Calais: The State Fumbles, Migrants Continue their Struggle

On Friday, the migrants occupying the food distribution center brought a list of demands that they had agreed upon to the prefect and the media. At first, the prefect maintained that the 48 hour period in which they were to vacate the premises had expired and refused to enter a dialogue. However, seeing that they were determined to stay, he set up a meeting for today [Saturday] with the departmental Director of Social Cohesion, who was soon joined by the sub-prefect. They proposed a second meeting to the refugees next Tuesday, on the condition that by then they move to another place and leave the food distribution center. It seems that a meeting is planned Monday morning at the Ministry of the Interior regarding the situation of the migrants in Calais; the meeting on Tuesday will likely depend on the decisions taken Monday. The proposal to continue the dialogue in another location was accompanied by a threat: if the migrants did not leave the food distribution center on their own over the weekend, they would be evicted by force, arrested and sent back to their countries of origin. Of course, this poses the question of where should they go. The authorities let slip the idea of moving to the old municipal camp site. The state now stands before the contradiction of demanding that people leave one place only to occupy another, without permission, somewhere which inevitably belongs to someone. The site of the old camp grounds belongs to the city of Calais.

At first, the migrants were divided as to whether they should leave the food distribution center or not. Several discussions took place during the afternoon and into the evening. Finally, to preserve the unity of the group, everyone agreed to follow the majority opinion and leave. Shortly after 8:00 pm, 150 people stood in the Rue de Moscou, their belongings on their shoulders, while the rest gathered their things together in the food distribution center. A few delegates from the different communities has gone ahead to the campsite to prepare for the move, when suddenly the police arrived and told them all to leave. The media was already there, following the whole process. Back to the food distribution center. The prefecture, confronted with its own mess, conceded to the migrants that they could stay until Tuesday, the day the negotiations will resume, without being bothered by the police.

Although the migrants had been divided on the question of leaving, they came together again in the face of adversity and celebrations broke out, with all the communities together, people singing, dancing and embracing. These people, whose languages and cultures have nothing to do with one another, from Ethopia to Afghanistan, from Romania to Syria, finding themselves in an improbable situation in Calais, have managed to make bonds of solidarity. If the evictions on Wednesday had gone as planned, these people would be hiding in bushes day after day, only to be driven out by the police at night, wandering from place to place, sleepless nights in their eyes and police beatings on their bodies. Instead, this time, they have chosen to affirm their dignity through struggle. And this dignity cannot be erased by police violence or the betrayals of the state.

In the days and weeks surrounding this episode, the administration has demonstrated all its incompetence and inconsistency to the media. For us, it has become normal that representatives of the state lie through their teeth. But for someone who comes from a culture based on respect for one’s word, it is shocking. And this Saturday’s inconsistencies will not facilitate the progress of the dialogue.

This Saturday afternoon, a demonstration also took place against the evictions and in support of the migrants’ struggle for acceptance. Several hundred people attended, spoke, listened to music and danced.

Published on the Calais Migrant Solidarity blog