Very Short Film: “The Wind is Free” – Calais June 2015

This very short film shows the basic living conditions of the migrants in the windswept “jungle” of Calais. Currently over 3000 migrants are surviving on one meal per day, in self-made shelters that vary from the miserably basic to the downright ingenious.

Filmed 21 June 2015.

The Open Air Prison of Calais

Riot police look down over the camp from the flyover. From below it looks less like a flyover than a prison wall. Five riot vans stand guard, half a dozen riot cops in each, just looking down on us. I take a piss into the bushes underneath their machine gun gaze. It makes me feel safer.

At the entrance to this open air prison, off rue Garennes, there’s a driveway of asphalt, where two games of football, a set of tennis and a cricket match are in progress, each game modified and adapted to the conditions. Spectators range the banks on either side, while the riot police keep score and umpire (maybe).

Saving four on the leg side are a range of new hire toilets, installed just a couple of days ago in response to a battery of complaints by migrants and by French charities on the migrants’ behalf. Before these new arrivals, toilet facilities were located in the bramble bushes, or a 15 minute walk over sand dunes in the Jules Ferry Centre.

Drinking water taps have also recently been plumbed into the arid ground. Three months of traipsing to and fro for basic facilities such as toilets and water are over. But to call the conditions satisfactory for human existence would be a grievous violation of the definition of the word “satisfactory”.

4,000 people live here, in a bewildering ingenuity of tents, wire fence cages and pallet wood houses. One man from Senegal has even managed to build a traditional house, complete with thatched roof. Another skilled carpenter has constructed a two-storey house of wood, with a twin room, kitchen and balcony that overlooks the road to the Jules Ferry Centre.

But most of the denizens of this sorry open air prison survive in throw-away festival tents, held together with gaffer tape and rope. The wind blows hard enough to rip open my shelter on the first night. The rain soaks heavy in Calais.

These people need proper shelter, they need many more water taps and many more toilets. Above all, they need proper nourishment.

The Jules Ferry Centre, the French government’s concession to humanity, provides one meal a day at 5pm. No breakfast, no lunch, just a kind of a supper, doled out at the end of a three hour queue. Many migrants rise above this desultory charity, preferring to fend for themselves, sharing large communal meals with their communities. Sacks of potatoes stand sprouting in the sun.

Many of the migrants here are Muslims, currently observing Ramadan, not breaking their fast until sundown, long past the 5pm cut-off time for Jules Ferry. From somewhere, the internal economy or networks of solidarity, my Sudanese friends summon up a traditional meal of stew, grilled chicken and hot harissa paste, with rice pudding for dessert, all laid out on a carpet covered with a bed sheet.

We sit and wait, clock watching. My neighbour offers me a date to break the fast. Then the call to prayer bursts out from somebody’s mobile phone. The sun finally dips below the motorway and the Calais sky blushes in embarrassment, silhouetting the riot police as they look on through binoculars.

We can eat.

The Ghetto of Calais

Almost the first sight I saw on my return to France was three Afghans making the walk of shame, back out past the barbed fences, trailed by a crawling Port of Calais car, window wound down.

Not a good sign, I thought.

But the sky was cerulean blue and the wind just freshening as the sun made out like it was going to be here until Christmas; the Afghans looked unbothered and the port authorities merely bored.

Cycling back into Calais town centre, though, I saw no more migrants. Compared to last summer, the streets were empty. Good sign or bad sign? The numbers of migrants here is already supposed to be higher than last year, four thousand by some estimates – so where are they all?

At the beginning of June, numerous camps and squats in the town centre were evicted and closed down. Gone are the Leader Price camp, the Galloo squat and the Egyptian house. These join the earlier evictions of Tioxide and the Afghan camp in the Zone Industrielle des Dunes. Chased from the town centre, their former inhabitants have no more cause to be in Calais. There is nothing for them here.

The mayor’s plan to cleanse the town seems to have worked.

I can’t help but feel a small corner of relief for the people and businesses of Calais who rely for their income on the clean tourist image that the mayor is so eager to portray.

Over the past few years, the people of Calais would struggle to feel pride for their town. Every street corner wore the badge of the failures of French welfare, UK immigration, EU foreign policy and the failures of humanity in general. Now, with the migrants largely corraled and confined away from the town centre, the effect is diluted and visitors can start to forget the “migrant problem”.

So I couldn’t help but feel a little glad that Calaisiens appear to have “their” town back.

But the greater part of me fears for what that absence means. It means up to 4,000 migrants are being forced to live in ever more restricted areas, more tightly controlled by the police and much, much more densely packed.

I fear because I know what happens when you squeeze more and more air into your bicycle tyres. Already this year, fights have broken out between groups of migrants, living in difficult conditions and in unnaturally close quarters in the Jules Ferry camp grounds.

(I won’t call these camps “jungles” because this light-hearted gallows humour name, given to the various wild camps of Calais, has been seized upon by the right wing press and used to promote their portrayal of the migrants as little more than animals, fit only for the jungle. The truth is the other way around: our governments are treating them as animals.)

