On the 5th September Calais residents blocked a local highway calling for the closure of the Calais camp, known as the Calais Jungle, in a demonstration that was approved by the interior minister. Jump forward one month to the migrant solidarity demonstration on the 1st October, and a blanket ban was placed on all demonstrations linked to all migrant issues.
In contrast to the demonstration organised by local residents, the ban, implemented by the municipal government of Pas-de-Calais, citing risks of disturbance to the public order, only highlighted the failure of the French authorities to recognize the rights of those living within the Calais camp. Despite the ban, the demonstration went ahead anyway because that's what people do when their voice is ignored; they protest.
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 to close the camp, just weeks before winter, leaving its residents feeling abandoned, forgotten and without hope.
On the morning of Saturday the 1st October, riot police in full body armour, with shields and batons, lined the streets before the rally had even begun. It created a stark contrast to the crowd of demonstrators, some of whom didn't even have shoes on their feet, and it set the tone for the day's events. It wasn't hard for riot police to provoke the reaction that was ‘wanted’ and the following day some news outlets painted a very one sided picture of the demonstration referring to demonstrators as ‘angry mob’, ‘angry activists’ and ‘rioting migrants’. However my own experience meeting people in the camp tells a different story.
When you walk among the rows of tents people will smile and invite you into their homes for chai. They will tell you where they have travelled from and show you pictures of the friends and families with whom they have been separated. They are fathers and mothers, separated from their families and they are children, without parents. They are students, teachers, engineers and doctors and any other vocation you can think of. They are young men and women who just want to go back to work or to study and who spend their days learning English and French in the hope that this will give them a better chance of doing so. There is an entrepreneurial spirit within the camp and the residents have built a makeshift community of restaurants, churches, mosques, schools, barbers and cafes. Just a few weeks before winter kicks in, they have been told that they must leave.
According to some reports, French CRS riot police used a colossal 700 rounds of tear gas within three hours, in an attempt to put an end to the demonstration. Rounds were recklessly fired into the camp, with police unaware, or perhaps unconcerned, that rounds were landing in an area designated as a safe-haven for the unaccompanied minors.
Many people in the camp have already been uprooted by war and conflict and forced to flee their homes, and so there is a bitter irony that they are met with yet more violence. The constant clashes outside the Calais camp have become symbolic of the international community's failure to protect the rights and freedoms of refugees and migrants across Europe. When you deny people the right to protest about the way they are being treated, you leave them with no other choice but to protest. When you quell such a protest with violence and brute force, you deny people their rights as human beings.