On Sunday and Monday night we stayed in Africa House, a small compound of old warehouses home to at least 100 refugees, mostly fleeing Darfur, Somalia and other war-torn regions of Africa. In sub-zero temperatures they exist outside, their living space a huge warehouse with no doors, heated by fires and sleeping in small door-less rooms which are over-crowded and freezing. They are in constant fear of brutal raids from the CRS who often use tear gas and violence to force migrants out of hiding.
On Sunday night, one CRS van parked outside the compound, once at about 10 o clock and again a few hours later. As it was just one van, they clearly had no intention to raid, (possibly due to the presence of Internationals) they just appeared to assert their power and presence, keeping Africa House constantly on edge. We left at about 10 am the next morning. An hour after we left, the CRS raided, arresting about 17 Migrants, holding them for most of the day at Coquelles, 4 miles out of town and then expecting them to walk back.
The next evening, at around midnight, a CRS convoy arrived outside. This consists of four CRS vans, one unmarked which is used to take the arrested to the police station. We made our presence known, had our passports taken and were made to leave, this meant that no raid on Africa House happened that night. However the police told us they would come back later, a tactic to scare the migrants and ensure that yet again none of them would be able to relax and have a decent night’s sleep. They removed the pallets that the migrants use as a ladder to climb over the wall into the ‘jungle’ in a petty act of power play.
At 10am the following morning, the CRS convoy returned and carried out the first standard raid we had seen. Between ten and fifteen police entered Africa House, some of them using a ladder to climb over the wall, and others breaking down the barricaded back gate. They woke the migrants who were sleeping openly by shouting and shining torches in their faces in order to intimidate. One man was forced to leave the door open as he used the toilet in utter disregard for any dignity. Our presence clearly disconcerted them and bought the migrants some time as they spent a few minutes checking our passports and consulting each other on what to do. But they had come for the migrants and our presence was not going to deter them. We were kept outside the camp so could not observe the raid. After a while, a group of about 10 migrants were marched out of the camp and herded into the unmarked van, being shouted at as if they were sub-human. From the expression on their faces we could see that this demoralising experience had just become routine.
Once the migrants they had arrested had been taken away to Coquelles, the remainder were forced to stand outside in the bitter cold for about an hour while the police laughed, joked and stayed warm in their van while some continued to search the camp. Eventually we were allowed back inside.
The arrested migrants were released at about 5pm and forced to walk back from Coquelles to Calais despite the fact that one man was on crutches and another could hardly walk from the camp to the police van. These terrorizing raids are a daily occurrence and are designed to make life even harder for the migrants of Africa House.
Calais Migrant Solidarity