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Anarchist texts on the Calais Jungle

Posted: December 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Broadsheets | 1 Comment »

Although by now the Jungle of Calais has been destroyed, these two texts by Paris Sous Tension are still very relevant for understanding the situation of migrants in France today from an anarchist perspective. Many of the migrants were moved from the Jungle to various detention or housing centres, but all of those spaces are temporary and they will soon be back with the others in the camps that appeared or grew following the Calais eviction. In November, several thousand people were evicted from the Stalingrad neighbhourhood of Paris, where a camp had grown on the grassy medians of busy commercial streets. With right-wing politics ascendant here in the lead-up to presidential election in the spring, it is likely that the attitude of the state towards the migrants will harden and that the two strategies described in these articles, repression and management, will take on an increasingly violent character. 

“I don’t want to go there. That camp is a prison, a sneaky way of imprisoning us.”
from Paris Sous Tension, January 2016

In Calais, the year 2016 begins in the same way the previous ended: by further repressive measures against the undersireables (undocumented people, outlaws, rebels…), by declarations of war against them by the government and its police. All with the explicit support of the most despicable segment of the population, those who have turned to xenophobia to soothe their miserable existence and who rejoice to see the government — who, in their opinion, never does enough —  go all out and resort to drastic measures. Those who, when things get serious, always line up behind the state and demand as the price of their passive adherence that the order be restored. Their only concern is to preserve their small comforts, their precious bank balance, their precious car and daily routine, their precious space of mental peace that all allows them to live their lives without paying attention to the world around them.

Like many places around the world, people have been flocking to Calais for years now in hopes of crossing to England, crossing a border that is closed to them because they don’t have the required documents, because they don’t meet the legal requirements , because they don’t have a degree or a resume to help them sell themselves on the labour market, or rather because keeping this cheap labour pool living day to day and in fear is a good way to domesticate them and keep them readily exploitable. For years, these people have been organizing among themselves for survival, in hopes of managing to slip across the border illegally, of overcoming the many obstacles that separate one bit of territory from another for those who are seen as undesireable by the state and the market. And as is often the case in hostile situations, there is strength in numbers and so they’ve come here by the thousands (between 4500 and 6000 [1]) in an informal camp in an area now known as “the Jungle”. The cops, who used to simply destroy cabins and tents back when they were isolated from each other, don’t dare to enter “the Jungle” to evict the inhabitants. And these inhabitants, no longer being chased off every few days, are now able to organize themselves in small groups to sneak into cargo trucks in order to enter the tunnel under the English channel or to enter the port.

And so we see in the past few months that companies like Eurotunnel and the SNCF rail network have restricted access to the tunnel and drastically increased security — the former by hiring a hundred dog handlers and the latter by erecting barriers along the roadways that are several metres tall and topped with barbed wire. As for the cops, more numerous and recently equipped with drones, they are happy to take advantage of a decree (a gift for the cops as part of the state of emergency) allowing them to stop any pedestrian on the road leading to the port and to pass them on to their friends, the judges, who can then condemn them to six months in prison. Oh joy, proclaim the the president of the region (who is calling for the support of the army to main-tain or-der!), the mayor of Calais, and the police chief  as they demand the deportation or imprisonment of every migrant found guilty of: trespassing around the port or near the Eurotunnel (which is necessary, considering the absence of a space-time portal to cross the border); conflict with the police (which has become necessary in order to access the sites in question, in addition to its general value); vandalism; or “by-law violations” (healthy reactions in the face of frustration, disappointment, anger, despair, rage…). It’s a way of oiling the judicial meat grinder, to wave the cleaver of prison or expulsion (which means, at the very least, starting again) over the heads of those migrants who don’t act the way the bureaucrats, functionaries, judges, and politicians expect: as victims.

Governments of all stripes dream of order and pacification, but this isn’t in the cards for the near future. As proof, on December 17, about a thousand people set out along the highway towards the tunnel. With Christmas approaching and big traffic jams all around the commercial centres, they figured there would be more chances to sneak onto a truck. But the police didn’t agree, which lead to hours of confrontation. Same thing on December 25, 2500 people passed through the centre of Calais to reach the tunnel under the channel, but the police pushed them back. On their return trip, cars payed the price of their frustration and rage: rear view mirrors and windshields smashed, wipers bent back. A few uniformed goons were hurt. In these dark days, the blindest hatred meets the pettiest arrogance and cowardly submission prospers in the absence of any broader hope for a radically different life. We didn’t have to wait long to hear the half self-interested, half indignant grumbles and squeals of the peaceful and hardworking population as they lined up on the side of order.

Parents complained… The children in a nearby kindergarten had a bad reaction to a gust of the tear gas that was massively deployed by the forces of order: the migrants are dangerous, our children’s eyes are still burning.

Business owners complained… And with Christmas coming, this is a catastrophe: people don’t dare to do their shopping in the area and their commutes take eight times as long: the migrants don’t respect our traditions, Christmas shopping is sacred!