Recently, tents were set on fire in the camp, in a dispute over control of the parking lot where many migrants try to cross into the UK. A wooden church was also burnt to the ground. The dispute, however, could have been over almost any real grievance or imagined slight – disrespect, drunkenness, a misplaced word – because increasing population density alone causes increasing incidence of violence.

Remember how fractious you get on long coach journeys, confined, packed close together with your fellow travellers who go from being charming strangers to stinking, inconsiderate, corpulent, greedy, selfish freeloaders in the space of just 9 hours.

Add to that the migrants’ growing frustration at a life interrupted by war and blocked by bureaucracy and you have too too much air squeezed into your bicycle tyres. It’s going to burst sooner or later.

I cycled, via the boulangerie, to Richelieu Park, in the centre of Calais. The sun grinds its heel into the yellowing grass. Two young boys share a bicycle, one pedalling, the other standing on the footholds on the back wheel, hands on the shoulders of his mate, looking for all the world like a Roman emperor. This is their empire again. Palm trees stand in rows, while the young take the sun, the elderly the shade.

A year ago, this park, and parks like it, would have been filled with lounging migrants, waiting for the evening and their chance to cross into England. Police, too, would have been strolling the grounds, moving people on in a haphazard, half-hearted manner. Today, both are gone. So too is the Salam food distribution that used to take place on a field behind the nearby town hall. Anything that might attract migrants has been excised from the town centre.

So I cycle for half an hour, out of town. The parks and polished streets of central Calais start potholing as the houses straighten up into apartment blocks and then abruptly flatten out into red-roofed bunglows. I overtake a boy carrying a fishing rod lance-like on his bike. Shopping centres skulk past, warehousing all kinds of cheap comestibles, from rack to ruin.

I cross the river and the wind hits me. Nothing but forty-foot lorries, factories and not much else. The rue Garennes is long and straight, built to service the industrial parks that line its verges. Some are still operational, choking fumes into the evening, others bear only the air of dilapidation and neglect.

This is where the migrants start to appear, on the side of the road, traipsing, schlepping, some carry boxes and bags, baguettes and energy drinks. Some coming towards me, heading into Calais, to try to cross at the Channel Tunnel. Others walk in my direction. I follow the trail underneath a motorway bridge and into the camp.

Here is where I shall sleep tonight. With those four thousand others, out of sight and out of mind.

Migrant Mythbusting!

There are probably as many myths floating around about migrants and migration as there are UKIP voters. (Fascinating fact: there are as many foreign born nationals living in the UK as there are UKIP voters.) In this post, I bust a good few of them:

They’re stealing our benefits!

Let’s make this absolutely clear with a quote from the House of Commons: “Asylum seekers are not eligible for mainstream welfare benefits whilst waiting for a decision on their asylum application.”

Asylum seekers can apply for financial support and accommodation. The accommodation is offered on a “no choice” basis and only outside London and the south-east. Financial support is £36.62 per week for a single adult. Asylum support rates have not increased since 2011, despite the rising cost of living.

In comparison, a destitute British person claiming financial support will receive £72.40 (Job Seekers Allowance) and will be eligible for Housng Benefit.

If migrants were after handouts, then they should stay in France: they have quicker access to housing and benefits there.

This is all despite the fact that, according to a University of London survey of 2001-2011, non-EU immigrants to the UK paid out 2% more in taxes than they received. EU immigrants paid out 34% more. Benefit tourism is a myth.

Well they’re stealing our jobs, then!

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the UK – unless they have been waiting for a decision on their case for more than a year.

They’re only coming because we’re a soft touch on immigration!

This could not be further from the truth. The UK’s asylum process is draconian: 65% of applications were rejected in 2013 and we accepted less than 5,000 asylum seekers.

The UK is not seen as a soft touch by migrants either. In 2013, the UK received far less applications for asylum than Germany, the USA, France, Sweden and Turkey. Most countries saw a significant increase in asylum applications between 2012 and 2013; in the same period, the UK’s share of total asylum applications dropped from 6% to 5%. For every 1000 inhabitants, the UK receives less asylum seekers than Belgium, Montenegro, Austria and Leichtenstein.

These are not the statistics of a country that is a soft touch or that is even seen as being a soft touch.

They should stay at home / in France / anywhere else!

There is a philosophical argument here as well as a practical one. As British passport holders, UK citizens are allowed to travel almost anywhere in the world; in many countries they are allowed also to set up businesses and seek employment. These benefits are no more deserved than a lottery winner “deserves” his winnings. It’s luck. Similarly, being born in Syria at a time when the country suffers terrible drought and civil war, is no more deserved.

Beside this philosophical argument, the truth is that most of these people do stay at home or in other countries. The UK take significantly less asylum seekers than the rest of the EU. Overwhelmingly, the burden of asylum seekers and refugees is absorbed by neighbouring countries. The Syrian civil war has created around 3.8m refugees. There are 1.3m refugees from Syria currently living in Turkey and 1.8m living in Lebanon. In the UK, we have accepted just 24. The ones that do attempt the dangerous journey from their places of birth to the UK face great difficulty claiming asylum.

