However, we have consistently sought to convey our radical position - which, with a high turnover of migrants & activists, language barriers and cultural differences - has sometimes been a difficult task.
But this weekend, following month after month of witnessing the State flex its muscles and (despite some successful interventions) largely getting away with the repression, we certainly achieved a victory of sorts. The authorities did crush the initiative that was the Hangar Kronsdadt and with predictable brutality, but it seems that we have reached quite a critical moment in resistance to border controls in Western Europe.
BEFORE THE HANGAR
Before the opening of Hangar Kronsdadt, people were spending most of the day in front of the night shelter. The shelter was meant to have closed some time ago, but has been opening sporadically when temperatures drop below the requisite -2 degrees Celsius. It was freezing, there was nowhere to shelter from the rain, and it was grim as hell. Fortunately, the opening of the Hangar coincided with the closure of the night shelter.
Initial entry was straightforward. Groups gradually turned up, apparently having taken the police by surprise.
However, on returning after food distribution an hour or so later, they found that all roads to Hangar Kronsdadt were blocked by police.
One young Afghan started chanting “Freedom! Freedom!”, and everyone joined in.
On the outside, migrants started pushing to be allowed through. On the inside, activists began pulling, and together we eventually forged a path through police lines. One by one people chanced it into the building, chanting “No Border! No Nations!”
INSIDE THE BUILDING
The building was to be a space for anyone who wanted to fight for freedom of movement. And while we stressed that the Hangar would not be a new Sangatte, we also said that we wouldn't be checking anyone's papers at the door as there was no way we would differentiate according to origin. We were very explicit about the way the Hangar was intended to be organised. The space was to be run collectively by those present (Pashtuns, Hazaras, French, Brits, Sudanese, Kurds, Iranians, Spanish, Hungarian, etc) through daily meetings. People got it. In the short period of its existence, migrants got involved in translating our statement about the hangar and maintaining the space.
The atmosphere was great, everyone seemed to be in a lively mood. People sat around heaters chatting in groups, listened to live folk music, drank tea, played piano(!), read books, wrote and drew.
Some people have spent several years travelling to reach the UK (being impeded by detention, deportation, and so on), and as survival seems to have been their priority, there hasn't been much opportunity to chill out or do normal activities.
Crucial to the project seems to have been the opportunity for migrants to exert some control over their lives. The window for resistance – to respond to the daily, largely unhindered repression – and also the physical control over the space. For example, people were keeping the warehouse tidy because it was their space.
Everyone got a night's sleep without any arrests.
But Hangar Kronsdadt was too much of a kick in the teeth for the authorities. How could they fufil their arrest quotas with people inside a legally occupied building? There was no way they'd let it continue.
By lunchtime the next day, after being kept under siege all morning, the migrants were eventually starved out of the building. They returned after food distribution to find once more that they were unable to get back into the Hangar. Knowing that the activists remained in the building, they began gather, demanding the CRS leave. “You fight for us, we fight for you”, said one Pashtun. The police seized the opportunity while the migrants were out to then smash their way into the building with a battering ram and destroy what they could.
Some of the activists inside the building were injured – one person near the door got a shard of glass in their eye. Around 12 were arrested and released shortly after.
Coming out of the police station, we saw a crowd of migrants running in the street; they informed us that the police were roaming around trying to pick up migrants. We went with a group of them to the food distribution, a couple of minutes away. On the way, two unmarked vehicles stopped abruptly in the street and out poured some cops wielding batons. There followed yet another chase. They arrested more migrants, but we managed to create enough decoys to hinder their efforts and quite a few people escaped. The police realised they were outnumbered and had to make a quick getaway as people turned on them.
That night very few migrants were to be seen – most were thought to be in hiding.
The number of migrants who said that they were really pleased with the support shown this weekend confirm my belief in how worthwhile this action was. There was a very intense sense of solidarity and resistance, and the links seem to be getting stronger. No matter how hard the State comes down on us they can't take that away.
We are regrouping and planning the next steps. We will undoubtedly, as ever, need more people, so feel free to come to Calais!
Thanks to everyone who has been supporting the effort from afar. Little of this could have been done without all the benefit gigs, info nights, etc.