Mitch Mitchell reports on the French state’s destruction in the Calais refugee camp on February 29.
Two weeks ago, the Prefecture in Calais announced that they intended to clear the Southern section of the refugee camp known as “The Jungle”.
They said that the process would be carried out with dignity and sensitively and the judge, when giving her decision, ordered there should be a 30 day delay before the eviction process begins so as to give people time to decide what to do. This ignores the fact that when the camp was assembled, an undertaking was given that there would be no evictions.
In the event, the judgement which was delivered on Thursday, February 25 was ignored and on Monday, February 29 between 200-300 police descended on the camp. They were accompanied by employees of the prefecture, dressed in orange hi-viz jackets These people then proceeded to go around knocking on people’s dwellings, informing them that they had one hour to get out or face arrest.
I’m not sure what part of “sensitivity” or “dignity” this related to. I also found it slightly ironic that the prefecture employees were largely Algerian immigrants. The police formed a cordon around them which we could not cross.
People began to press forward to see what had happened, and this led the police to fire a few tear gas grenades. Several of us were affected (me included) and tempers began to rise. Suddenly a hail of rocks and stones were directed at police lines.
Obviously, there is no proof of this, but many of us believed that the police had planted ‘argent provocateurs’ in the crowd to stir things up and begin the stone throwing. The tear gas was increased, and the police raised their riot shields and charged (yes, I got clobbered by one).
More tear gas followed (I copped another bout) and then the water cannon was deployed. What kind of a mentality deploys cold water on a freezing cold day on people with virtually nothing and virtually no way of drying off?
At the end of the first day, part of the camp resembled a First World War battlefield, with little plumes of smoke wafting up from where people’s tents and shelters used to be.
On the second day, March 1, a woman had climbed onto the roof of her dwelling and was threatening to slash her wrists, rather than be evicted and lose most of her possessions. She was pregnant, but this didn’t seem to matter to the “brave” boys of the CRS.
They climbed onto the roof and roughly dragged her off. Then two proceeded to hold her down, whilst another beat her with a baton. Disgustingly, this was reported in most of the British media as the police “helping” her down and no mention of her pregnancy appeared, despite there being much video footage of the incident.
The mood amongst the refugees appeared to change and they were much more sombre after this. When I arrived at the camp that morning, having run the gauntlet of police at the entrance who demanded to see my passport and asked why I was there, I saw an African man who had liberated a supermarket trolley walking out with all his belongings to goodness knows where.
The police and contractors continued the business of demolishing people’s property. Photos and other treasured possessions from home were ground into the mud. Remember, this eviction was supposed to be done with sensitivity and dignity.
On the third day: a minor victory. Several refugees asked some of the volunteers to sit with them on the roofs of their dwellings and the police avoided those places on that day, although most of them have now gone.
Drastic action was then taken. Twelve refugees opted to have their mouths sewn up and to commence a hunger strike. The media loved this and for a while, there was quite a circus as photographers jostled each other for the best positions.
Police were guarding skips which had been filled with debris. This debris had largely been donated to make the shelters and so several thousand pounds worth of wood, insulation and the like were consigned to the dump.
Several of the police obviously found the whole affair very funny and kept making sarcastic comments which French speakers translated. To say I find the CRS (Riot Police) beyond contempt is to put it mildly. They are uniformed thugs. We have heard they stood by on occasions when refugees were being attacked and beaten by fascist gangs and even, it was noted by a volunteer, patting the perpetrators of such violence on the back and signalling thumbs up.
An appeal has been lodged and, if that fails, there are plans to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. However, even if that does go ahead, the Prefecture and their bully-boys have achieved what they set out to do.
Meanwhile, David Cameron, after meeting with French President Hollande, has pledged more of the money that the Tories keep telling us we do not have, to tighten security even further.
Stitch-up deals are being made with Turkey, so that now, the only people with any chance at all of being humanely resettled are Syrians (and that chance is extremely slim). I have even heard that fleets of Land Rovers will be despatched to patrol borders.
Fortunately, Land Rovers are pretty unreliable and one can only hope they live up to their reputation and break down.
The only hope for humane treatment of the people who have escaped war-zones, tyrannical regimes, flood and famine remains with pressure from people to campaign to open the borders and let them in.