Legally, the Dublin Regulation states that migrants fleeing to the EU should claim asylum in the first country they come to. Logically, therefore, the UK should never need deal with asylum seekers because they MUST travel through other EU countries in order to reach ours.

It should come as no surprise to learn that the Dublin Regulation was pursued by the rich northern European countries of the EU, particularly the UK and Germany, in order to keep the “asylum problem” as far away as possible.

So why don’t the Calais migrants stay in France?

When asked this question, the main reasons cited by migrants are:

  • They have family and friends in the UK.
  • They speak English.
  • They face racism in Italy and France.
  • There are more jobs in the UK.

This is backed up by the demographic distribution of migrants in Calais. There main groups of people there are from Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. If these people speak a foreign language, it is English. Migrants from French-speaking countries such as Algeria do indeed stop in France.

They’re violent criminals!

Two facts:

  1. After 1996, immigration to the UK rose sharply, from around 300,000 people a year to as much as 600,000 people a year.
  2. After 1996, violent crime in the UK fell sharply, from 4.2 million violent crimes in 1995 to only 1.94 million in 2011/2012.

Independent studies by both Oxford University and the London School of Economics find that there is “virtually no evidence
in any country to suggest links between migration and violent crime”.

Violent crime statistics are matched by property crime statistics: rising immigration in the last ten years is paired with falling property crime rates. What you really want now is a pretty chart:

Britain is full up!

If that’s true, then why are there over 600,000 empty homes in the UK? Why have a third of those been empty for more than six months?

Immigrants make up around 13% of the UK population, a figure that is broadly similar to most other parts of the developed world – Germany, the Netherlands, France, Norway, Spain and the USA all have immgrant populations of around 12-14%.

There are around 7.8m immigrants living in the UK; according to a 2005 Foreign and Commonwealth Office report, there are 13.1m British nationals living abroad. I wonder if Australia, Spain and the USA moan about all those Brits clogging up their roads?

They’re illegal!

Some people may travel to the UK illegally because, unlike you, they are not allowed to travel legally. They might have had their passport confiscated by a military dictatorship; they might have fled their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

As soon as they apply for asylum, however, they are legally permitted to remain in the UK until their claim has been assessed. This process, by the way, isn’t exactly a bed of roses. Asylum seekers are often treated as we might treat criminals: by putting them into detention centres or tying them down with electronic tags.

Some people may attempt to work in the UK illegally (because £36.62 a week isn’t an awful lot to live off), but it is highly unlikely that they will be taking jobs from British workers. These “jobs” are run by gangmasters paying as little as £3 per hour – now that’s illegal.

Advice for People Visiting Calais Migrants

By popular request, here’s a rag-bag of advice for people visiting Calais for the first time (Last updated on the 5th of July 2015):

Planning your visit:

  • How to get to Calais: From the UK, the 90 minute ferry crossing is the obvious option. If you’re a foot passenger or with a bicycle, you can usually just turn up and buy a ticket for the next departure for less than £20. Ferries are very regular – when the workers aren’t striking!
    If you have a vehicle, it’s better to book well in advance as ticket prices can rise sharply. A car can cost up to £100, but that covers as many passengers as you can cram in, so take your friends!
    You can also take the Eurostar to Calais Frethun, but be aware that this is a good 13km (over 2 hour) walk from the camp.
  • Take good walking boots, a car or a bicycle. The camp in Calais is a long (2 miles +) walk from the town centre and the nearest shops. A car or a van is particularly useful for transporting things / people to and fro. If you do take a vehicle, be prepared to help people! You will be in high demand.
  • How to find somewhere to sleep: Talk to local activists or the migrants themselves about your sleeping options. I usually take a tent and camp. You could also try couchsurfing, sleep in your van if you take one, or stay at one of several hotels in Calais and the local area.

When in Calais:

  • Be kind to each other. Be awesome and considerate to yourselves, your group, other activists, local Calaisians and the migrants. Everyone’s going through a lot.
  • Always carry food and water. You don’t know when you’ll be eating, so take snacks. Otherwise you’ll get hungry, your blood sugar will fall and you’ll start getting annoyed and make bad decisions.
  • Migrants don’t need charity. Support and solidarity, yes; charity, no. You’ll find that they are the hospitable ones. You are visiting their homes (however temporary and desolate), so respect their rules and their wishes.
  • Be aware that the situation in Calais changes rapidly, often from one day to the next. Be flexible and…
  • Follow the lead and advice of local activists. But don’t be afraid to speak up and use your initiative if you see something needs doing.
  • Long-term activists in Calais may well be very tired. Don’t be put off if some people are quiet or unenthusiastic about your plans. You’re vital to inject some fresh enthusiasm.
  • Don’t be ashamed or afraid to take an hour, an afternoon or a couple of days “off”. Be a tourist, have a coffee, have a nice meal, go for a swim in the sea. Look after yourself and each other.
  • Don’t get involved with the police. They have a habit of smashing activist cameras.
  • Be aware that the camps in Calais are heavily male-dominated. It can feel threatening; as usual, follow the lead of local activists if necessary.
  • Be aware that the experience in Calais can be intense. Don’t mistake that intensity of experience with lust or love. But do make friends 😀

