Refugees in Calais find shelter where they can, in spaces left abandoned or neglected by French citizens. Some sleep in the park or under the canal bridges. Most live in one of two kinds of dwellings: (a) squats in deserted buildings, of which there are many in the post-industrial landscape of the town; and (b) the ‘jungles’ or camps made up of tents and makeshift shelters on disused sites and wasteland, usually around the outskirts of the town.
These settlements are not just shelters, but homes. Here people sleep; eat; sit and drink coffee around the fire; play cards; read and study; listen to and play music; dance; wash their clothes; welcome newcomers and visitors; and share food, water, tobacco, conversation, and each others’ company. But this life is under constant threat. Police raid the squats and jungles every day and night. A particular settlement may be left alone for two or three days, but never for long. Or it may be targeted with repeated visits, and attacked multiple times in one night.
These raids raise a number of questions as to their legality. Under French law, the police normally require permission from the owner and/or occupants in order to enter a property, or, failing this, a warrant from the court. CMS activists have witnessed and documented quite literally hundreds of police raids in Calais. We believe that the vast majority of these may have been carried out without authority.
Besides arresting people, when police officers raid they frequently slash or flatten tents; smash windows; throw away or contaminate water; spray bedding with CS gas; and generally destroy or take peoples’ personal belongings. This is an everyday reality. During bigger raids, council workers accompany the police to demolish buildings; confiscate tents and belongings in trucks; and/or spray disinfectant and other chemicals, on possessions, including on bedding.
In particularly nasty incidents, activists have returned to Africa House following major raids to find that bedding had been damaged and urinated on, and that walls had been daubed with what appears to be Neo-Nazi graffiti. We have also witnessed damage to Muslim prayer spaces and the desecration of holy books, including a Tigrinyan Bible, and the Koran.
Along with beatings, arrests and identity checks in the street, these raids contribute to a constant state of fear for refugees in Calais. This in itself has obvious effects on peoples’ mental health and well-being. Yet raids further undermine bodily and mental health by making it impossible to create stable and hygienic living conditions. For example, since cooking utensils as well as food supplies are regularly stolen or destroyed, it becomes near impossible for migrants to feed themselves adequately.
Finally, to add to the pressure, police employ what can only be described as tactics of psychological warfare, such as repeated nightime visits with sirens, bright torches and loud music.
Full document compiled by Calais Migrant Solidarity of the No Borders network, documenting police violence from June 2009 to June 2011 can be found here
More of Julie’s work here