There has been a growing hostility to the refugees in the Calais camps, particularly since the Paris killings. Mitch Mitchell who has witnessed this, reflects on what the electoral success of the Front National in the French regional elections will mean for the refugees.
I have been to the refugee camp in Calais with the London2Calais convoy on several occasions since last August .
During that time, there appears to have been a hardening of attitudes against the refugees by several, but not all, of the local residents. This has culminated this weekend in the fascist Front Nationale (FN), led by Marine le Pen, the daughter of the party’s founder, Jean Marie le Pen, achieving over 40% of the vote in the Lille-Calais district where she was standing as a candidate.
Le Pen senior first came to prominence in France in 1960, during the conflict in Algeria when it was alleged that the unit of the French army which he commanded was involved in the torture of Algerians suspected of being part of that country’s movement for independence from the French Empire.
In the 1980s and 90s, when he led the party, he relied on the back-up of skinhead thugs to enforce with their boots, the racist messages he was putting across in speeches. In 2000, he defeated the Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin in the first round of elections for the Presidency, but an alliance of Socialists and centre-right voters ensured that, although his name was on the ballot paper for the second round, he was roundly defeated.
He retired from the leadership and handed over to his daughter, Marine. This was partly due to his age and partly because he had been “bruised” by a campaign against him waged by his then deputy, Bernard Maigret. Maigret was forced to leave the party and set up a rival group which appears to have lost what little support it commanded.
For her part, Marine endeavoured to ‘clean-up’ the FN’s image. So much so, that her father became too much for her to handle and he was expelled for repeating remarks he had made some years before that the Holocaust was “a mere detail of history”.
Marine le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal Le Pen, also scored above 40% in the Provence-Cote d’Azur region, further to the south. Her message was closer to that of Jean Marie, making very Islamophobic comments in her election addresses.
Both will go on to contest next week’s second round and look very likely to become the FN’s first ever District Governors.
This is very worrying, not only because of the fact that fascists will have a toe hold of power in France for the first time since the collaborationist Vichy government of Marshal Petain during WW2, but also for the welfare of the refugees who are in the camp. The French riot police, who have already been deployed in some numbers around and in the camp may well see this as a green light to further increase their thuggish behaviour.
It is known that they have thrown tear gas grenades into the camp and stood by, smirking when camp residents suffer as a consequence. A young boy of about 14 was badly beaten up and hospitalised by the police recently after he appeared to them to have been ‘cheeky’.
Much of this hardening of attitude has come about since the terrorist atrocities in Paris of a few weeks ago. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that Baghdad, Beirut, Nigeria and Kenya also suffered, but with far less publicity and public hand-wringing.
However, even before the Paris attacks, some of the local people in Calais were showing resentment both at us, as volunteers and towards the refugees. Cars with FN supporters often toured the area and, if they could, would pick off one or two of the refugees and beat them up.
Fairly recently, when we were present, the fascists tried to hold a rally in the centre of the town. Organised by former and current FN members, they leafleted the clubs and bars prior to the event and were hoping for a turn-out of around 1000.
On the day, we estimated between 100-150 had actually attended, although the (presumably supportive) local paper the next day claimed an attendance of around 600. What was notable was that anyone who even remotely looked like they would heckle the fascists was very roughly shoved away by the police who appeared to be following their usual position, adopted, it seems, by cops everywhere, of protecting the Nazis.
If, as seems likely, the FN do win next week, it remains to be seen what changes will occur. However, the future for refugees, aid workers, France and ultimately Europe looks bleak.