The locals complained… migrants broke down the fences of our private gardens to pass through, the children are terrified: the migrants are threatening, what if one of them broke into our house one day to eat our children?

The port workers complained… Putting the shelter around which “the Jungle” spread (and where 4500 people still live) in our community, was a disaster. There are 7500 fewer trucks passing through now than in September: the migrants are costly, they’re driving down our profits.

Drivers complained: “It’s the first time I’ve had my rearview windows broken, and on Christmas day, what a shock!” “My roof is all dented, those maniacs attacked it with sticks. Such violence, what kind of world are we living in!”

“Calais’ fed up” is a loosely composed group of mostly security guards who patrol the area around “the Jungle” every night from 8:30 to 5am and keep watch on the bypass and to signal if any migrants are headed for the tunnel. And they complained too… the population of Calais still hasn’t joined them to fight the migrants.

The truck drivers complained… 36 million euros lost because of traffic jams and searches for migrants, according to a company owner who said, “the political discussion always treats Calais as a humanitarian question, without taking into account the economic considerations”: the twenty migrants who have died in the region since the start of June while trying to reach England didn’t whine about their profits, and neither do those who are still alive.

Unable to maintain order in Calais in the face of people who won’t give up on their route — into an exile that most were forced into by their living conditions — towards their destination of choice, England, the State has opted these past months to simply try to manage the disorder. Over two months, 1800 people arrested in Calais were sent (by way of the Marck airport) to detention centres [1], prisons for migrants, scattered throughout France (Nîmes, Vincennes, Marseille, Toulouse, Rouen) with the goal of isolating them and discouraging them from returning.

Recently though, the state has been giving itself new powers to pursue an objective central to its existence and vital for its legitimacy: impose order in Calais — that this will be by force goes without saying. Let there be a hunt for “migrants” then: we hear this in the repeated requests by the regional president for the army to intervene. We hear it in the arrival of an armoured vehicle used by the gendarmerie in extreme situations for quelling large, hostile crowds (it was used in November 2005 when a section of the territory was ablaze for several weeks)[3], or in the massive use of tear gas within the camp, targeting all its inhabitants indiscriminately.

In this light, opening a camp in the heart of the “jungle” is the backbone of the government’s project, a project that should be terrifying for anyone not yet deaf to human suffering, not yet numb to the cold negation of an individual existence in the name of some greater good, or who is  deeply convinced that it’s impossible for everyone to live freely in a world based on authority.  This camp entered into operation on Monday, January 11. 125 prefabricated containers 12 metres long stacked one atop the other. Six bunk beds and twelve spaces per container, which makes 2.33m per person, without showers or kitchen. 1500 places in total, fully fenced and equipped with surveillance cameras and biometric ID checks at the entrance. After two months of propaganda in “the Jungle”, only 114 people, called “volunteers” (it’s clear that such a choice isn’t really voluntary, but is rather based on the calculations required to survive) accepted to move in once the work was done. Here’s what we can expect next: internment in the camp by means of coercion for some of the migrants of “the Jungle” along with the identification and registration that entails, and the forced displacement of the others, with some sent to detention centres (the employees of the association “La Vie Active”  that manages the camp, with the help of Secours Catholique, Salam, l’Auberge des Migrants and Act’Aid, have already began convincing more than 500 inhabitants of “the Jungle” to leave). Because the state’s goal is to take full control of the area, to catch as many of the present and future inhabitants in its nets (nets whose mesh is made up of the police, bureaucracies like OFPRA [4], and humanitarian groups at different times), and to completely close the border with England, they need to destroy “the Jungle”, a space where it’s still possible to find ways to survive and organize autonomously together.

Some good news reached our ears as we worked on this piece, good news for everyone who hopes to see borders destroyed and who remembers that it’s still possible to act. On the night of the 15-16 of January, two construction vehicles were burned near the camp. These machines belonged to the company Sogea, tasked with installing the containers. A piece of good news that reminds us: whoever wants to struggle will find the means. In Calais as elsewhere.

Out of Sight Out of Mind?
from Paris Sous Tension October 2016

As we write these lines, a major policing operation is about to be launched in Calais. This operation intends to expel all of the people living in the area called The Jungle, where some 7000 people still enjoy a degree of autonomy and relations of mutual aid to deal with precarity and to organize to cross the border. They are scheduled to be spread all throughout France, some to “welcome centres”, some to detention centres, according to various legal and administrative considerations and in order to to take away any hope they had of making it to the end of their journey. A bit like how garbage is sorted.

