Calais at Christmas - a report

Christmas is a time for giving but not it seems in Calais. Where refugees lives continue to be a living hell.. The following is the first of a couple of reports, and thoughts about how we might build solidarity for some of the most serious and vulnerable ,yet resourceful and intelligent victims of war,globalisation more war and the war on terror.They have one final hurdle to surmount; British /French collabarative immigration policies which are destroying their basic refugee protection.

28.12.2007 (a report by tom) - Calais is a zone of non-rights . The 18 kilometres around the town is now a part of France that has its very own repressive laws which have been agreed between the French and British governments. Effectively British border controls have been moved to France. In an effort to effectively end asylum to Britain . The endless refrain chanted that Britains borders are unprotected would be laughed at by anyone who came to see the levels of controls here.

As well as this French and British Police act together with complete impunity against refugees and anyone that helps them. These laws are being implemented, to make the refugees that flee here ; arriving everyday from every part of the world that we hear about in our daily news reports, seem invisible, unimportant, irrelevent. However since Sangatte camp was closed , the wars did not stop , world poverty has not been resolved and people still want desperately to pick up the pieces of shattered lives. Which is why they are here .

Meeting them is not difficult ; but to get to know them properly I must spend time with them , to establish relationships of trust. I wish I had more time to spend here I will post some interviews I make with refugees and local support on Indymedia as soon as I can.

This process of making the refugees ‘invisible’, means for them a daily regime of incessant harrassment arrest and state repression that a dictator would be proud of.

So far as the authorities are concerned refugees have no human rights in Calais, which is the main port of entry to the UK . The British government says that it cares about genuine refugees . If that were true then it needs to come to Calais is to see who these people are , to meet them and to listen to their stories. If they did they could be in no doubt how genuine they are.

In a saner world the kind of behaviour should elicit some kind of humanitarian criticism from a neighbouring government. Instead the British immigration police are sent to participate in this sickening repression to ‘protect’ us from these ‘illegal immigrants’ who have the nerve to try to come to our country to ask for our help.

Of course a ‘friendly’ response is unlikely coming as it does from a government which sees only a reduction in numbers as a successful immigration policy. The same is true in France where Sarkosy is adopting higher and higher targets for deportation with the same enthuisiasm as did his mate, Blair.

We must remember that often it is they and their countrymen who have been subjected to occupations and bombardments from our own military and it is from these conflicts they have fled. That these are vulnerable people already fleeing persecution and are then subjected to this brings only further shame on our respective governments . Not of course that a conservative government would ever have behaved with any greater dignity .

On the 21st of December an emergency shelter was temporarily opened here as the temperatures plunged below minus 5 ; the local Mayor Henin, perhaps in a crisis of conscience, telephoned the government Prefect to avoid the prospect of having frozen bodies lying on the streets or in the woods the next morning. He had been refused, a previous request to open somewhere by the government representative the Prefect. It is said,he took a courageous step by opening it up himself .

It has been open for a few nights when the cold was at its most extreme, then incredibly, last night, Boxing day it was closed as people feared that the Riot Police CRS might smash the doors in and arrest and detain everyone as has been the case in the past . They would say that the temperatures were not cold enough and that they wanted to stop anything resembling a permanant centre in Calais opening …God forbid another Sangatte at any cost ! So now each night the local assocaitions measure the temperatures to estimate if they might be life-threatening if then they might just reopen the hall , it must be a difficult judgement to make .

While there is nothing really new about the situation facing refugees in Calais for the last five years since the closure of Sangatte . The chases into the woods , the chainsawing and burning of their meagre shelters, none of this has changed ; and it continues now at the coldest time of the year
Claiming asylum in France for those in Calais has never looked less likely . Now ; I’m told there is never any room in the CADA (accomodation for anyone who claims asylum in Calais. This means that among the refugees here sleeping rough in the woods and streets across northern France are people actually claiming asylum in France: They are living on the streets with a pittance to live on, and then often deportation after a swift denial of asylum rights, awaits them. That is, if the French state has been able to agree their return with the country of origin , often not the case at all. So refugees are left penniless and destitute on the streets much as in the UK
Its easy to imagine when people see the terrible situation of those who claim asylum here that it only strengthens their resolve to go to England no matter how dangerous or difficult it is or how hard life may also be in Britain, how could it be worse than here is the message they receive from all this. While its true that Calais is not a representation of France its the France they experience

Yesterday I went to help prepare lunch for the refugees. The whole preparation/distribution process takes just over about 5 hours and is taken care of on a daily basis by different associations here ,morning and evening composed of local of all ages . It is then taken and distributed. For the past five years different groups have taken it upon themselves to feed, clothe and take care of the refugee's medical needs. The food is what is offered voluntarily as donations and it comes from all over France.