When you get back home:

  • Be aware of your (and others) emotions. Some people can be profoundly affected by what they hear and see in Calais. When you get back, have a little meet up with the others, or stay in touch by email. And keep being nice to each other.
  • Spread the news. Write something down, tell your family and friends, think about what you’ve seen and what it means. This is how things will change, through a slow process of bottom-up experience and understanding.

Finally: Have fun! I’m a big believer in fun. If something is not fun, then you won’t do it again and you certainly won’t encourage any one else to get involved. Yes, the situation is miserable, but that doesn’t mean that we always have to be miserable about the situation.

(If you’ve got anything to add, please leave a comment. Photo taken by Dominique Lyons – thanks!)

Thank-You Letter to the Daily Mail

UPDATE: Now you can watch us thank the Daily Mail in person!

Dear Our New Favourite Newspaper, The Daily Mail:

A thousand thanks for your tireless support for the much-abused Calais migrants! (Or, as they’re also known, “Fellow Human Beings”.)

Some freeloading scroungers might have cynically used your festive promotional offer with P&O Ferries to go over and stock up on cheap continental booze and fags. But we know you meant to launch a D-Day-style flotilla of solidarity with Fellow Human Beings who have fled the blood and torture and killing and more blood and bombs (paid for by the British taxpayer!) in the hope of joining us in El Dorado where you can’t even have a fag indoors any more.

Your courageous humanitarian stance should be saluted – but instead you’re constantly pilloried by the loony left as “anti-immigration”, “anti-welfare” and “anti-freeze”. Everyone should clearly understand your newspaper is cover-to-cover political satire!

For example, we found your ironic article of January 15, “Michelin Chef And Curried Turkey”, to be an absolute hoot! The story was a lampoon of the highest order – imagine “thousands” of Fellow Human Beings being served “three-course meals” by a “three-star Michelin chef”!*

All this frivolity is “partly-funded”, of course, by… the British taxpayer! We love that catchphrase and the comic effect would simply evaporate if you were to list all the funders, the Cypriot, Latvian and Bulgarian taxpayers – in fact, every EU taxpayer. No, the gag wouldn’t have worked in the slightest.

Satirical Daily Mail Calais migrant story alongside hard-hitting news story about a woman wearing see-through pants.

What a shame fact-starved “Cheddarcakes” didn’t see the funny side, commenting on your spoof article, “They eat better than I do! And when they make it here, they will be put in a 4-star hotel.”

Don’t you hate it when a joke falls flat?

Your comically embellished language conjures up images of Fellow Human Beings dining out on British taxpayer’s money, as they whimsically discuss with the starched-shirted waiter the troublesome quandary of whether to have a starter and a main, or a main and a dessert – utterly priceless!

Of course, everyone knows the food at the miles-out-of-town day centre is not enough to feed even a quarter of the Fellow Human Beings in Calais, even once a day. The people we helped, thanks to your generosity, hadn’t had a meal in two days.

“Spacious accomodation in a leafy Calais suburb…”

A straight-laced piece of fuddy-duddy “factual” journalism would naturally have mentioned such realities and maybe too the violent harassment by police, pepper spray in the face, daily beatings – we met one chap who’d been chased into barbed wire, slashing open an eyeball or two!

But you played it for laughs and, inspired by your cutting satire, we used the money we saved on the ferry to do a supermarket sweep for “hundreds of smiling migrants”, packed forty to a room in a squalid end-of-terrace, without electricity, running water or heating.

“Oh, well, if we’re all having starters..!”

On a border where a Fellow Human Being is killed every two weeks trying to cross the Channel, everyone finds the idea that Britain has an “open door” policy on immigration to be absolutely gut-busting.

Syrian Daniel, 32, said he hadn’t laughed so much in months, not since he was quoted $2000 to cross the Mediterranean in a rusty bucket. He sends his thanks for the morale-boosting laughs – keep up the good work!

In peace and solidarity,

Beth and David

p.s. After running the Daily Mail Big Fact Checker, it was found that this “three-star Michelin chef” had once been a trainee at a one-star restaurant. This is like saying you’re an Oscar winner when you once did an internship with Carlton Television.

p.p.s. Thanks for the free bottle of wine! The perfect way to wind down after a hard day’s solidarity.

Be like Satirical News Journal The Daily Mail and Support Calais Migrants!

1. Book a ferry ticket with P&O by the 1st of February, using code DAILYMAIL4, to take advantage of the Daily Mail’s humanitarian largesse.

