Tories plan Great Wall of Calais

Submitted by AWL on 14 September, 2016 - 11:47 Author: Theodora Polenta

On 7 September, Britain's immigration minister, Robert Goodwill, announced that the government will build a four-metre-high wall for about one kilometre along the main port highway in Calais, France, to prevent refugees or immigrants boarding lorries to cross the Channel.

Construction will cost about £1.9 million, will start this month and is to be completed by the end of year. "Many continue to pass [the border]," said Goodwill, speaking to a parliamentary committee. "We have raised fences, now we will raise the wall."

The wall will be made of a kind of "soft" cement, to make climbing difficult."This is the latest addition to kilometres of fences and surveillance systems already installed", said François Guennoc of the organization Auberge des Migrants, who works with Calais refugees. "The result is people who want to cross the Channel will move even further to succeed. Raise walls anywhere in the world, and people find ways to bypass them. It is a waste of money. It makes the journey more dangerous, increases the tariff charged by traffickers and ultimately puts a greater number of lives at risk.“

The wall is a symbolic gesture to be built with taxpayers’ money. That money could surely be used to fund centres for the processing of asylum claims. But something unforgivable is happening when we cannot even let in the unaccompanied children from the camps.”

"In 1964, the artist Joseph Beuys satirised the Berlin wall, suggesting it be raised by 5cm to have better proportions. He made his point and we know what happened to that wall. It is good to be reminded that there are those who build walls, but there are those who will build ladders over them. That is called hope” — Suzanne Moore, Guardian.

“In the end, walls fail. Even the Great Wall of China failed. The barbarians always get through…” — Andrew Brown, Guardian.

“When Donald Trump said he would build a wall between the United States and Mexico, most of us recoiled. How had politics in the ‘land of the free’ descended so low, so fast?", asked Green MP Caroline Lucas.“Trumpism has now landed in Britain,” Lucas continued. “The immigration minister, Robert Goodwill, appeared to have been tuning into Trump’s speeches for inspiration when he said yesterday, ‘We are going to start building this big new wall very soon’.”

In London on 5 September, Trade Unionists for Calais and Stand Up to Racism organised a protest outside the French Embassy to oppose calls in France for the demolition of the refugees camp in Calais.Almost 10,000 refugees and migrants live in dire conditions in “the Jungle” on the site of an old landfill. They are trapped there by Britain’s border closure and French state repression. The jungle’s population has rocketed by almost a third in little over a month. But “donor fatigue” means that the charities that provide for them are running out of food.

Disgracefully the same states that lock them out refuse to provide for them.The French government has pledged to create more accommodation for asylum seekers in France. But this is not enough to meet the waiting list of people who are homeless while their asylum claims are processed. It won’t offer an alternative to people in the "Jungle".Even the supposedly most deserving refugees are not being taken in.

An amendment to the Tories’ Immigration Act called for more child refugees to be accepted into Britain, yet hundreds remain in Calais. No effort has been made to identify and bring these children over. That applies even to children; single women at risk of violence, exploitation and trafficking; and trauma victims, who have good claims under existing law to be reunited in the UK with their families.

Information services and legal advice are almost non-existent in the Grande-Synthe camp in Dunkirk and inadequate in Calais, so people have no access to the processes for being reunited with relatives and are unaware of their rights and options. Others living in the camps are unable to access legal routes to family reunion because they cannot meet excessive evidential requirements — for example for documentation they do not have because of the circumstances in which they have been forced to flee conflict and persecution — insisted upon by the UK Home Office or assumed to be required by their French counterparts.In addition, many people with relatives in the UK are prevented from joining them here under existing rules.

Many parents are not permitted to join their refugee children in the UK and adult siblings are kept apart.Many, therefore, find themselves with no choice but to pay smugglers and risk their lives trying to cross the Channel by jumping in the back of a lorry, walking through the Eurotunnel, or even setting off from the coast in small boats.

Hotspots in Greece

In late July, the 1,300 inmates of the refugee camp of Viale, on the Greek island of Chios, hunger-struck against the squalid living conditions: unacceptable food, heavy-handed policing, and prolonged detention.Despite their mobilization, things got worse, and one day they were not even given food. The next day it was only bread and water.

On August 10 the refugees wrote: "No food, no water".Now the solidarity movement has no access in Viale, and the local media do not cover it.Following on the EU's March 2016 agreement with Turkey, the refugee "hot spots" on the Aegean islands are places where basic rights such as access to asylum or refugee status, or family reunification in EU countries where their relatives already live, are unavailable.

