By Bridget Fztt
Last week, I went on the Convoy to Calais – a peaceful demonstration of solidarity with refugees that had been planned for months and should have seen hundreds of vehicles deliver aid to the refugee camp in Calais. Instead, the French border police prevented the bulk of the convoy from leaving Dover. We blockaded the port for over an hour in protest – chanting and holding placards and banners – which disrupted the port and delayed the ferry. Eventually we had to leave as the police were beginning to kettle us.
The port authorities’ aim was to screen each vehicle, and only let vehicles leave individually, which would have broken up the convoy and left us kettled in the port for hours. So we decided to travel to the French Embassy in London where we symbolically deposited our donations (the only way we could reach ‘French territory’) to shame the government and continue with our protest chanting things like, “Shame on you. Refugees are people too.”
The French police never fully stated why we were unable to enter France, except for the vague suggestion that we were some sort of security threat. There were further reports in the media that the French police believed we were planning to “facilitate intrusions of migrants” i.e. smuggle refugees into the UK – which was of course never the aim of the convoy. The ease with which football hooligans, intent on violence, from across Europe have recently entered France contrasts starkly with the fact the aid convoy was not given permission. The real reason the border police didn’t want us to enter France is that the government has consistently ignored the rights and needs of the refugees within its borders and will not tolerate any attempt to draw attention to this humanitarian crisis. Their autonomous refusal to let us in highlighted how borders are a means of control and nothing more, revealed particularly in the springing up of borders across Europe since the refugee crisis began, completely undermining the EU’s supposed open border policy.
The people in the camp in Calais are refugees fleeing war. People who have travelled thousands of miles to seek security for themselves and their families. Hundreds of them are unaccompanied children. They do not want to take our jobs, houses, benefits, schools or hospital places. They are here because they have no choice. Many will be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The response of the French government has been to attempt to destroy the camp and evict the refugees while providing them with nowhere else to go, in order to keep them in as desperate a condition as possible. For example, refugees who have tried to jump the fence report having their shoes stolen by French border police.
However, the attempted convoy showed the strength of opposition to the way refugees are being treated by states across Europe. The student society MMU for Refugees is already hoping to build support for a Manchester convoy later this year. This act has only strengthened our resolve, and we will continue to demonstrate our solidarity with refugees across all borders.
For more information about MMU for Refugees, see their Facebook page or email: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about the society
Did you take part in the Convoy to Calais? Do you agree? Send your thoughts to email@example.com