2. Pack up a backpack or load up a car with tents, blankets, (men’s) shoes, winter jackets and a couple of sets of dominoes. If you have none of these things, take a warm hug and a friendly smile.

3. Visit the migrant camp at Impasse des Salines or the “Jungle” along Rue des Garennes. If you want to support activists in Calais, contact Calais Migrant Solidarity on +33 75 34 75 159.

4. Enjoy your free bottle of wine, courtesy of our sponsor, The Daily Mail!

p.s. Harkerboy comments that, “We should all go to Calais and demand that we are looked after in this camp”. This picture is for you!

Home, sweet home…

Humanity is Easy: Supporting Migrants in Calais

Over the New Year break, me and some friends went over to visit the Calais migrants. We brought over 200kg of clothes, tents and blankets to distribute around the jungles and squats, where over two thousand people from Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Syria and other conflict zones, live in what can only be described as icy squalor. On the 31st, we used funds we’d raised in the UK to help throw a New Year’s party for around two hundred people – migrants, activists and local Calaisians – in the Galloo squat, with dancing, fireworks and cake.

Now, though, I want to take this opportunity to inveigle my way into your brain and, using the power of hypnotic suggestion, to cajole you into visiting Calais for yourself. I promise you an experience you cannot – and will not wish to – forget.

“But there’s no point me going over – I wouldn’t know what to do or say!”

You don’t have to do or say anything. We’re all the same, we’re all humans and we could be Calais migrants tomorrow, living on the streets in freezing temperatures without food, shelter or running water. Besides, as much as I try to be useful over in Calais, I feel that I get way more out of every trip than I can ever offer. I hear stories that make my synapses struggle and tales that make my teeth chatter. The least I can do is be a friend.

On New Year’s Eve, we’re chatting to a Syrian guy who was planning to cross the Channel in a dinghy that night. “It’s my last chance,” he says. “It’s the last night of the holidays, there will be less shipping traffic, less security.” The weather is calm too; he can escape before the high winds return. “I grew up next to the Euphrates, where I would swim against the currents, so I’m a strong swimmer,” he says. “And the boat has three chambers, so I have three chances if there is a puncture.”

But he doesn’t have a life jacket. We offer him money to buy one, but he refuses our help. “I used to give money to charity,” he says. “I find it difficult to take charity.” Some activists try to convince him to stay, to wait until he’s got a life jacket, until he’s got a winter wetsuit, until he gets some sea flares, until he’s got a support team who can call the coastguard if – or when – he gets into trouble. As we talk, he tells us his story.

In Syria, he’d been tortured by the regime. He shows us deep burn marks on the fingers of his right hand. “They knew I was an artist,” he explains, “so I couldn’t do my work.” He tells us how they would force him underwater for minutes at a time, but he grew up diving in the Euphrates and could hold his breath for longer. “They couldn’t take my soul,” he says, “because I was a bigger asshole than them!” He laughs – now – and we laugh too.

Living in Damascus, he’d literally looked death in the eye. “I saw the shell coming towards me,” he says. “It was like in the Matrix, you know? When the bullet ripples the air?” We nod. “It landed six metres from me, but only my face was covered in dust.” Another time, he was standing on a hill to get phone reception to call his mother and father in a different part of the city. “I heard the thump, thump of the shells,” he says. “I waited for the whistle – when you hear the whistle, then you know that you are dead.” He looks at us urgently. “I would never wish it on my worst enemy, that feeling when you hear the whistle. I listened. Then I hear the whistle. I know that I am dead.” He survived again, one lucky asshole, and left his country to find another land where he could work without fear and live without death.

But when he got to Calais, he found something else. “I used to believe that I was better than the other migrants,” he says. “I used to have respect for the police. I don’t want to run away from them, like the other migrants.” He’s proud of the fact that he’d got from Syria to France without paying the mafia or people traffickers. “I used to think I was better than the other people, but now I see that I am not. We are all the same. The police treat us all the same, with beatings and pepper spray,” he says. “That has changed me. Now I see how the activists have a hug for everyone, no matter who you are. You can be black, white, Arab, Christian, Muslim – it doesn’t matter.”

I lower my head when I hear him say this, some wash of tears in my heart. I’ve done nothing except be there; listening, giving a shit. That’s all that’s needed. Don’t underestimate your power to be there. It’s amazing how much how little is.

“I used to want to get to England, get my papers and start a normal life,” he continues. “But my experience has changed me. Now I want to get to England, get my papers and – insha’allah – come back to Calais and be an activist.” He smiles. “I want to be a pain in the ass for the Queen.”

We do manage to convince him to join the New Year’s Eve party at Galloo. He’ll be trying to cross the Channel again soon – this time with a life jacket, he promises.

What can we do now?

If you want to go to Calais, then go! Get in touch with Calais Migrant Solidarity on +33 7 53 47 51 59 or with me directly in the comments below. Tents, sleeping bags and shoes are the best things to take over there right now.

BONUS: The Daily Mail Migrant Solidarity Tour!