Refugee children get only an informal education in the miserable camps where they live, with 800 unqualified teachers recruited through NGOs.Greece's Syriza "government of the left" is sending the message that passage to Greece means indefinite entrapment in such camps.Two consecutive autopsies on refugee deaths reported an accumulation of stagnant water and sewage in the camps.

In mid-August the refugees in Ritsona, in an open letter, described how they lived in tents in a forest, in suffocatingly high temperatures, exposed to mosquitoes, wasps, scorpions and snakes. There have been 20 reported cases of hepatitis B. There is a lack of hot water, insufficient toilets, waste water overflowing, inadequate medical support. Yet in the early hours of 27 July 27, riot police, under the pretext of respecting church and municipal property, raided three squats in Thessaloniki where anarchist groups had set up shelters for refugee families. Seventy-four people were taken into custody.

The majority of the activists arrested were part of the “No Borders” group, which had held a camp in Thessaloniki between 14 and 24 July attended by 1,500 activists from all over Europe.Ultra-right-wing mobs followed up by attack other refguee-solidarity centres, such as Notara Street.

Solidarity is the only weapon that can beat their Fortress Europe. The task of the Left in Greece and Europe is to force the creation of structures to welcome refugees — infrastructure in the cities integrated with the communities and neighbourhoods, instead of remote detention camps; access to asylum requests; resettlement and family reunification for every refugee; access for refugee children to primary and secondary education to integration and reception classes; medical care; access to social benefits.

Anti-migrant protests and the left

On 5 September, a group of lorry and tractor drivers blocked the motorway in Calais demanding the demolition of the so-called “jungle” refugee camp outside the French town. Around 400 people joined a “human chain” as lorries and tractors blocked major roads and disrupted traffic by driving slowly.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve met with local officials, police and businesspeople in Calais ahead of the protests against the “Jungle” refugee camp. Cazeneuve says he will “progressively dismantle” the "Jungle", but the protesters wanted a definite date set. They claimed that refugees had become an economic drain on Calais and a stain on the city’s image.

The Calais Federation of Enterprises and Businesses, far-right police unions, the national trucking association, and farmers’ groups came together in a self-proclaimed “apolitical citizens' movement" to demand the dismantling of the “Jungle” and an end to “pressure from migrant flows".

Shamefully, the Calais dockers’ branch of the CGT union federation joined the demonstration, cynically claiming it was defending jobs.The CGT’s participation reflects a longstanding nationalist orientation, inherited from the Stalinist French Communist Party (PCF).In 2009, undocumented workers occupied a trade union hall in Paris to demand that the CGT organize a struggle to regularize their status and get them papers. They were violently expelled by riot police units, whom the CGT had called to intervene.In December 1980, the PCF mayor in the Paris suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine supported PCF activists deploying a bulldozer to make a newly-provisioned hostel for migrant workers in the suburb unusable. The hostel was to have housed 300 Malians transferred from a right-controlled suburb, and the PCF's explanation was that it was protesting against PCF-controlled areas having to take "too many" migrants relative to right-controlled areas.

The legacy of "national roads to socialism" with the pretext of defending the terms and conditions of the settled working class was also seen in the "Lexit" ("left exit from the EU") campaign. The Socialist Party’s website says:“The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.

"It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists"

Walls and spaces

William Shakespeare wrote parts of an unfinished play, The Book of Thomas More, to depict More, the great Utopian socialist, defending the Huguenot refugees seeking to flee to England from France. It is the only surviving text in Shakespeare's handwriting.

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires…...
This is the strangers' case,
And this your mountainish inhumanity

Today — Donald Trump’s wall of Mexico and the British-French Great Wall of Calais. Fences in Evros, on the Greek-Turkish land border. Fences in Hungary. Fences in Bulgaria. Fences in Slovenia. Fences in Austria…Refugees and migrants stacked between borders, outside the realm of geographical boundaries and temporality, in uncharted territories. A shadow of the People’s Europe that celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Europe that was celebrating the demolition of fences and walls that divided people.

The writer Frances Stonor Saunders declares:The migrant identity becomes a burden to be unloaded. Migrants often make the journey without identity documents... one reason... the attempt to obtain them in their country of origin can be very dangerous. Others lose them at the outset when they’re robbed by police or border guards, or by people-traffickers en route. Many destroy them deliberately because they fear, not without reason, that our system of verification will be a mechanism for sending them back... And they don’t only burn their documents: many burn their fingertips on hobs or with lighters or acid, or mutilate them with razors, to avoid biometric capture and the prospect of expulsion. These are the weapons of the weak (London Review of Books, 3 March 2016).

Only when the crowded boats beginning to sink, in the night, in the Mediterranean or the Aegean, do the refugees cry out their names, so that those who survive will tell their loved ones. The fate of today's refugee is to be in places that are not places.