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As tensions escalate between migrants and the authorities in Calais, the right-wing mayor Natasha Bouchart has made some surprising announcements: demanding a new reception centre for 400 vulnerable people and a day centre for migrants from central government.

Shelter and basic living conditions are demands that have been made persistently by activists and associations, such as Calais Migrant Solidarity, who've frequently taken to the streets with migrants to protest the continuous destruction of living spaces of homeless people.

SchNEWS spoke to a CMS activist to dig deeper into the recent announcements, and also hear some positive developments in the burgeoning migrant-led political movement in Calais.

“Bouchart is being deliberately vague about what this space is going to be...,” we're told first. “It's the same as everything in Calais, you try to figure out the intentions of the government and you can't. It's more control, a more sophisticated way of trying to make people leave.”

A recent meeting between migrant associations and the authorities bore out this assumption. Far from a nicey-nice move to a more humane reception for exiles, the municipality reiterated that alongside the centre there will be stiffer punishments for undocumented people, (even) tighter security at the port, and more pushes to deport migrants to their countries of origin. Not surprising, then, that the migrant community reacted to the news with deep suspicion. Bouchart is also totally lacking in support from the Ministry of the Interior for the plans. 


A different kind of 'R&R'

It is still, however, a major about-turn for the authorities, who have been pursuing a de facto policy of repeated destruction of living spaces, camps and squats in attempts to run the poor and dispossessed out of the town. The previous refugee centre at Sangatte was forced to shut down after claims from UK politicians it was acting as a migrant magnet.

So why 'reception' alongside repression? “On some level they recognised that the straight oppression and just trying to make big evictions and big police actions isn't working,” explains our source. “Ideologically I think they still want to do that, but on a practical level they realise what No Borders have been saying for four years: That they can't just make this problem disappear.”

Recent history – along with every major police action in the town since the 2000s – demonstrates the point. The big evictions of squatted spaces and encampments earlier this summer, during which the state summarily rounded up, imprisoned and deported 600 people, resulted in most of the people returning within three or four days.

As far as strategies go, it’s hardly sophisticated. At the same time as the failed attempt to clear homeless people from Calais, the numbers of migrants are reaching levels not seen since the bulldozing of the jungles in 2009. Estimates put the current number at around 1300-1500. The norm is in the region of 500 people.

For such an ineffective and inhumane policy, it's also unsustainable and expensive – drawing opposition from all sides of the political spectrum. The municipality must be looking for ways to reduce their massive spending on policing migrants. Take the manpower, for example: Having four units of French national riot police stationed in Calais looking for migrants to beat, gas and detain is a huge drain on resources.

Could the concerted No Borders squatting actions of the last few months have also had an impact on the policy making? “I think it's had an influence but I have no idea to what extent. That must be a consideration,” says our activist. “They made a big deal about the eviction of the occupied Salam [food distribution area], so we took the factory. They're probably thinking 'Shit’. We take a factory, stress out the police, make them spend more money, get more bad press for Calais - 'What are No Borders going to do next?' - I'm sure that’s a factor.”


And now for the good news...

Squatting actions aren't the only political activity going on in Calais. Activists from the Berlin Refugee Strike – the militant refugee movement fighting for rights in Germany – have held meetings in Calais and established links. In Calais itself, a march 100 per cent migrant-organised on 'Human Rights and Opening the Border' took place in at the end of August.

The politicisation of migrants may be an unintended consequence of the hardening of the UK-France border, which has left many hundreds of people in Calais for far longer than expected: “More people are saying 'Fuck this, I can't cross and I need to protest and get on the streets'”. It's also helped by the involvement of people who were political activists in their home countries: “It's fantastic. They really know what they're doing, how to build momentum.”


Fort Gal-Who?

The occupation by migrants and solidarity activists of an empty metal recycling plant is still going strong, with the enormous communal space nicknamed Fort Galou. Eviction – bound to be a big police operation – could still happen at any time. For now, though, occupants are busy with English and French classes, asylum workshops, film screenings, games of football and frisbee, bike workshops, communal cooking and the usual humanitarian distributions via a free shop.

The self-organised space hinges on regular big meetings of all users and the modicum of stability it provides has helped with the new wave of political organising.

Calais Migrant Solidarity need, as ever, as many eager boots on the ground as possible, particularly now with the demands of helping run such a project.


To find out more, and get involved, see http://calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com/

Stories about similar subjects...

Pro Patria (For Fatherland), a new far-right group with seasoned members, raise their ugly head in the Netherlands with a demonstration announced for the 20th September in the Hague.

Mass squatting action in metal recycling plant pulled off in style, after brutal policing leaves hundreds of undocumented people without shelter.

Immigration rights activists descend on Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres to bring a message of solidarity and resistance.

The US and the EU are negotiating a new trade agreement – TTIP – which amounts to the biggest transfer of power to corporations seen in recent years.

Amsterdam squat evicted in gentrification battle.

Mass evictions of migrants in progress now

We started writing about three interesting but unrelated things happening in June. Here is an amalgamated version, which is worth a read.

Re-occupation of the Hambach Forest, near Cologne in Germany, where activists occupy and fight the expansion of opencast mining.

Twitter: @SchNEWS