(background article written by people from the NoBorders uk network) Due to the policies of the UK government the French port town of
Calais is witnessing a humanitarian crisis the likes of which were once
unheard of in the modern western Europe. Thousands of people risk
their lives to enter England in search of a new life, surviving with the
'illegal' solidarity of local people. It is a bottleneck of the resistance of
migrants from around the world who are challenging Fortress Europe by
their attempts to move. It will also be the location for a No Border camp
this summer, (23-29 June.) People from the No Borders Network in the UK report back on a recent trip to Calais, put the mobilisation into context and shine a light on the crisis in Calais to illuminate the relevance of the No Borders position.
Overlooked by the Straits of Dover, with the white cliffs visible on a
clear day across just 21 miles of channel the region of Calais was a
territorial possession Kingdom of England from the mid 14th to mid 16th
centuries and has been a contested area of conflict between England and France for centuries. Today it is one of the busiest ports in the world, in 2008 a staggering 40 million journeys were made across the UK border, which is once again located in Calais. Since February 2004 the British and French governments agreed to a reciprocal exchange of border control points, explicitly to 'curb illegal immigration'. Under the UK's current increasingly strict asylum laws with increasingly limited choices available to those most in need of help the only option is clandestine entry.
Following a scare campaign by the right wing press, in 2002 an agreement between UK and French governments meant that the Red Cross centre in Sangatte near Calais was shut down. This centre had provided shelter for up to 2000 people and since its closure the situation for migrants in the Calais region has reached crisis point. Large groups from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Palestine gather in Calais before attempting to cross the channel. This is done by various means, by clinging on to the underside of lorries or attempting to walk the length of the tunnel, all at considerable risk. The numbers appear to be on the increase, according to the local paper Nord Littoral, more than 6,000 migrants have been turned over to French police between January and March 2009. Whilst in Calais, speaking to some of the migrants we learned how up to 1000 people without status are living in woods near to the ferry port 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 away and left there. The repression looks set to get worse with French immigration minister Eric Besson stated he wants to see an "exclusion zone" for
migrants in the region.
These is no legally sanctioned support for people without "correct"
migration status in the Calais region. Article L622-1 of the French penal
code punishes anyone "aiding or facilitating either directly or indirectly
the arrival, circulation or residence of illegal immigrants in France"
with up to five years in prison and a £25,000 fine. Despite this, we met
with two local humanitarian groups who distribute free food to migrants, 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.
One friend who has lived with the migrants for several months explained to us how the night-time routine involves numerous midnight escape attempts. The truck stops are patrolled by invisible Mafias, who wander the night with knives out, wearing Balaclavas and demanding ransom from any migrant wishing to pass. Just like on the Greek, Italian and Turkish borders the non-existence of any legal entry for asylum-seekers has produced a market of illegal transport facilities, a prospering business at the EU-borders.
The border controls produced this market and the criminalisation the
participants at the same time. Draconian penalties against "people
trafficking" increases the prices for transportation on one hand, and
makes the market more attractive on the other, as well as making a secure arrival at the aimed destination impossible.
Under the Dublin Convention someone seeking asylum is required to apply in the first EU member state entered. Therefore even if someone has family ties, or has been displaced from war zones such as Kurdistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan where the UK is implicated in foreign policy, there is no right to claim asylum in UK. EURODAC, the automated fingerprint identification system that catalogues 'irregular' migrants, means that in the case of many people in Calais, claiming asylum in France would mean imminent deportation to Greece or another 'frontier state'. It is no wonder that many of those in Calais have not claimed asylum in France.
'We are here, because you were there... and you are still there!'
When we were in Calais at the food distribution point we heard first hand some of the stories that lie behind the tabloid media's repeated assertion that they are coming to the UK because it is the 'land of milk and honey' with giveaway benefits. Three quotes from conversations we had in just half an hour at the food distribution point; They were all men, in their mid to late 20s.
"For the last few years I worked for the British army as a translator. I
had to flee my village as the Taliban threatened me for being a "traitor".
