An attack on “the Jungle”
EVERY VILE, unpleasant and insulting epithet which has been hurled at the police around the world was thoroughly earned by the gendarmerie in Calais last week.
It started on Monday, when they came with bulldozers to flatten tents which had been erected just outside of the main entrance to the camp. The reason tents had been put there was because the camp is so full that there was no more room inside the perimeter.
Pleas from volunteers at the camp for the police to allow people to gather their belongings went unheeded, and the destruction began. Passports and papers were lost, along with treasured photographs of families and friends.
Later in the week, I took two British lawyers to the camp for them to see, firsthand, the conditions and to hear stories. Charlotte, a barrister had recently been to see refugees in Budapest.
Sonal, a solicitor, and Charlotte were the legal team that successfully took the UK government to court over the issue of fast-track deportations. The court decided that a failed asylum seeker has the right to pursue an appeal in the UK before deportation, and not be deported and appeal from whatever country to which they have been deported (which, in many cases, is impossible). They told me that it took about three years for the case to come to court, such is the slow nature of these things.
They are now looking into the legality, or not, of the policy of holding people in camps, like this one, before allowing a claim to asylum, rather than being allowed into Britain and then claiming.
WHEN WE arrived, it was difficult to access "the Jungle" because the police had blocked many roads with cones and vans. Because of this, and partly to emphasize the problems that refugees have in getting around, we left our car in the center of the town and walked almost five miles to the Jungle.
Just as we arrived, the heavens opened, and we were called under the awning of a tent where "Médecins du Monde" (Doctors of the World) was running a clinic. We were struck by the friendly openness of the camp residents and the fact that shelter from the rain was all they had to share with us.
We spoke to several and shook hands in passing with several more. We also spoke with volunteers from many different parts of the UK and heard how they have been working and helping.
We were also invited into a large marquee tent which was being used as a sort of Islamic meeting place. I had a long chat with an extremely friendly (and extremely tall) Sudanese man called Hannibal, who spoke very good English.
We met a Syrian woman who now lives in the U.S., whose son was in the camp. He is a doctor and did not want asylum in Britain. He has been served with a notice to vacate France within 30 days. The woman is beside herself with worry about him.
Then, two "residents" of the camp with scarves over their faces, Black Bloc anarchist-style, began verbally abusing the police. This disturbance attracted the attention of many residents, who are bored stiff with life and will look at anything out of the ordinary as a way of spicing up their lives.
The police pushed the two away, and this sparked shouting from the assembled crowd. The police then attacked the crowd. Bizarrely, the cops were wearing the sort of white suits that forensic teams wear when combing a crime scene for clues.
Several of the volunteers and some of the residents--in particular, a Syrian man--calmed things down. The two "anarchists" would not make direct eye contact with Claire Mosley, a volunteer who has been living at the camp, and sat down talking in low voices.
Suddenly, a police helicopter appeared overhead, and this was a signal for the two to start stirring things again and throwing rocks and stones at the police. The cops responded by pulling down the visors on their crash helmets, putting up their riot shields, disposing of the white suits and charging the crowd, while firing rubber bullets as a dispersal method.
The main recipient of a rubber bullet was the Syrian man who had calmed things previously. He was hit in the stomach, and doubled up. On inspection, there was much bruising where he had been hit, and also some blood.
Although there is no proof of this, it is almost certain that the two "anarchists" were, in fact, police agent provocateurs.
We walked the five miles back to my car.
Am I angry? Damn right I am.
First published at the rs21 website.