Calais, an obligatory stop for millions of people who, under pressure, out of necessity, or by choice, left the places they had lived and still cling to their wish of reaching England.
Calais, where a little over a year ago, Eurotunnel put up thirty kilometers of metal barriers, several rows deeps, sometimes topped with barbed wire and reinforced with cameras, infrared surveillance, electric fences, guard dogs. This was done to reduce the burden on the police for preventing access to the Eurotunnel and the port, because they had sometimes been abundantly mistreated during clashes, when those whose lives they are supposed to make impossible brought to bear against them all their anger, mutual aid, and will to bypass or break down any obstacle.
Calais, where last year Eurotunnel cut down all the trees that bordered the train tracks, firstly to clear the area for video surveillance and secondly to cause flooding, so that the risk of drowning destroys all hope of crossing [5].
Calais, where last January, the state ordered the construction of a container camp to store, under thread of imminent expulsion, a chosen number of people, under the strict surveillance of a humanitarian association (Vie Active) and a system of taking palm prints to enter (built by a business in the region).
Calais, where, like in the streets of Paris and elsewhere, arrests, incarceration in detention centres and forced expulsions are counted by the thousand.

Calais, where the disgrace is laid bare.
Calais, where the arbitrariness of the power that controls our lives, and most violently those of the undesireables, cannot be denied.
Calais, where it is shown openly that the transportation of merchandise and the circulation of trains have priority over the existence of flesh and blood beings.
Calais, where that which rules everywhere is manifest.

And so we focus on Calais, where the construction and consolidation of visible borders continues: in mid-October, the first cement slabs, four metres high, were set in place to build a wall between the Jungle and the port, which is one of the final chances for crossing, because of the thousands of trucks that pass each day. This is a new measure as part of a larger project to control the human livestock and to repress those who refuse to submit. It’s a monstrously rational project, thought out, elaborated, discussed, adapted, negotiated, and decided clearly and in cold-blood by institutional representatives, high-ranking politicians, advisers, senior police officers and administrators, lawyers and judges, experts, entrepreneurs, and sub-contractors. It is a project that generates huge sums of money, enough to interest a whole load of companies: Eurovia-Vinci, in charge of building the wall; Sogea, an affiliate of Vinci responsible for destroying the southern section of the Jungle and for building the container camp; the NGO ACTED, subsidized by the state to collaborate with the border police to organize the eviction; and Manitou, Salit, and Kiloutou that rent construction equipment. It is a project not restricted to Calais and the surrounding area — the national railway company, the SNCF, has its share of responsibility, notably by increasing ticket checks that target undocumented people in the Calais Fréthun station, Paris’ North Station, and in Lille. The SNCF also collaborates in deportations to Italy from the Roya valley during its daily ticket checks carried out by soldiers and police in the trains and on the platforms. Also responsible, Thalès has organized a complex system of surveillance around the Calais port and produced the two military drones that surveil the Eurotunnel; they like to brag about being one of the global leaders in the border surveillance market.

Confronted with those come from elsewhere without permission and with nowhere to stay, the state sees only two options: incarceration in detention centres (and the new version it tried out this summer, house arrest with a requirement to sign-in each day at the police station) and rigid management, by means of requests for asylum, “rerouting” (meaning to send by force) to other European countries, and places in centres. But even if the state succeeds in locking up bodies, it can’t annihilate hearts and minds, as the fire set by the inmates themselves that destroyed a large part of the Vincennes detention centre in early July and the constant escape attempts show. As for the measures of control, in spite of the despicable attempts by community groups and humanitarian organizations to build acceptance for them, those in the Jungle reject them in full consciousness of the reason why. It seems that the state,  in the absence of  the participation of those who they seek to make docile and obedient, will need to use force and violence to impose its will, revealing shamelessly once again its true face: authority.

If there exists something deeply rooted in human beings across space and time, it’s the ability to refuse the fate that is set for us, for oneself and those around us, to refuse to submit to external pressure. Its the unflinching will to defy the powers that confine us to a determined path. This is where revolt draws its strength. And by finding the means, its always possible to throw a bit of their responsibility back in the faces of the enemies of freedom.

May the hand attack that which the heart reviles.


1) This article was published in January 2016. By the time of the big evictions in November 2016, the estimates were that at least 10 000 people were living in The Jungle
2) The French expression is “centre de rétention”, or “retention centres” and the phrase “centre de détention”, detention centres, refers to a part of the regular (non-migrant) prison system. Since in at least the part of the anglo world I’m from, migrant holding centres are usually called “detention centres” and immigration detainees are routinely held in regular prisons, I’ve used the term detention centre here. But I want to be clear that this is separate from the regular prison system.
3) Often referred to in English as the 2005 banlieue riots, this month-long wave of urban rioting in November 2005 mostly by youth in the marginalized and poor suburbs of France’s big cities is an important symbol of the deep social divides in French society
4) French state apparatus for the “protection” of refugees and stateless people
5) The reference to drowning here is a bit unclear. Some news articles about the cut trees refer to the risk of landslide, so we can assume there might be a risk of death during landslides caused by heavy rains

One Comment on “Anarchist texts on the Calais Jungle”

  1. 1 ann arky said at 10:47 on December 15th, 2016:

    An excellent and relevant article