This is the funniest shit that has ever happened in history. The Daily Mail are kindly offering to support activists going over to Calais to help migrants. I know, right?! Hilarious. If you go to http://dailym.ai/1HnZmkE, you can get a massive discount on return ferry tickets from Dover to Calais – £1 for foot passengers, £15 for a car and four people or £17 for an overnight return for a car and four passengers. Plus you get a free bottle of wine to share with your new migrant friends!

I’m definitely going to take advantage of the immigrant-hating perversity of The Daily Mail before the offer expires on the 1st of February. Give me a shout if you want to join us!

Happy New Year!

Calais Migrant Factgasm: Episode 1

Welcome to the first edition of Calais Migrant Factgasm, in which I quite metaphorically round up every piece of internet about the Calais migrants and incarcerate it in the detention centre of my blog.

Featuring news from the past week and analysis of Eritrean migration vs big business and the lorry driver protest organised for this coming Saturday. Enjoy.


News in Brief

Monday, 15th of September: Ashford motorhome owner Teresa Tyrer discovers Calais migrant underneath vehicle

“He’s now sitting on our lawn having a picnic. He’s not shown any need to get up and walk. You’ve got to feel sorry for him. He’s only young and it’s just a shame they are prepared to do things that are so dangerous.”

Someone gave the migrant a sandwich, before calling the police. This mild act of human compassion caused a certain amount of internet hatred, including this from Lrg8:

Should of had a knuckle sandwich for doing that. GO HOME!! instead of sponging off of us

Home got bombed, honey, and I’m not sure who’s sponging off who, to be honest. Have Britain been “sponging off” Iraqi oil for the past century? Are Britain “sponging off” Eritrean gold mines? Meanwhile, a person calling themselves change says:

“I don’t know if its true but was told that they have been discovered coming in on lorries pretending to be mud flaps.”

Sneaky illegal immigrants coming over here, taking our… Oh wait. It’s a mud flap. Sneaky mud flaps coming over here… (Credit: Trucking Accessories)
Friday night, 19th of September: Egyptian squat on Avenue Blériot attacked by four youths with Molotov cocktails

The Egyptian Squat on Avenue Blériot. (Credit:La Voix du Nord)

One of the squatters got a busted leg. The police tried to catch the youths, but they got away. I think it’s safe to say that these youths were fascists. Like parasites, wherever there are migrants, there are fascists who come to prey on them.

Why? Boredom combined with empathy-erosion, probably. Chucking a Molotov cocktail and then running a car chase with the cops must be pretty exciting. And these youths just can’t see that the problems faced by the migrants are exactly the same as the problems they face: no jobs, no money, boredom and a sense that their life is going nowhere.

Saturday morning, 20th of September: Ten migrants – including a little baby – discovered in the port of Calais, hiding in a lorry bound for the UK

A baby. The baby was taken to hospital, the other nine were taken for questioning, detention and perhaps deportation. A baby.

Who’s to blame? The migrant parents for being so irresponsible? The French authorities for not caring for the innocent? The British authorities for closing the border to the innocent? The world order that creates political situations and conflicts in which ordinary people with families feel they have to flee their homes in order to build a better life for their children? Hmm.

Saturday, 20th of September: Home secretary Theresa May and her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve agree a deal for Britain to give £12,000,000 to help tackle ‘illegal immigration’ from Calais

“This money will be used to construct robust fences and to bolster security at the parking area of the port, which migrants use as a staging post for efforts to cross the Channel.”

Because that will solve the problem of war, poverty and starvation in Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan, won’t it?

Migrants in Calais banned from playing football

Every Sunday for the last two years, migrants and their friends have enjoyed a game of football in a park in Calais. Now, the mayor is going to court to stop them, sending in the police and bailiffs. If I was more of a conspiracy theorist, I’d think this was a Machiavellian move on the part of the mayor. If the migrants don’t take out their frustrations by kicking a ball around a park, then how will they? Riots?

Threat to public safety. No shin pads either. (Credit:La Voix du Nord)
Monday morning, 22nd of September: The Express rounds up more stories of migrants arriving in the UK

“Traffic on the M25 came to a standstill as the 20 people, who are believed to be Ethiopian, got out of a lorry as it was driving between Chertsey and the junction with the M3 in Surrey at about 8.50 this morning.” … “A 35-year-old Sudanese man was found hiding underneath a coach bringing children from Perry Beeches Academy, Birmingham, back from a trip to France.”

Tuesday, 23rd of September: La Voix du Nord reports a “special mission” to Calais

“Two senior officials will be on a special mission to Calais on Wednesday for three days. Appointed in late August by the Minister of the Interior, they have seven months to analyse the situation of migrants in the Calais and propose solutions.”

The mission will be based in Paris. They have seven months to work on this and they’re spending an entire three days in Calais, before squirrelling back to their ivory towers. Baffling.

