Refugees and anti-racist activists joined forces at Britain’s border in Calais last Saturday.
More than 1,000 people marched from the “jungle” camp to the terminal of the port chanting, “Refugees welcome” and “Open the border”.
It was part of a solidarity trip organised by Stand Up to Racism (SUTR). Activists across Britain had raised money in their workplaces, schools and communities for refugees trapped in Calais.
Staff and students at Urswick school in Hackney, east London, had filled the school minibus with supplies.
Teacher Richard Aubray told Socialist Worker, “It’s what they talk about in the playground now. They say, ‘We’re helping, so why isn’t the government?’.”
Some 35 people came on the Manchester delegation.
Social worker Vernetta had raised £160 in her workplace. She said, “A lot of people were really generous.
“Others ask how you can afford to help refugees when there’s cuts and homelessness in Britain.
“I explained it’s all part of the same problem—the Tories are trying to divide us. Those discussions are important and this has been an opportunity to have them.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn came to support the convoy as the delegation from his north London Islington constituency set off.
For many members of the Turkish and Kurdish group DayMer there is a personal dimension to the refugee crisis.
Health worker Alan Sahin explained, “My mother came from Syria as a refugee, and since the war started my uncles have been getting smuggled out too.
“One has diabetes—when we lost contact we thought he’d died without his insulin. Another didn’t see his wife and children for over a year.”
The trip also included a nationwide mobilisation by the Social Work Action Network, and a small group of supporters from Paris.
SUTR hosted a rally where many refugees spoke powerfully about their experiences.
Activists were horrified by the conditions at the jungle (see right). They saw the new distribution centre charities have set up to deal with the flood of support.
The refugees are organised and angry. They led the march holding the SUTR banner. Some threw gravel at the cops guarding the border, shouting, “We are not animals.”
When protesters rallied on a nearby roundabout it felt like a celebration.
Kurdish refugees led a Dabke dance, and musician Natty performed from the back of a lorry.
Weyman Bennett from SUTR argued that only letting them settle in Britain could end their ordeal.
He told the rally, “The jungle is not a place for human beings, and winter is coming.
“We’re here to challenge the border. We say everyone here is welcome in Britain.”
‘Stop people dying—open the border’
A rainy autumn has turned dusty streets in the Calais jungle into a mire of deep mud.
The stench of over-stretched chemical toilets hangs in the air.
Tents are packed in more densely as the French authorities estimate the jungle’s population has almost doubled to 6,000.
Mohammed Abdelbadi from Darfur in Sudan told Socialist Worker, “If I hadn’t left Sudan I would have died, and if I stay in the jungle over winter I will die.
“We came to Europe to find the land of human rights. Instead the French government leaves us in the jungle—even people who apply for asylum in France.
“If we could get a roof here we would stay here. But there’s no solution here.”
This hell is also home to children and many people with severe health conditions.
Najim—one of around 300 Bedouins in the jungle fleeing persecution in Kuwait—lives in there with four of his children and his severely diabetic wife. He hopes to be reunited with the rest of the family in Britain.
The jungle has grown as cops clear out squats as far away as Dunkirk to contain people in one generalised dumping ground.
Higher fences and more cops make it harder to leave.
David Cameron claims this will deter people from risking their lives. Refugees say it only makes the attempts more dangerous.
Sadaran Assani from Afghanistan marched in clothes torn from nightly attempts to scale the four-metre-high razor wire fence sent by the Tories.
He has seen people die trying to get out. “The border is too strong,” he said.
Two people died trying to escape Calais last week—bringing the total this year to 19.
A Syrian woman was run over on the motorway in front of her son, and an Afghan teenager hit by a train.
Kozhin from Iraqi Kurdistan said, “Every night police catch us, wherever we go they try to stop us.
“That’s why people are dying. To stop people dying they must open the border.”
Kozhin has crossed seven countries in the hope of being reunited in Britain with the brother he last saw eight years ago. Like others who have made dangerous journeys, he isn’t about to be turned back.
Ahmad Khalid from Afghanistan said, “It’s almost impossible to get across. But I will keep trying. What choice do I have? I can’t go back.
“I’m marching in the hope Britain will open its borders.”
Get organised against racism
TOry propaganda against refugees is failing to convince many people.
Islington Labour councillor Michelline Ngongo told Socialist Worker, “Lots of people want to support the refugees.
“People think the government’s response has been shameful.”
London South Bank University student Sammy Hillyer is helping to launch a campaign called Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants. He said, “As a gay person you often hear things like, ‘Do you really want them coming over here from those homophobic countries?’ We want to take on that racism.”
Blockade disrupts Eurostar
The trip to Calais wasn’t the only protest for refugees last week.
Hundreds joined a Refugees Welcome Here protest in Dover last Saturday in solidarity with the Calais convoy.
The previous night around 100 protesters blockaded the Eurostar passenger terminal in London St Pancras demanding open borders. They disrupted services for more than an hour.