Appeals are launched from time to time for clothes and blankets. There is rarely enough to go round so anyone is thinking of going can take anything over with them , clothes blankets shoes etc they will find they are warmly appreciated.
Meeting the basic needs of refugees is important,this should however be required of the state which is signatory to human rights protections so the job of opposing the policies that puts people here and elsewhere across Europes borders in life-threatening circumstances. Since when has it become a crime for wanting to survive ?

I was told by the refugees that food distribution keeps them alive . Its certainly apparent that without food many of these these people will really starve, and without clothes and blankets they will freeze.

The food distribution process itself can occasionally be quite chaotic and particularly frustrating, It turned out that there was a lack of food that day to go round . Maybe some had taken more than they should; we don’t know but it was a terrible thing to have to turn away hungry people .

Personally I think I was of some use because I could translate simple instructions, most refugee speak a little english and some a lot , but usually no French at all.
So English/French translation is often also a real asset ; as often the French volunteers speak little English.
So anyone out there wants to help even for just a day or two should contact either the two main organisations involved in the humanitarian work and protection CSUR collectif de soutien de refugies and Salam in Calais. Help is always warmly welcomed and appreciated. For more details you can visit their websites

The Policies must be changed !!!

Refugees are being pushed back to Europes frontiers through the absurd 'safe first country' rule agreed at Dublin. Its crazy logic is that no country not on Europes borders need accept any refugees . Britain which is furthest from the East and South from where all refugee populations come is thus able to avoid it responsibilities under international law. This means that countries like Greece where absolutely no-one is given asylum people become the places to which refugees are being sent back . This is a country whose asylum policies have been condemned by the European Court of human rights. As we know the European Union is creating its walls across the satellite states of Europe. The ‘Frontex’ border forces. The chain of detention centres springing up across Morocco and Libya to the south and across the Ukraine and the Polish borders to the east.
In short the Dublin rule needs to be changed. It drives a situation whereby all countries of Europe are involved in a mutually agreed competition to avoid responsibity . To drive back from our borders the people whose lives have already been destroyed . Migration policies are being driven by the demand for cheap labour
Migrant labour from outside Europe is being steadily replaced, by workers from the states of the newly constructed Europe
We need new policies that accept and honour international protections. We need to build a Europe of the people, based on justice, which takes responsibility for helping our fellow human beings evenly and we need to force our governments to wake up to their obligations under the international law as quickly as we can.

The war on refugees and migrants has to be stopped and the realreasons for displacement and migration and displacement properly understood and addressed. It is not acceptable to allow responsibilty for the greater percentage of the worlds refugees to be taken by the poor neighbours of countries at war who haven't the infrastuctures to support such movements. If our governments through their military interventions create humanitarian disasters of this magnitude then they have to be required by international laws to take responsiblity for making reparations to them.

Refugees choices must be respected about where they escape to. They should have the right to rejoin their friends, families and support networks as anyone of us might need to in such circumstances .

We have to understand that criminalising refugees, who usually had no choice but to cross borders illegally as which is their right under international law ?
We have to understand how very vulnerable refugees are to this process of criminalisation from individual governments, who are now acting in concert on a European level in the denial of their rights.
These people are very resourceful young men and women and children , Kurds and Arabs from Iraq, Afghans, Erythrean, Somalians, Darfourians. It reads as a list of the worlds warzones. Some of them will be able to cross and others won’t , but others will die trying, crushed under the wheels of lorries , or knocked down, or sent back , or end up in the desert , or drown in the mediterranean . In reality behind these shocking and seemingly unconnected events they are actually being killed by a system of immigration controls that is still under constuction . It is being built , not in the name of human rights but in the name of knee-jerk reaction, scapegoating, political opportunism and weakness, exploitation and profiteering from the poor, by the rich ; now on a European and global scale .