And, finally…

From Stormfront.org (“Voice of the new embattled White minority!”) comes this comment by natsoci (harmless enough alias, don’t you think?) on an article about the migrants in Calais:

“Take them to the med, push them in, and tell them if they can make it here by swim-power alone then we’ll personally give them the passports.”

If only that were true, I bet thousands would try it. And succeed. Many of these people have already survived torture, bombings, slavery, crossing the Saharan desert, crossing the Mediterranean in sinking ships, four different kinds of Mafia and several Italian and French prison cells. They’re not going to be intimidated by a bit of swimming OR casual fascism on an internet message board.


Newsatrolysis Feature: Eritrean Migration vs Big Business

“We are human beings”: The treatment of immigrants in Calais, France by Petros Tesfagiorgis. Published on the 22nd of September, on Eritrean news network Asmarino.

The irony is while Europeans are complaining of the number of refugees entering Europe, they don’t hesitate to encourage their private companies to do business with the repressive regimes in Africa who are the underlining causes of flight of refugees. The West is gaining far more lucrative profits from the third worlds than they give back in terms of aid and giving sanctuary for refugees.

For example the British Government has encouraged a number of mining companies to invest in Eritrea and a visit was recently led by a British Government official to facilitate contracts. A mining company named London Africa Ltd has recently been granted a license covering over 1500 square kilometres of Eritrea. They have joined companies like Sunridge Gold Corporation and Bisha Mining Shared Co (BMSC). This is a real Gold rush like “El Dorado” in contrast to the asylum seekers desperately seeking safety in European countries.

What is sad is that many of these companies are using forced labour to extract the ore…

Just a brief insight into the nuances of a migration that is usually presented (by government and media) as lazy scroungers running away from their homes to sponge off the beneficent welfare state of Britain. This simplistic narrative conveniently hides our role and the roles of our governments and our government-supported businesses in the creation of these desperate migrations.


The BIG Report: The Lorry-drivers’ Perspective.

Tuesday, 23rd of September, Port of Dover blockade on Saturday to stop illegal migrants entering Kent could be illegal

“Lorry drivers, whose vehicles come under siege by foreign nationals desperate to reach Kent, are being slapped with fines of £2,000 per immigrant found in their vehicles – despite their efforts to stop them stowing away in their trucks.”

That is proper unfair, pushing the blame for the conflicts of the political classes onto a different set of the innocent working class. Divide and rule.

Wednesday, 24th of September, BBC: Lorry driver tells of risks of driving through Calais (Video).

Hmm. Interesting. I can empathise with these lorry drivers, who are just trying to do their jobs without killing anyone or getting fined.

Wednesday, 24th of September, Express and Star: Lorry drivers are being treated as “scapegoats” and penalised unfairly as the illegal migrant crisis worsens.

This features comments from Natalie Chapman, of the Freight Transport Association (FTA):

“It’s about managing EU borders better. A lot of migrants are coming through places like the Italian island of Lampedusa. We need to help those who are dealing with the initial influx of migrants who are coming through the Mediterranean. The Government needs to be protecting the drivers, not penalising them with fines.”

Is it about managing EU borders better? Or is it about addressing the causes of these migrations? But then we might not have such cheap oil, we might not have such cheap consumables and we might not have such pliable markets for our exports. Tricky one.

Protest organised in Dover for 1pm this Saturday (27th of September)

According to the “Support the Calais to Dover truckers” Facebook Group, the reasons to attend the demonstration are:

To stop a driver being injured or worse.
To stop Isis terrorists from re entering this country.
To stop Ebola being transported into this country.
To stop unchecked criminals from entering this country.
To stop rapists and child molester’s into this country.
To stop drivers being fined for clandestines being on their trucks.
To show the government your not happy about uncontrolled immigration.
To show the government your not happy being in the European union and it ruling our country with tin pot human rights laws.

NB: I’ve left the grammar exactly as the original writer intended. I think it’s funnier that way.
NBB: It’s not that funny.

Worth closer inspection…

The Facebook group has been described as having links to far-right groups in the UK and are supported by Sauvons Calais (Save Calais), a French collective notorious for their “war against immigration and pro-migrant associations”. A counter-protest by leftie groups has also been organised… Can’t see this going badly at all, can you? Divide and rule.


* Please note: Although some of this blog post might smell funny, this is NOT a parody. This is happening, here, there and all over the world, right now, a witch’s brew of UK and EU border and foreign policies. It’s really easy to stand in solidarity with other humans, though. Pop over to Calais and see for yourself. They do really good and cheap cheese there too. Win-Win.

Do We Need Borders?

You might have seen some stories in the news recently about illegal immigrants trying to get into the UK. I recently spent some time in Calais, teaching English and generally hanging out with the wannabe immigrants there. I was staying with about sixty people in a squat originally set up by an activist group called No Borders, whose aim, you won’t be surprised to hear, is the dismantling of all national borders.

One migrant, who grew up in London, but is illegal there and had recently been deported, asked me: “What’s with all this No Borders stuff? Why do you bother? It’s obviously not working.”