I know that when I get to England, there will be protection and safety for me. This wasn't a choice to be in Calais, I have not chosen to have to leave my country but have been forced to." ( Afghani)
"Until 1956 the British ruled my country. I do not have any links to
France but I know that the British understand our culture and I have
family that are settled there that I am trying to reach." (Sudanese)
"Please tell your government and your media that we are here, then I'm
sure they will help us. There is a family, a young Kurdish girl only five
years old in The Jungle. The police came and gassed the family, she is
very weak. I am OK, but I am worried for her, please go back and tell them that we are here." (Iraqi Kurd)
We reassured the Kurdish man that we would do what we could, but told him that they were suffering from a deliberate policy by the UK government. Explaining what we know of the reality of the situation for asylum seekers and so called 'illegal immigrants' in the UK we were struck by the importance of sharing this knowledge. The level of idealism and hope towards the reception they would receive in England was shocking, not in terms of 'benefits' or an easy ride, but for safety and opportunity. The illusions about the situation in the UK seemed unbreakable. As important as information on the UK border regime is, in a context of the thousands of miles travelled and numerous official agencies circumvented it won't put people off the final hurdle.
The suffering inflicted on migrants in Calais is just one example of a
brutal system whose apparent purpose is to deter others from coming but which also creates the conditions for an illegal workforce that undermines the rights of all workers. Calais is only one small part of the overall picture of European migration controls, a major internal border within the hi-tech EU borders regime that has resulted in the death of at least 14,000 migrants in the last twenty years alone , according to a recent press review . The EU policy of the "free movement of persons," within it's borders has gone hand in hand with an attempt to build 'Fortress Europe'; externalising EU borders into Africa and Asia with EU border guards patrolling the Mediterranean, Libya and off the West Coast of Africa courtesy of the Frontex borders agency. Also via the European Neighbourhood Policy, where countries from the Ukraine all the way round the Mediterranean to Morocco are now paid by the EU to do its migration prevention work for it.
Although most internal European borders were removed by the 1990 Schengen Convention, in line with the European Union's long-standing goal of ensuring "free movement of persons," the UK continue to ferociously police its border. The expansion of the UK border onto French territory cannot be seen just in terms of petty nationalism but in relation to the wider system of global (anti-)migration management. The Schengen agreement is a mechanism for allowing the 'free movement' of people within certain EU states but it has always gone hand in hand with an increase in internal borders and social controls, such SIS, (Schengen Information System.)
A recent manifestation of Schengen policy has been the creation of
Frontex, an armed transnational border police that works almost
exclusively outside EU territory. The UK is not part of Frontex nor party
to Schengen, but has bilateral agreements with France, so the UK's border juxtaposition keeps many migrants within the framework of these systems. This entire system is overseen by the IOM, (The International Organisation for Migration,) a 120 member intra- governmental organisation that aims to manage migration worldwide for the benefit of capital. In Calais the IOM operates as the carrot to the police's stick, offering the destitute, the beaten and the broken money to return to an area that they have defined as these migrant's 'home'. But only as long as that 'home' is external to the EU and the migrant does not have the audacity to talk about human rights.
In effect this denies people the opportunity to claim asylum in the EU
regardless of the 'legitimacy' of such a claim.
In the UK, the first immigration controls, were brought in with the 1905
Aliens Act, created in response to xenophobic agitation against east
European Jews. As the migration management system has developed, a web of detention centres and checkpoints, manned by agents and soldiers causing thousands of deaths as people attempt to move has been created. Whilst migrants feel the sharp end, everybody is affected by the social control mechanisms that back them up. Through the introduction of ID Cards and the use of many service providers as immigration agents a multitude of internal borders are being created. Though ID cards are currently only for foreign nationals, soon the the rest of the population will be required to carry them, despite once being considered unthinkable the prospect has become entirely unsurprising the context of the constant monitoring via CCTV and restriction by ASBOs and other limits on freedom of assembly and
Camp(aign)ing for Social Change
The No Border Camp in Calais will be the coming together of a number of disparate selection of groups and individuals who approach the issue of
human migration from very different angles. For many who are engaged in
providing humanitarian support on the ground in Calais, the naked
brutality of the situation calls for such a practical effort that
discussions about solutions, whilst very welcome, is not as important as
filling the daily food service rotas. Others point to the free flow of
people between other EU member states and bemoan the petty nationalism of
the UK government in it's unwillingness to trust their European
neighbours. Then there are those who want a new kind of world, without
migration controls, capitalism or the state, based on the principles of
freedom and equality, rallying behind the slogan "No Borders".
