Calais : The Occupation at the Port, Gaza border imported to France ? par Mireille Fanon Mendes France et Gary Daly

par Mireille Fanon Mendes France et Gary Daly

June 2016,
Two young Muslim women approach the checkpoint. The heavily armed guard steps in front of their small red car and orders them to halt. He leans in the window and interrogates them at length as the other heavily armed and armoured guards look on, some in amusement, some with contempt. The women produce the appropriate papers. The guard orders them to open the trunk of the small car. Calmly and with admirable patience, one of the women goes to the rear of the vehicle and opens the trunk. The guard places his hand over his holstered Sig-Sauer high-powered handgun as he orders her to pull bags and boxes full of food and fresh fruit out of the trunk. She adjusts her hijab as she struggles to lift all of the laden boxes out and onto the dusty roadway. The hulking guard, bedecked in full body armour watches impassively as she strains to unload the cargo. He rummages through the boxes searching for items arbitrarily banned by the government security apparatus. Seemingly disappointed, he grunts his confirmation that she can continue on her way. Her travelling companion, of even slighter frame, helps to reload the boxes. The guard returns to his semi horizontal slouch at the armoured vehicle, his military issue sunglasses glinting in the sunshine.

©Mireille Fanon Mendes France

One could be forgiven for assuming this story describes an incident at a Gaza border crossing, Rafah or Erez perhaps. The degrading treatment meted out to civilians at these checkpoints has been well documented by, amongst many others, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (https://palsolidarity.org/2009/08/pchr-condemns-harassment-of-palestinian-civilians-at-military-checkpoints/ and the International Solidarity Movement https://palsolidarity.org/2016/08/increased-israeli-military-harassment-in-the-souq/ Arbitrary bans on imports into Gaza are regularly imposed including, remarkably, pasta and other foodstuffs. Massive securitisation around Gaza is a fact of life for the Palestinians living there. One would, however, be incorrect in the assumption that this was another Gaza story taking its place in line. This incident in fact occurred before our eyes at the entrance to “the Jungle” refugee camp in Northwest France. The guards are from the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS), the French Riot Control Forces of the French National Police. The CRS has been investigated by the criminal court at Boulogne-sur-Mer in respect of its use of violence on “migrants” (http://m.lavoixdunord.fr/region/calais-le-crs-poursuivi-pour-violences-policieres-sur-ia33b48581n3540382 ). There is a ring of securitised steel around the camp. The use by the CRS of teargas and rubber bullets on residents of the camp has been documented by France 24 and by the Calais Migrant Solidarity group “No Borders” as well as main stream media (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/13/police-civilian-militias-attacked-migrants-calais-charity). Incidents of beatings by the CRS of unaccompanied minors living in the camp (estimated at around 800 at the end of August 2016 by Help Refugees – a volunteer organisation) have been relayed to volunteer youth workers and lawyers at the camp
(http://www.statewatch.org/news/2016/aug/bhrc-calais-report-1-08-16.pdf). Some youths have reported their footwear being forcibly removed, the soles of their feet beaten and having to walk back to the camp on bruised, swollen, bare feet. Respiratory problems as a result of inhalation of teargas are commonplace.

©Mireille Fanon Mendes France

Calais stands 21 kilometres from Dover, on the south coast of the United Kingdom. Asylum seekers travelling through Europe from Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and other war-torn places to claim asylum in the UK have gathered at the north-western French port towns of Calais and Dunkirk whilst attempting to traverse the final leg of their perilous journey across the English Channel. Many have family or friends in the UK and speak English as a second language. The response of the French government to the presence of asylum seekers on their northern frontier has been to enter into the “Le Touquet” agreement with Britain which allows British border authorities to carry out immigration checks on French soil, particularly at Calais. (French politicians – such as Nicolas Sarkozy, [calling on the government to] “carry out their side of the agreement”, Alain Juppé, (both running for the 2017 presidential election) and Xavier Bertrand (see Le Monde, 30 August 2016, page 12) - are now calling for the ending of this arrangement in the wake of Brexit which would put the frontier of UK immigration control back on British soil). The British government have paid at least £80 million (sterling) to the French government to bolster security controls around the camp in Calais and around the nearby ferry port. 22 kilometres of security fencing, barbed and razor wire, blocked-off motorway exit ramps – all evidence of the callous, military-type response to a humanitarian crisis – all redolent of the militarised ring of steel around the Gaza Strip.

One wonders what could have been achieved by responding to this crisis in a positive way with millions of pounds seemingly available. In November 2015, the French Council of State ordered the French government to “begin in one week installing more water taps, toilets and rubbish collection services, to clean the site and to allow access for emergency services” and described conditions in the camp as “inhuman and degrading”. In receipt of millions of aid from a foreign government, the French state stood convicted of subjecting the camp population (the current population stands at approximately 7,000 including many hundreds of unaccompanied minors) to inhumane treatment. Clearly, the response of both the French and the British governments has been to “send in the Gurkhas” as was the call of the police and crime commission of Surrey. Nigel Farage, prior to his latest resignation, called for the British Army to be sent in to Calais “to deal with” the “problem”.

