With periods more or less under tensions, with some priorities that can vary, repression of solidarity has become a permanent thing in the landscape of Calais.
In 1999, before the opening of the center of Sangatte, with the increase of numbers of migrants and the hardening of British politicies concerning migrations, the French autorities are hesitating on how to act. Unpermanent shelters are opened and then closed, at the same time police is hunting migrants and the prefecture put pressure on associations. Then in July the sub-prefect is threatening associations of criminal proceedings if they continue to distribute food and give some help to migrants who are sleeping rough in the park St-Pierre, in the city center. But this is from the end of 2002, at the closure of the center of Sangatte, that criminal proceedings are used as a tool or repression and intimidation.
Those legal proceedings are responding to different objectives.
They participate to a different way to look at the problematic. In this point of view, the situation would not be related to borders and freedom of movement ; migrants would just come to Calais because there is next to it a shelter center in Sangatte. That’s why the autorities decide to close the center and destroy the shed. In this same logic, solidarity actions are designed like the cause of the presence of migrants. This rhetoric is coming back all the time since the destruction of the slum with ”points of fixation” (this is the term autorities use to designate the actions of associations like showers and food distribution) that we need to erase to get rid of migrants. The prosecution of the actions of volunteers and activists, guilty of this situation that has to stop, is participating to this same logic.
It’s also important to reduce the associative action when it obstructs the action of public powers. For example when they film, make testimonies, document, but also when they open squats, resist deportations, build squats. Between the No Border camp of June 2009 and the beginning of the slum of Calais in April 2015, this is mainly activists of this movement that are targets of proceedings, intimidations and often physical violences, without any concern by the rest of associations. Proceedings use mainly insulting behaviour, rebellion, violence on officers, or degradation when related to the opening of squats. Emergency state is giving new tools to autorities, autorizing bans on protests and meetings on the public highway.
Legal proceedings also participate of a strategy of controling the actions of the associations, in particular during the slum of Calais. They complete other actions justifying more police at the entrances, like tickets for cars, obligation of laissez-passer to access the slum by chemin des Dunes, prohibition of bringing materials to build shelters after the fire on August 25th 2016, if no autorization of the prefecture. In parallel, a new coordination of the actions between associations chosen by the state in the slum is managed by the NGO ACTED, chosen by the state to do it.
It is important to note that the 18 months existence of the slum of Calais have been heavy in repression, with 30 cases identified (soon translated) of legal proceedings or incarceration for further deportation. Except the highly mediatized case of British Rob Lawrie, almost no reaction were generated by main associations, involved in a complex relation with the state made of co-management of the situation, of negociation with restrictions and of conflictuality.
A more complete understanding of the situation collide to a visual defect, linked to a racialized representation of the situation. In the usual representations, the smuggler is a stranger, masculine, generally we give the epithets ”no scruple” and ”very lucrative business”, while in reality, passage as well as smuggling is deeply rooted into the border society. As well in the usual image, the solidarity helper is European, a vision also biased, that give us an uncomplete vision of solidarity actions of migrants and repression.
Therefore a few years ago, in the camp of Norrent-Fontes, close to a parking on the highway near Calais, there was no smugglers and migrants were organizing collectively for crossing. But when a group jumps in a truck, somebody has to stay to close the door, and this person becomes for police the smuggler, the person who facilitate the crossing for others. We then have only a really uncomplete understanding of the situations where solidarity and friendship exists, with or without money, and where this solidarity can be pursuit. We can note that among the 30 people with legal proceedings or incarcerated during the Jungle period, 6 are migrants.
Finally, it should be noted that the intensification of repression in recent months has extended it to other categories, in a kind of scorched earth policy aimed at isolating and depriving exiles of resources. Journalists as witnesses who may be undesirable (see here and there), or some economic actors such as a taxi driver or hotel managers.