As authorities move to shut down the camp – leaving residents frightened and abandoned – clashes broke out between protestors and police
On September 5, local Calais residents blocked the highway and demanded the destruction of the Calais Jungle. It was a demonstration approved by the interior minister. Contrast this with the solidarity with refugees demo that resulted in a blanket ban on all protests linked to migrant issues.
The ban, implemented by the municipal government of Pas-de-Calais, only highlights the failure of the French authorities to recognize the rights of those living within the Calais Jungle. The demonstration, which was organised by the Coalition Internationale des Sans-Papiers et Migrants (CISPM), was a response to the recent development of a Trump-style £2m wall, funded by the UK, and François Hollande’s announcement that he would be closing the camp, leaving its residents abandoned, forgotten and without hope.
Despite the ban, on October 1 at 2pm approximately 150 camp migrants and volunteers from various aid organisations gathered outside the Calais Jungle. Plans to march from the camp to the Place D’Armes in the centre of Calais were blocked when French riot police turned up in full body armour carrying protective shields and batons.
The rally, led by protesters brandishing a Union Jack flag and signs reading ‘Open the UK border’, could be heard chanting “UK! UK! UK! UK!” and “no border, no nation, stop deportation”. The demonstrators demanded the abolition of rules which establish a European-wide fingerprint database for unauthorised entrants to the EU and the deportation of an asylum seeker back “home”.
Protestors demanded that the UK “assumes its responsibility with regards to migrants,” a controversial subject in recent weeks as UNICEF pressures the UK to speed up the process of resettlement, amid fears that children could fall into the hands of traffickers as authorities try to close the camp.
It began as a peaceful demonstration but quickly escalated, resulting in scattered clashes between both groups involving tear gas and rocks. Before the demonstration last Saturday, I spoke to one 25-year-old from Eritrea who declined to be named. His story is reminiscent of almost everyone I spoke to in the camp of approximately 10,000 residents; having travelled through Sudan and Syria he then spent his life savings to cross the Mediterranean in a boat with 350 others. The boat capsized and he paddled for hours among the few other survivors before eventually losing consciousness and waking up in hospital in Italy where he learnt that only 69 others had survived. He continued his journey by foot to the Calais Jungle in the hope of seeking asylum in the UK. Back in Eritrea he was an engineer and he told me; “I absolutely love fixing things, it’s all I want to do, I just want to work again!”
Since the riots on Saturday I have visited him again. But this time there was a real sense of hopelessness; events like the police crackdown at the rally have begun to take their toll and many have no idea or understanding of what will happen to them after the camp closes down. There is a bitter irony in treating those who have been uprooted by war and conflict and forced to flee their homes with yet more violence. The constant clashes outside the Calais Jungle have become symbolic of the international community's failure to protect the rights and freedoms of refugees and migrants across Europe and when you deny someone their right to protest about the way they are treated, you deny them their right as a human being.