Having met and talked with many of the asylum seekers in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk, the reasons for their displacement from home are tragic and unavoidable. Ordinary human beings forced to act in extraordinary ways to try and make a new life for themselves whilst fleeing unimaginable horrors at home. Young children with dreams only of a safe and dry bed to sleep in and three meals a day.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/29/they-are-falling-apart-the-fate-of-lone-children-in-calais-refugee-camp. In the Calais camp, they run the gamut of rats scurrying, food shortages, gangs of fascist thugs and violent security forces. This is no way for children to be treated in a first world country. Social workers in the camp regularly complain of French police disdain and indifference when reporting children disappearing from the camps or violence and exploitation against them. Despite official denials to the contrary, it is reported that French police now refuse to investigate the disappearance of refugee children. It has been estimated that there are 10,000 refugee children missing across Europe. One shudders to contemplate where or in what circumstances these children have found themselves.

What makes states act towards those in the greatest precarity with such inhumanity ? Israel stands condemned internationally for its brutality towards the Palestinian people. The inhumanity inflicted upon the residents of Gaza is beyond imagining. The UN reported that Gaza may be uninhabitable by 2020
(http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51770#.V63ALTf6vcs). This is a damning indictment of the odious actions of the government and security forces of the Israeli state with the complicity of the International community. The French government must surely now face similar reproach. The conditions in the camp in Calais and in other camps across the continent are a damning indictment of the response of Fortress Europe to the “refugee crisis”. The odious and repugnant EU Turkey deal is being challenged before the European Court of Justice (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/13/refugees-sue-eu-over-turkey-deal/).

Most disappointingly, the British government successfully appealed the decision in the ZAT case in relation to Britain’s obligations to minors in the camp in Calais (http://www.citizensuk.org/court_of_appeal). This despite the vague but encouraging commitment of the British state to assist unaccompanied minors. Lord Alfred Dubs, who pushed through the proposal, has condemned the British government, now led by former Home Secretary Theresa May, for failing to follow up on its commitment. (http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-36756693 )

Aggressions such as those meted out to the two young Muslim women before our very eyes occur on a daily basis in The Jungle. Despite this life goes on in the camp. Daily living is carried on with a stoicism and philosophy of life which is salutary. The courage of the men, women and children of The Jungle proves that Existence is Resistance.

The fight against peoples who resist against the illegal occupation of their land gives rise to violent responses that violate the right to resist that occupation and to end all forms of colonialism. This reaction against people eager to see their rights recognised and applied, unconditionally, is the symptom of States fed with imperialist ideology and the notion that there is, in this world, people with them and others against them.

The manner in which people, fleeing the endless wars and the economic crisis that the imperialist system imposed on them, are perceived is equivalent to the perception of the Israeli state of Palestinians.

Migrants and Palestinians have the fact that they are both perceived as “the other” or the enemy in common ; some because they are challenging, by their need for a life without violence, the basis of the capitalist system oriented by the financialiation of life ; others because they demand that all the peremptory norms of international law be respected and applied and an end to the institutionalisation of impunity. On the other hand those occupying betray their international obligations and responsibilities because they claim to be the last defence against the ensauvagement of the democratic countries.

©Mireille Fanon Mendes France

The Gaza Strip is denounced as an enormous open air prison, Calais, the space where migrants and refugees have gathered is becoming, as a result of xenophobic policies implemented by the French and European governments, a new open air prison.

Whether it is the European states or that of Israel with its cohort of allies, all manufacture and designate enemies. The aim is to establish a dynamic of murderer sociocide in Palestine and a refoulement policy, just as murderous, against migrants fleeing wars in their countries imported by the very people or with the help of those who today refuse to welcome/accept them.
Whether in Gaza, in Calais or in Greece, the conclusion is clear : the West will come to ruin through its desperate attempt to secure its own survival. Thus, it promotes the production of weapons that will eventually turn against it.

Whether in Gaza, in West Bank, in Calais, or in Greece, the Western State, moribund and insular, should act swiftly to change its strategy of ensuring its financial and military domination over others.

Western States should also thank the many volunteers working in illegally occupied Palestine or with migrants in the many camps in Europe. Through them, they recover a little humanity of which they are currently devoid.

Above all the Western World should be ashamed that its so-called “first world status” means nothing (and certainly not a descriptor of enlightenment or humanity) in light of the treatment of those who need the greatest help. As children drown in the Mediterranean, the closed-border and militarised response of the EU has been one which will render future generations aghast. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights lies in tatters on the floors of national Parliaments eager to restrict their obligations under these post WWII achievements. Do the great legalistic and human rights achievements of post-war Europe now apply only to those with white skin ? For shame. For shame.