom of movement and citizenship rights for all. Refugees arriving at the Channel will now be pushed into even more dangerous conditions.
Migrants’ rights campaigners helped organise resistance to the demolition of the camp. Jordan Savage spoke to two activists.
Lucy is an activist in the Calais Migrant Solidarity Campaign.
I arrived at the camp at midnight (21 September). People were very frightened; they lit a fire to keep warm and try to raise people’s spirits.
The CRS [French riot police] arrived at 7am. They promised the clearance would be dignified, saying it was for the safety of the migrants because of people smuggling across the border in unsafe conditions. It wasn’t dignified.
I was with a lot of very young Pashtuns who were very frightened. Activists formed a circle around them to protect them. The CRS broke through the lines, there were a lot of head wounds from shield blows.
Activists used a rope and a banner to try to form a protective ring around the young Pashtuns. One CRS had a knife. He cut through the rope and ran at them with a knife.
Three unaccompanied 12-year-old Afghans arrived in the camp last night. I do not know where they are now.
A lot of the Pashtuns have been released already. They have been given no money and have not even had their shoelaces returned. They are coming back into Calais already.
More people are coming into Calais all the time. Some new, some people who have already been released.
Activists are angry and want to act, but migrants are scared: many either resolving to seek asylum in France or to go into hiding.
It’s a joke. Besson [Eric Besson, the French interior minister] has no policy, he has just gone in with the bulldozers.
This isn’t over. There are demonstrations going on — in Brighton today, in Brussels on Friday. This didn’t start overnight and it won’t end overnight.
Dave Landau is an activist in the Campaign Against Immigration Control, No Borders and No One is Illegal.
I attended the June No Borders camp on the edge of the “jungle”. The people I met there were largely Afghan and Kurdish, fleeing persecution.
Big meetings were held in four or five languages, Farsi, Pashtun and Kurdish all being spoken, as well as several European languages.
As well as the main “jungle” camps, families were squatting in town. Members of the activists’ camp went out to help resist an eviction at a squat inhabited by an Eritrean family at the time.
The first demand of the migrants at meetings was not to ease their destitution or to offer them temporary housing, but to get rid of borders immediately.
People aren’t recognising the central role of the British government, in putting pressure on the French authorities and particularly the authorities at Calais to stop people from gathering there.
When people from the camps, two or three thousand in total, marched through Calais in June, they were met with applause from local people — the reaction may have been very different if the demonstration had taken place in Dover, which is symptomatic of the influence that Britain has had in the actions of the French authorities.
Alan Johnson is party to brutality and cruelty. To pretend that he in any way represents workers and the working-class movement is ridiculous.
Statement from France’s New Anticapitalist Party Tuesday 22 September 2009
This morning, in Calais, the prefect, under the orders of Eric Besson, Minister of Immigration and National Identity, has emptied the "jungle" at Calais of the migrants who found refuge there, having broken through the picket line of activists.
278 migrants have been arrested, including 132 minors who are going to be placed in detention centres.
Mr Besson wants to persuade us that the announcement of the evacuation has had a dissuasive effect on the migrants, many of whom would leave of their own accord.
Destroyed in Calais, the "jungle" will be reconstituted somewhere else as long as the French government will not handle in a satisfactory way applications for asylum formulated by refugees who ran away from from war, from persecutions, from poverty, in Afghanistan or Iraq, for example.
The NPA condemns violent and media-oriented operation which happened this morning in Calais.
After the sending of troops into Afghanistan, we have the sending of police against refugees. It is shameful.
The NPA wants the government to give the refugees the right of asylum, to stop pursuing the activists and the associations which help them, and ti give what is necessary so that the refugees can live in a decent way.
• You can donate money to help buy new tents, supplies etc for displaced migrants. There is no NGO or governmental aid — only money raised by grassroots support groups.