In 2002 an article in the Red Cross magazine had this to say about Sangatte:
In the 12 years since Sangatte was closed down there has been no attempt by the French or British authorities to resolve the humanitarian issue of homeless refugees in Calais. They provide no official shelter for these people and declare the unofficial ones to be illegal. The refugees and migrants live in informal squats and camps scattered across the city, helped by activists and charities to find food, blankets and basic cleaning facilities.
On May 28 this year, (a few days after the European elections which saw huge gains for the far right French nationalist party the Front National) the French police launched a major action to clear the city of these homeless migrants. Terra Daily reported the police action thus:
Some 200 policemen were deployed to evict the occupants from the camps which were then bulldozed.
French officials defended the action on public health grounds. But it was slammed as "reckless and ill-considered" by charity group Doctors of the World.
"Evictions will not reduce the number of migrants on the streets of Calais, but will disperse them, making them harder to assist, document or trace. This will further impinge on their basic right to healthcare and shelter," said Leigh Daynes, the head of the NGO's British section...
Charity workers said the occupants of the camps had been left with nowhere to go.
"The people are on edge and are looking for the place where they will feel the safest," Cecile Bossy of Doctors of the World told AFP at the scene. (ref 4)
As we learn to fight together across lines that power exploits to divide and rule, we become stronger and better able to resist future attacks on the autonomy of communities here in Calais. The empowerment which comes from successfully resisting a police attack after so many experiences of humiliation and dehumanization at their hands will not be easily forgotten and will be a source of inspiration and strength for us in the future. (ref 5)
On June 17 the hunger-strikers announced they were contemplating self-immolation if their plight continued to be ignored. The site they were living on in SALAM had no showers or hot water, no waste facilities. There wasn't enough food for the hundreds of people living in the camp. An activist has described to me the scenes of people fighting one another for food. This message appeared on the Calais Migrant Solidarity website:
At first, we respect all associations and groups that helped us in our journey. Once again, we want to ask one more time the French and the English government to listen to us as we already did, and we repeat it again.
Us, the persons on hunger strike, we want and we ask to have access to a legal status, to documents, from the English or the French governments.
We hope that these governments will acknowledge our problem and find a solution for it. If the French or the British government do not take in consideration our problem, us, the people on hunger strike will not stop the strike and also some of us may set fire to themselves in the center of Calais.
We are on hunger strike to find a solution to the base of our problem, that’s why we want the french and british government to give us a positive answer. (ref 7)
As word went round of police arresting migrants on the streets, activists and charity workers tried desperately to find a safe place for the men who had been lucky enough to be out of the camp at the time of the raid. Aid workers gathered emergency blankets, tents and sleeping bags for the newly dispossessed. People tried to salvage the refugees belongings from the evicted squats. Activists passed word of police movements and helped the men hiding in the city to stay one step ahead of the police. People formed human blockades and tried to stop the buses leaving. All day the barriers stayed up and the buses slowly rolled out, dispersing refugees across the country.
The day wore on. The barricades stayed up. The buses kept rolling. For a while we stood, a motley crew of Europeans, aid workers, activists, journalists, locals and those just passing through, holding our position at the main barricade where the buses came rolling out of the compound, waving to the people inside as though we were seeing them off on holiday, or they were soldiers heading out to war. A sense of helplessness pervaded.
By the evening, after the last bus had left and the barricades were starting to come down, men from the camp began to arrive back in Calais. I spoke to two young men who had been taken to Lille, processed in a police station and released. This story was being continued across France.
Late in the evening I met up with a collection of exhausted activists, drinking their way through the emotional trauma of the day. Despite a day of frantic searching and planning, there was no safe place left in Calais for the refugees who had been driven into hiding, dispersed around the city as they gradually trickled back from their forced displacement. Already the parks were filing up with men returning from their day's journey, quiet greetings called across the shadows of the night as separated friends found one another again, bed rolls were laid out under trees, muted conversations held in huddles around park benches as stories from the day were shared and information passed on about places to sleep that night.
Of the 600 people estimated to have been rounded up and taken across the country, about 200 remain in detention centres. The rest are on the streets somewhere, trying to keep safe and out of sight.
The pointlessness of this police action alternately baffles and enrages me. The French authorities seemed to be acting like a small child, hiding the food he doesn't like under his plate, and believing no-one will notice. This was a hugely expensive, showy and deeply traumatic way of destroying the final safe place available to a group of homeless, desperate people who have no money and no legal status, only a dream of finding a way to live in dignity in the UK. They have found their way from war-zones and violent regimes, traveling across continents to make it this far. Now they have been forced into hidden camps, smaller groups hiding out of sight around the peripheries of the city, less able to defend themselves, more open to attack from members of the public.
Is this the punishment this group faces for declaring that they were so desperate for their basic human rights that they were contemplating public suicide?
Talking about the evictions in May, an entry on the Calais Migrant Solidarity blog described a logic applied by the French authorities that I recognised clearly in their actions on July 2nd:
Ref 1 - No Borders Leaflet :
Ref 3 - Wikipedia on the Channel Tunnel : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channel_Tunnel#Asylum_and_immigration
Ref 4 - Terra Daily, May 28 : http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Outcry_as_French_police_demolish_Calais_migrant_camps_999.html
Ref 5 - Calais Migrans Solidarity Blog May 28 : http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/camp-evictions-met-with-occupations-and-resistance/
Ref 6 - BBC report on hunger strike June 12 : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-27825139
Ref 7 - Message from the Hunger Strikers June 17 : http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/message-from-the-hunger-strikers-message-de-la-greve-de-la-faim/
Ref 8 - Vice Magazine June 25 : http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/calais-migrants-hunger-strike
Ref 9 - Calais Migrant Solidarity account of the July 2nd evictions : http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/mass-evictions-of-over-six-hundred-people-across-calais/
Ref 10 - Photos of human barricades from July 2nd : http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/eviction-blockade/
Ref 11 - The Independent Newspaper July 3 : http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/french-riot-police-detain-hundreds-of-migrants-in-calais-dawn-raid-9580101.html
Ref 12 - Calais Migrans Solidarity Blog May 28 : http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/camp-evictions-met-with-occupations-and-resistance/