DAY 159: The generations

January 20th, 2016 Comments Off

What with about ten lectures, a slew of articles for the comrades, and the demands of the blog, the only honest thing to do seems to be to plagiarize myself. (Plagiarizing someone else would get me into trouble under TRIPS.) So here, a bit improved and embellished – but not yet revised by the steely Convoys to Calais editorial hacks – are my comments on the current situation as of two days ago, with background and predictions.

The Guardian reported on January the 18th 2016 on the beginning of the French police’s assault operation to clear about a quarter of the ‘jungle’ and create a so-called buffer zone.

‘It began before dawn, as French police sealed off the main road into the Calais refugee camp. Shortly after first light, a group of around 40 police with riot shields and protective headgear arrived near the south west entrance to the shanty town, home to an estimated 5000 migrants, as a bulldozer began to flatten and clear trees behind them.

But despite protest plans by migrants who threatened to stand their ground, the start of the clearance operation to evict an estimated 1,500 people from dwellings in a “buffer zone” marked out by the French prefecture passed off peacefully, largely due to warnings given and to the actions of an army of volunteers, who worked934084_175391639488184_5889829563707509216_n tirelessly throughout the weekend to clear the area.’

As the report makes clear, the operation – which was expected to be brutal – went off quietly. Not thanks to the French police, but because the majority of the refugees’ and volunteers’ organizations, realizing the danger of a confrontation which could well put them, their children and the camp as a whole at risk, had decided to work tirelessly over the past days. The police had faced the people of the jungle with a bitter decision, between collaboration and a violent confrontation.  Many of them were not happy about the outcome.

History

We must recognize that this particular arbitrary action of the French state is neither the beginning nor the end of the story. For the Jungle, like every camp in Calais, has a history going back to April of this year when the Calais municipality cleared (again!) some scattered settlements and moved the residents –about 2000 at the time –  to the large waste area it now occupies.

Of course Calais has had, and will have a constant ‘refugee problem’ simply because of its role as the easiest point of access to the UK. This has led to a succession of attempts by the municipality to ‘deal with’ an increasing number of migrants. This year’s in exceptionally sensational, perhaps, because of the size of the problem. The jungle by now has 7000 inhabitants (not 5000 as the Guardian claims) and is, of course, still growing. Reports back in August told of a place which was desperately under-resourced and while this is still true, the institutions of volunteers built under the auspices of L’Auberge des Migrants are now impressive by any standards particularly for a camp which is not ‘recognized’ by the UN, by any authority or NGO. Toilets and standpipes have been installed (under legal pressure), there are schools, mosques, church and library. As anyone who has travelled with a convoy can witness, there is a huge warehouse where volunteers work al day in a (non-anarchistic!) disciplined way, sorting donations, preparing meals, building accommodation; and there are, increasingly, emergency medical facilities.

None of this was encouraged the Calais authorities who have viewed it with positive displeasure. Three days ago, the mayor and deputy mayor of Calais took the unusual step of taking the platform of the BBC to claim that volunteers in Calais were infiltrated by ‘hippies and anarchists’  a claim so ridiculous that it was naturally answered by a storm of tweetedScreen shot 2016-01-20 at 09.03.53 selfies.

The clearance plan

Back in October, the writing was on the wall for the camp. France could not allow an area of such autonomy. The life of the migrants in the jungle might be miserable, precarious, dangerous; but in a way it was their own and they, together with the volunteers, formed a self-organizing community which escaped the writ of the state. A competition was announced for a ‘replacement’ camp. ‘Calais Migrant Solidarity’ reported (issue of 07/10/2015):

‘La Vie Active is the winner. They will build the new camp out of 125 containers. It will be “200 metres from the Jules Ferry day centre, along the Chemin des Dunes”. It’s not 100% clear, but this seems to mean it will be on the site currently taken up by the jungle. The first containers 2F8D515700000578-3369051-image-a-1_1450711853548are supposed to be in place in December, although the camp will take some weeks or months to finish.

There are probably over 4000 people living in the jungle at the moment. Numbers continue to grow. 1500 places will not be enough. The current rumour, not confirmed, is that places will only be offered to those who agree to apply for asylum in France and stop trying for England. But what will happen to the  other thousands of people?

If the plan was mass deportation, this seems to have failed already: all those recently arrested and threatened with deportation to Sudan, in contravention of European Court of Human Rights judgements, have now been released. Will some of the jungle be allowed to remain next to the official camp? Or will we go back to the old pattern of constant attacks, harassments and evictions, as people without papers are again chased from one squat or makeshift camp to the next?

Another big question is: how will the authorities “persuade” the people now living in the jungle to clear out so they can build the new official camp? This will be far from the first mass eviction in recent Calais history. But it could be on an altogether different scale and intensity from anything seen before.

Maybe the first move in the eviction plan has already been made. Last week, for the first time, cops started “patrolling” in the jungle. They are entering pretty much every day now, in heavily armoured groups of 10 or 20 at a time. At first, they officially came to escort bureaucrats from the state immigration office (OFFI) who give advice on applying for asylum. More recently, they have come alone, with as many as three incursions on Tuesday (6 October). The aim seems to be to snoop about, make their presence felt, and begin to prepare for more serious operations.

As the author noted, October marked the beginning of police incursions in the jungle, which from then on became more and more frequent – accompanied by tear gas attacks and fascist (Front National) demonstrations, often violent, which the police made no attempt to curb. It was against this background that the ‘community’ of the jungle decided to accept the first stage of the container plan.

The future

But, as the report above makes clear, the plans of the State go much further than this first stage – eventually all the volunteers’ institutions, churches, mosques, shops, schools seem likely to go. And, while they are completely unclear about how the many inhabitants who can’t be housed in containers will be dealt with, they also seem unable to recognize that the problem is going to continue and increase. Are we to expect a second jungle after the first has been demolished?

Gb and all that 

The title of this post relates to my original plan, but one can never, it seems to me, keep to that: a meditation on the fact that most of my (younger) friends seem extremely preoccupied by how to free up space on their phones since their current collection of music takes up more Gb than is comfortable. I’m not bothered by this particular problem; I don’t know how many Gb are needed for The Ring and I’d only want Act I of Die Walküre anyway; while I’m sure I could fit the whole of the Well-tempered Clavier on with many Gb to spare. No, what might cause my phone to seize up would be an attempt to use it to store the essential cinema library, the works of Bunuel, Godard, Antonioni, Bergman et al which are hard-wired – as you might say – into my consciousness and of which my friends know nothing. What has been happening to the curriculum that L’Avventura vittiisn’t a set text for GCSE and inferior works like Hamlet are? I hope for drastic changes from a Labour Minister of Education.

Having exceeded my usual wordcount, I’ll leave out the usual poems and music; but here (I’ve been imposing it on all my friends) is the dance sequence from Bande à Part:

 

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