Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
In the June/July issue of Red Pepper, Alex Clarke from Bristol No Borders reported on the plight of the migrants living in makeshift settlements around Calais. Since then the threats facing these migrants have escalated, from scabies and malnutrition to the imminent destruction of camps by the French police and an increased risk of arrest and forced deportation to war zones.
By the time you read this, the area of wooded dunes near Calais may have been cleared of the shanties that are home to over a thousand migrants and would-be asylum seekers. They come from countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, all seeking security in the UK.
In July, French immigration minister Eric Besson denied that the bulldozing of the camps was imminent and pledged that humanitarian organisations would be fully involved in any clearance plan. Calais deputy prefect Gerard Gavory immediately contradicted him, emphasising that the operation was to take place soon, that no notice would be given to the organisations providing humanitarian assistance, and that those in the camps would be forcibly deported if necessary.
Both the French and the British authorities want to get rid of the camps, considering them an embarrassing eyesore for tourists, and an emblem of the ‘disorderly’ movement of non-Europeans who insist on ignoring national borders in search of safety. Proposals include setting up a new detention centre for migrants in the British-controlled part of Calais docks to make control and removal easier.
In July, Gordon Brown announced that £15 million would be spent on more detection devices to search lorries leaving French ports for the UK, and in return French premier Nicolas Sarkozy promised to speed up the removal of undocumented migrants. Efforts have also been made to persuade those seeking asylum to claim in France rather than the UK.
The UN High Commission for Refugees full-time representative in Calais, along with NGOs such as France Terre d’Asile, has tried to disabuse the migrants of their hopeful fantasies about life in Britain; and in May the French authorities made it possible to claim asylum in Calais, instead of in Arras, 100 kilometres away. But the presence of relatives and friends, the enduring belief in British fairness and the Dublin Regulation laying down EU member-states’ responsibility for asylum claims all deter claims in France. The last allows removal to the migrants’ point of entry into Europe – generally Greece. Here await inhuman conditions, a refusal rate of 99.9 per cent and deportations to torturing states.
Whether or not the expected bulldozing happens, the migrants have more immediate problems. Apart from the ever-present threat of arrest and deportation, and the reality of frequent police round-ups and attacks with tear gas, they have to contend with living in utter destitution (since if they don’t claim asylum they are ineligible for any welfare benefits). For shelter, most have dwellings of plastic sheeting, cardboard and ply. There is no running water and no sanitation. In June a 32-year-old Eritrean drowned while trying to wash himself in the canal, and recently the insanitary conditions have led to an outbreak of scabies.
Salam, the main voluntary group working with the migrants, distributes food daily at seven coastal sites as well as providing legal advice and help. It has negotiated with the local authority to allow the provision of showers by a Catholic aid organisation, but no one knows when they will start or what conditions will be attached.
Most of the hostility to the encamped migrants comes from this side of the Channel. The Daily Mail, for example, has run scare stories about human chains of asylum seekers across Calais motorways carrying out knifepoint robberies of British tourists. But these stories have no basis in fact. The border police at Coquelles have had no such reports, and the Calais police denied the Mail’s story that they advised holidaymakers to keep car windows and doors closed.
The No Borders camp at Calais in June brought over several hundred protesters. But solidarity with the migrants attracts police harassment. The camp was blockaded and demonstrations in the town were attacked by police, who made more than 20 arrests. Meanwhile, harassment of volunteers distributing humanitarian aid continues, under French laws that criminalise assistance to undocumented migrants.
The immigration minister denies that this law, designed to target traffickers and profiteers, penalises solidarity. He has promised to meet solidarity groups and to extend exemptions for social and medical workers. But Salam notes that the proposed exemptions don’t cover volunteers, and point to the recent prosecution of its vice-president, Jean-Claude Lenoir. Although he was acquitted in July of insulting a police officer, the prosecution has appealed.
No Borders Brighton’s ‘Mailwatch’ is at
Trans prisoners often face a 'double-punishment', which heaps abuse and isolation on top of their incarceration.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain.’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition.
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it