Kate Bradley reports
On Saturday, around 200 people gathered at St Pancras International train station in London to protest against the clearance of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. The demonstration was called by London2Calais, a group that has been providing humanitarian and political support to refugees and migrants stranded in Calais since August 2015.
The French authorities began clearing around 1600 tents from the Jungle camp last week to make space for an area of new container crates, designed to hold refugees and migrants semi-permanently. While the heated containers are being seen by some as an improvement on the tents and huts that many Jungle residents currently occupy, the new camp area is surrounded by barbed wire and operates a fingerprint-scanning entry system, meaning that it could be used for surveillance purposes and excludes new arrivals at the Jungle. It is also reported that the containers do not include space for refugees’ few possessions.
The containers will only house around 1600 of the five to six thousand people currently living in the Jungle, and it is unclear what fate is proposed by the French government for the remainder of the structures and residents of the camp. In France’s increasingly hostile climate for refugees and migrants, some are nervous that they will be forced to make asylum claims in France rather than Britain, where many have friends and relatives and hope for a better welcome.
Jungle occupants have been resisting the demolition of their camp, and London2Calais called the demonstration in support of their defensive actions. Protestors gathered at around noon at St Pancras, and were faced with a heavy police presence which prevented us from entering the station. We chanted slogans which are becoming familiar since the large ‘Refugees Welcome Here’ demonstration in September 2015: “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” and “No borders, no nations, stop deportations”. Some of us said a prayer, kneeling in a circle to pay our respects to the refugees who have lost their lives trying to cross the border. Demonstrators leafleted the public to raise awareness of the French government’s bulldozing of the camp.
After around half an hour, around 150 activists managed to enter St Pancras station via a side entrance. There, we were blocked from the main concourse by a police line. We gathered to hear contributions from refugees and their supporters, including Abdulaziz Almashi, co-founder of the Syria Solidarity Movement. After the speeches, we staged a ‘die-in’, with activists lying on the ground to symbolise those killed trying to cross the border from France to the UK. A smaller group of around 30 protestors had managed to enter the main concourse, and so two die-ins were held on either side of a police line, ironically symbolic of the borders which keep refugees and migrants out of Britain. There were large numbers of police officers, but no arrests were made.
The Kent Anti-Racism Network has called a protest on 30 January in Dover to oppose three neo-fascist groups who are marching together through Dover on that day to call for further measures to prevent refugees and migrants from entering the UK. London2Calais has organised coaches from London to the counter-demonstration. Tickets can be bought from their Eventbrite page.