No Borders is a transnational network of autonomous groups who advocate
freedom of movement and equality for all, but more than that it is a
political position seeing borders as systemic to a world order that is
supremely unjust and is structured towards massive inequality, acting as
useful control to divide a social hierarchy of legal/illegal,
documented/undocumented, citizens/non-citizens. No Borders means rejecting
this categorisation and calls for unity between exploited people against
the rich and powerful.
In the same way that the straight lines that divide so much of the world
were drawn by Western statesmen as arbitrary divisions of colonial
possessions; the infrastructure that makes up a state has been designed
and developed by the rich and powerful for the benefit of their own class.
The 'imagined community' of a country is a construct, members of even the
smallest nation never know, meet, or even hear of most of their fellow
countrymen. This imagined community was created as a means to control the
poor, to divide working people from their natural allies of exploited
people from across the globe.
The movement of people generally follows the movement of wealth, it is no
surprise that whilst the British ruling class conquered and exploited much
of the world, people living in the areas that become impoverished and
plundered follow the wealth to the UK. In this way border controls can be
seen as a clumsy attempt to avoid the payback of imperialist conquest and
exploitation. Those who have been dispossessed by imperialist domination
during the age of empire and more recent capitalist neo-colonialism are
well within their rights to demand a share of the wealth that was created
off their backs. Our aim is to support the interests of the people who
have decided to take this hard and dangerous path.
Though scare-mongering headlines of the right wing press are woefully off
the mark, it is a simple fact that migration is on the rise, and given the
likely effects of climate change, many more people will be displaced obver
the coming decades. This is causing a fundamental shift in the class
struggle, the British left stands at an impasse, with the possible
responses summed up in two phrases "British Jobs for British Workers" or
"Workers of the World, Unite". It has been suggested that we, as the
indigenous exploited people of this island would lose the few privileges
that we are apportioned by capital if equality with the global poor is to
be realised. This fear of socialism is not new, and we do not accept the
idea that equality equates to a race to the bottom.
Migrants are not a separate social group, they are labour on the move. As
such they are competitors for the crumbs from the rich man's table and
potential allies in the struggle for an equal society. We can either stand
against fellow working class people in the hope of clinging on to the few
pathetic crumbs the establishment let us have, or we can join with the
masses of the dispossessed of the empire and together as equals create a
new society. It seems likely that many who claim to act in the 'best
interest' of workers will side with of the British Ruling class against
the poor, we advocate standing alongside our natural allies in the class
struggle, this summer, that can begin in Calais.
Since 1998 there have been numerous No Border camps around the world;
including the Czech-German, Polish-Ukrainian, Moroccan-Spanish,
US-Mexican, and Turkish-Greek border lines as well as at various points in
the UK, Australia, France, Finland, and Italy. In each case hundreds or
thousands of people have come together at a location that represents
control, repression and injustice and have united under the slogan Freedom
of Movement for All. These No Border camps represent bases for action, for
building networks of solidarity, for self-education and to physically
challenge the border regime. Borders are highly protected and contested
areas and are therefore a challenging location for direct action. The
desire to 'tear down the fences' is not always achieved, but they do act
as a means of bringing attention on the repression that occurs in the name
of defending national sovereignty.
The No Border Camp in Calais from 23rd - 29th June will continue this
tradition, it will be a space to share information, skills, knowledge and
experiences; a place to plan and take action together. It aims to make the
repression faced by migrants and activists in the region more visible and
to oppose the migration controls between the UK and France as well as a
recently proposed new detention centre. There are lots of ways to get
1. Come to the camp. To the main demonstration on the Saturday 28th,
2. Help to mobilise by distributing posters, flyers, stickers, arranging
for a speaker to come and show films etc.
3. Fund-raising: we hope to leave some permanent infrastructure
improvements for Calais and we need lots of money. Organise a benefit,
make a donation via one of the local groups.
4. Get involved with the UK No Borders network, there are local groups in
Brighton, Bristol, London, Manchester, North East, Nottingham and South
An excellent photo exhibition by Julie Rebouillat : No Lands Men:the
Struggle for Calais is currently touring the country, helping to promote
the No Borders Camp. Check out www.contre-faits.org
For information about Greek No Border camp contact: