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Calais: Refugees sew their lips shut in hopes of making themselves heard

Helplessly facing the inevitable destruction of their camp in Calais, eight refugees decided on Wednesday to express their profound distress by sewing their lips shut with wire and needles. On Thursday, nine other Iranian migrants repeated the operation in front of cameras and the French riot police, hoping to finally be heard by the entire international community.

Paul Carson-Saher

March 10, 2016
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Photo: Révolution Permanente

Calais: capital of pain

Following the February 25th decree by a Calais court, which was endorsed by the Administrative Court of Lille, the evacuation and dismantling of the southern area of ​​the “Jungle” camp in Calais continues. The project, now under heavy supervision of riot police, was originally challenged by many associations and individuals who took to the court to condemn the decision. Their efforts were in vain.

Therefore, today, for the fourth consecutive day, bulldozers and mechanical diggers continue the methodical destruction of tents, huts, barracks and collective living spaces, under the powerless eyes of entire families of migrants. At first, some refugees, visibly frightened by the daily mass influx of riot police, climbed onto rooftops in protest. Tensions arose and intensified rapidly. Random fires even broke out in the camp and the risk of explosion was intensified significantly by the presence of gas tanks. In their infinite kindness, anti-riot police do not hesitate to take out their batons, water cannons and tear gas.

Highly questionable resettlement measures

On the government side, nauseating optimism still reigns. At a press conference, a government official for the Calais region, Vincent Berton, spoke reassuringly: “Today, the dismantling took place in a satisfactory way. Some migrants request more time: we respect their wishes and we will not demolish until their belongings are removed.” “We do not want to go particularly fast, we want to get it right. […] This is the commitment made by Bernard Cazeneuve, it will take as long as is necessary.” A real gentleman.

According to the prefect of Calais, Fabienne Buccio, whose statements lack any nuance whatsoever, the actions of the government seem beyond reproach: “I am satisfied with the progress of the work and I am especially glad to see people leaving to go to reception and orientation centers, because again this afternoon, a full bus left with migrants inside it, who therefore will sleep in warmth tonight, under shelter and away from manipulation of the No Border activists and especially of smugglers.” A speech full of lies, far removed from the real concerns and living conditions of migrants. The problem is that the famous plan established to resettle migrants has, most of the time, failed or proven to be completely inadequate: occupants have one hour to evacuate the area and accept the proposed solutions without fully understanding them. They can usually expect containers to sleep in not far from the camp, without privacy or space dedicated to social life (places of consumption, etc.), or alternatively, a one way ticket to other reception and orientation centers spread throughout France, which above all isolates migrants and thus makes their case invisible…in fact, it makes it easier to force them out of the country.


Violent eviction of the Juntle “Calais”, February 29th 2016.

Put more clearly, under the pretense of humanitarian interest, they are asked to choose between a more dehumanizing new way of life and a totally uncertain and unknown destination. In short, choose the plague or cholera, and with a smile, please. Moreover, those who accept these measures despite everything are asked to scan their fingerprints and move along like cattle. It is easy to understand why a great majority of these refugees prefer to leave the French territory as soon as possible to reach England…even though it’s across the channel, repression will be the response there as well.

A desperate response to a desperate situation

As a last resort, faced with this deplorable situation, some migrants have decided to sew their lips shut in a sign of symbolic protest. Last November, five migrants had already expressed their distress in the same way along the Greek-Macedonian border, which had been closed completely. With this spectacular act, migrants in Calais intend to denounce the brutality and inhumanity of these aggressive expulsions, the injustice of the dismantling of the camp, and ultimately the xenophobic policy orchestrated by the French socialist administration. These self-mutilations, the result of deep despair, were accompanied by a brief demonstration in one of the alleys of the camp, where migrants exhibited placards that read “We are humans” and “Where is your democracy? Where is our freedom?” Good questions…

According to the newspaper L’Humanité, refugees explain that they left their countries in the hopes of living in Europe more freely. A freedom shattered by the force of repression, quite literally seen in the destruction of their huts.

In reality, these examples of self-mutilation chip away a little bit more at the mask of the very nature of society, built up as an example of human rights by our “responsible” politicians. The cynicism and pragmatism of certain individuals is enough to make our blood boil. For example, let us quote Emmanuel Macron who, with plenty of tact and empathy, shamelessly flaunts the Calais problem towards England as a form of blackmail. In an interview with the Financial Times , the Minister of Economy does not hesitate to threaten London with “no longer retaining migrants in Calais” if “Brexit” – the departure of Britain from the European Union – were seriously considered. A totally opportunistic statement and one that would have certainly warranted an extra needle and wire for the French Minister himself…

Translated by Emma V

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