It’s a good question, until you see that it’s loaded. You might as well ask why the government bothers with borders, because they’re obviously not working either.

A barricade in Calais set up to defend against border police.

Borders aren’t working

Borders aren’t working for the hundreds of people killed every year trying to break into Fortress Europe, fleeing civil conflicts frequently armed by UK arms dealers. They’re not working either for the thousands of lives suspended in the limbo of Calais and places like Calais. These are human lives we have branded illegal and forbidden from working, forbidden from rebuilding their shattered dreams and contributing to their new society. Because, like it or not, these people aren’t going anywhere; they’ve got nowhere to go.

The borders are not working, you could also argue, for the people they are supposedly designed to protect. How are British jobs safeguarded by borders, when a transnational, borderless corporation like Amazon can suck our small businesses into the void, while contributing next to nothing to our society? How are British lives safeguarded by borders, when borderless ideologies – religion, politics – can twist minds and precipitate outrageous acts of violence from within?

In this article, I will ask: Do we even need borders?

The sign leading to the border at the port of Calais.

Why do we have national borders?

National borders really took off after the First and Second World Wars. They evolved to deal with a very specific problem: How can we divide nation states? You need borders.

Before the World Wars, there were only a scattering of recognised nation states – France, the United Kingdom, Germany and so forth – the rest of the world was divided among those nation states according to Empire. While the First World War was essentially the violent collapse of the imperial world order, the Second World War was the battle to decide what system would fill the void – nation states – and where the borders would be drawn.

From the end of the Second World War, for reasons of geopolitical organisation, every corner of the earth had to have a sovereign master, demarcated by borders from its neighbour. New nation states appeared overnight, defined only by lines drawn on a map. Where on earth was Palestine, where Israel? Where was India, where Pakistan? They were all invented and the borders often arbitrarily drawn with indelible marker by fallible administrators thousands of miles away.

My point: National borders were not and are not the “natural” way of breaking up territory. They were arbitrary servants to the invented political idea of the nation state. We only need borders because we have nation states.

The Channel: The final frontier of the Schengen Zone.

What is a nation state?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a nation state is:

An independent political state formed from a people who share a common national identity (historically, culturally, or ethnically).

I’m sure you can already see the problems we might run into if, by any chance, those unlucky administrators happened to draw borders in inauspicious places (i.e. almost anywhere).

To give you a guide of how ludicrous the idea is that a state-sized territory would have this mythical common national identity: at the time of the French revolution only half the population of France spoke any French at all. Some national identity, eh! France has taken hundreds of years to evolve a national identity. It’s too much to go into detail here about whether it was worth it or not.

My point: Nation states are not the “natural” way of organising ourselves politically and the global creation of nation states after the Second World War has been nothing less than catastrophic. If we didn’t have nation states, we wouldn’t need borders.

Activists raise a sign: “We Want Freedom”.

What’s the problem with nation states and their fixed borders?

Basically, if arbitrary borders don’t fit perfectly with mythical national groupings, then we’ve got trouble.

Entire populations were uprooted and marched a thousand miles, as between India and Pakistan, as earlier between Greece and Turkey. In other places, the fall out was not nearly so “civilised” as population exchange. Rwanda, Palestine, Israel, Armenia, Turkey, Iran, Iraq – scarcely a single new nation state survived birth without bloodshed.

You could confidently argue that this calamitous squeezing of round pegs into square borders is the original cause of the continuing civil wars in Sudan, in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya. Even the civil conflicts between privileged and non-privileged – in South Africa, in Brazil, in the United States – could be said to be overspill from the decision that each arbitrary parcel of land shall have a sovereign and centralised supreme government, regardless of history, culture and ethnicity.

“Everything is improbable, nothing is impossible.”

But borders are a good thing!

Borders have been nothing more than an attempt at a solution to a problem of politics. That problem was how best to manage our human affairs in an increasingly connected world – remember that, in a generation, wars went from cavalry charges between aristocrats to atomic weapons dropped by flying machines. That’s a radical shift in the scale of geopolitics and required a radical new way of organising ourselves.

You could argue that borders have been a decent solution to that problem. For many, particularly those in the west, the world has effectively been at peace since the Second World War. A strange thing to say, but I am not completely naïve. Considering how that conflict ended, with the devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, things could be much worse than they are.

But my point remains: There is no natural law that commands we live with borders. For most of human history, we didn’t have or need borders.

“No one is illegal. We are all equal.”

So do we need borders?

In a world where corporations and ideologies are borderless, are national borders, where we can restrict only the movement of people and goods, still the best solution?

I’ll let you make your mind up. Ultimately, whatever your viewpoint, we’re on the same side. This is a race to find a solution to a problem of politics. Perhaps the governments of nation states will find a solution that works for everyone. Or perhaps the solution will come from elsewhere, from groups like No Borders.

But who cares where the solution comes from? The important thing is that we try to find one, because what we have now isn’t working.

A manhole cover announces the presence of No Borders.