Calais (France): Updates of the October 1st Demo

A comrade was arrested and charged for attempting to conceal his identity and participating in an unauthorized demonstration; the trial will be on 7 November, in Boulogne-sur-Mer.

The following text has been translated from French, from an article published on October 3rd, 2016 on Squat!net. The next solidarity gathering will take place in Calais, on friday October 14th, at 4pm, Places d’Armes.

This Saturday, October 1st, a solidarity demonstration was scheduled in Calais departing from the “Jungle”, the name given to the largest slum of France, where thousands of migrants are living. The event had to cross through Calais to reach its ending point downtown.

Two days before, the protest had been “prohibited” by the prefect of the Pas-de-Calais, Fabienne Buccio, who announced “a ban on any protest demonstrations in connection with the issue of migrants in Calais, Sangatte, Coquelles, Fréthun and Marck-Calaisis, during the entire day of October 1, 2016.”

There was, however, no problem from the prefect when, a month earlier, a protest took place against the presence of migrants in Calais… But here there’s no way to express solidarity with migrants, especially downtown.

This day took place in an atmosphere of the police occupation which has become commonplace here: in the streets of Calais, especially towards the Jungle, hundreds of cops (CRS and gardes mobiles) were there to show everyone the true face of the French Republic. All of this took place in a ‘perfect’ illustration of ‘Fortress Europe’: a giant slum next to a road ‘protected’ by several layers of fences and barbed wire, where thousands of migrants are surviving in difficult to imagine conditions. This ghettoization was imposed by the state after they evicted all the places of life and survival in Calais and forced everyone to settle in this desolate place far away from the city.

After the Administrative Tribunal of Lille confirmed the ban on the demonstration, the organizers (CISPM, International Coalition of Sans-papiers and Migrants) decided to hold the event anyway.

It took place quietly under the bridge at the exit to the Jungle, but it was immediately blocked by several cordons of riot police. A crowd of a few hundred migrants and supporters gathered, coming from many different places. Initially, the atmosphere was pretty festive, with batucada and slogans being chanted (mainly ‘UK, UK’ being shouted by those wishing to cross the channel…). Then the rain started to fall, and the cops took the opportunity to fuck with us. Starting to shake up the first rows of people and throwing tear gas to push everyone back, the CRS pushed everyone out under the rain, before drowning the entrance to the Jungle with salvos of tear gas grenades.

The first stones were thrown in response to the teargas, then the water cannon entered the game, and it was chained, during clashes lasting a few hours, so practically without interruption, spilling out from various fixing points along the road (all ‘protected’ by fences and barbed wire).

Meanwhile, four buses (about 200 people) were blocked for two hours by police at the toll booth at Setques, 40 kilometres south of Calais, and were forced to make a u-turn.

According to the union SGP Unité Police FO, quoted in a dispatch from Reuters, 700 tear gas grenades were fired during the clashes, which lasted for more than three hours and mobilized more than 200 members of the security forces (not counting those who were circulating around the area…). According to the same dispatch from Reuters, “such a violent head-to-head had not occurred since the beginning of the dismantling of the southern part of the largest slum in France on February 29.” But what the news agency does not say it is that both before and after the expulsion on February 29 the cops had regularly put pressure on the Jungle, shooting tear gas in the middle of the houses, sometimes in the middle of the night, and making migrants’ daily lives unliveable. It’s enough to incite rage and disgust at this world of borders… and cops.

Then the Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve announced his “condemnation with the greatest firmness of the violence committed by activists”, while in fact the ambiance of riotousness was created first by his cops. Finally, it must be pointed out that the “activists” Cazeneuve is speaking of, who experienced rage, threw rocks, did acts of mutual aid, shared stuff for care and protection against teargas, gave attention to the people who were injured or lost in the clouds of tear gas, were mostly migrants. It is their struggle above all, it’s their everyday lives. We were there together but coming from totally different life experiences for common goals: open/destroy the borders.

And if the use of violence against the police does not have consensus among migrants (as it doesn’t among European activists either), the riotous heterogeneity of this day was beautiful because it showed that we refused to give up and be crushed by the police forces. Migrants and European “activists” stood in collective anger against the police, against the ban on the protest, against the shitty situation imposed on a daily basis on migrants, against this anti-migrant wall project to ‘protect’ the port of Calais and for an open-world, against a world in which ever more borders are closed and ever more “others” are shut out.

So much the better if some police vehicles were damaged (seven according to a SGP Police-FO Union representative), especially as one had to be pretty clever to do this: throwing stones on the difficult to reach CRS and their trucks, all protected as they were by fences and more than 3 meters high barbed wire, was not an easy task! Each stone that met its target was greeted with cheers, amidst tear gas.

In the clashes, there were several wounded on the side of protesters (someone broke their arm…), after observing the rounds of flashballs and grenades it is little wonder. Some cops were injured too; but you know, it does not take much before they declare themselves injured. You’re looking for a way to get off work when you’re a cop, it’s understandable. A job like that, it must inspire one to resign every day.

At a time where uninhibited expressions of racism are multiplying, it is necessary to express our commitment to anti-national solidarity across borders. The French ideals of freedom, equality and “brotherhood” are meaningless in the absence of the destruction of borders (and the state, and of capitalism, which exploits and destroys our lives everywhere on the planet, and patriarchy, which thinks ‘brotherhood’ is synonymous with solidarity).

Even while solidarity with migrants must continue to be expressed publicly through demonstrations, rallies and all kinds of anti-racist occupations of the street, it can also be expressed in a lot of other ways, including of course through direct action.

As can be read in this call to act against companies collaborating with the “repressive system” and the deportation machine:

From vandalism to sabotage, nothing is too good for discouraging companies to collaborate.

Our field of action is much larger than the area of the jungles. The purveyors of the police arsenal are spread throughout the territory. Hence, in our view, there is a necessity for a decentralized response against these suppliers of government control. From biometric devices to infrared glasses, there are companies near you producing these things. After the announcement of the eviction and the forced displacement of migrants across France, the possibilities for action have proliferated. The stakes are high and the field of action is delocalized.

Now, it’s our turn.