Migrants and solidarity activists demonstrated in Calais, France, on Sunday 7 September, in opposition to fascist and other anti-migrant racists who mobilised in the town to protest the presence of migrants in Calais.
The racist demonstration was organised by “Save Calais”, a local right-wing coalition. Prominent fascists addressed the demonstration, including Yvan Benedetti, whose banned L’Oeuvre Française group was implicated in the 2013 murder of anti-fascist activist Clément Méric. Many demonstrators displayed white supremacist symbols and slogans, and gave Nazi salutes. Fascists began a planned weekend of action by attacking a 15-year-old student outside her school on Friday 5 September.
150 activists, migrants, and local residents participated in a football tournament organised to promote solidarity and anti-racism. 100 marched in a counter demonstration against the racists. The right-wing demonstration mobilised around 150.
Natacha Bouchart, Calais’ UMP (Tory) mayor, called on Calais citizens to blockade the port in order to pressure the British government into dealing with the problem.
Around 1,500 migrants currently live in Calais, with more in other towns on France’s northern coastlines. Migrants live in abandoned buildings, or in makeshift squats and camps, sometimes called “jungles”. Many migrants hope to board vehicles crossing the English Channel in order to enter Britain. In increasing desperation, migrants have tried to storm passenger ferries or stow away in individual tourists’ cars.
According to Calais Migrant Solidarity, “UK immigration law makes it near impossible for the vast majority of non-nationals to enter the country, since you need a visa to do so, for which you need money and must satisfy a strict criteria.
“Unless you are already in the country on a visa, you cannot claim asylum from abroad. British law therefore necessitates illegal entry to the UK for almost all those who want to claim asylum. This forces migrants, most of whom have survived war or human rights violations — and many of whom are very young — to risk their lives making clandestine entries in or under the lorries that travel to the UK.”
France, Germany, and Sweden all receive a far greater number of asylum claims than Britain.
The far left cannot respond to the right only by asserting that the scale of the migrant “problem” is not so great as imagined. We must respond by changing the terrain of the debate, and reframing entirely how the “problem” is understood.
To racist, anti-migrant policy in both Britain and France, we must counterpose a working-class social programme, including abolition of immigration controls. If France abolished its immigration controls, and embarked on a meaningful programme of welfare reform and job creation, many migrants might choose to freely settle in France.
The risk of migrant labour undercutting indigenous labour in Britain, much hyped-up by left-nationalists in the labour movement, can be dealt with not by restricting immigration but by working-class organisation and struggle for higher wages.
The migrant “problem” is not an individual but a social one, a question of how civilised society allows human beings to starve and die on its margins, rendered “illegal”, when there is enough wealth to provide a decent life for everyone.
The historical task of socialists is to build a world where no-one is “illegal”.
A report from an activist
London Antifascists joined Action Antifasciste Nord-Pas-Du-Calais aka NP2C and Action Antifasciste Paris-Benlieue to oppose a mobilisation from local far right group Sauvons Calais. We arrived the day before with donations for the camps, helped defend a friendly bar from possible attacks, which thankfully didn't take place in the end so we went to bed freezing but safe. The conditions of the camps are deplorable.
Although No Borders activists are able to provide a secure squat for a while, most migrants live in what is known as "the jungle": camps in small patches of forest and abandoned land on the outskirts. There is a winter shelter for when the temperature is below 0ºC but it is quite exposed in case of attack. In the morning we headed to the squat and everyone took on different roles. Those who were aiming to be in direct confrontation with the fascists headed to the Town Hall before 2pm, while others celebrated a football tournament in another area.
Unfortunately the heavy policing made it impossible to access the area around the Town Hall and everything was in peace by 4pm. Although most of the fascists were from the north of France, about four English fascists turned up for the day.
Ongoing solidarity is needed. There are regular pick ups in various locations for camping gear, clothes, bedding, etc., which is always needed as police tend to evict squats and camps quite often. Or come to Calais, help out and see for yourself.