Refugees in the French port of Calais refused to be swept out of sight last Saturday, with a protest more than 1,000 strong.
They marched the three miles into the town centre from the “jungle” shantytown on an old landfill site they have been driven into by police.
They chanted “We are not animals” in protest at the conditions they are forced to live in. There are only 20 toilets and four water points for an estimated 3,000 people.
Most have taken long, dangerous journeys from war-torn countries.
Mudassir and Sadiq are from Sudan. Mudassir told Socialist Worker, “I would have preferred to stay and continue my studies, but they were killing people in the street.
“I left after my two brothers were killed.”
Mechanical engineer Sadiq was forced to repair a well and a generator for rebels in the Darfur region. He was then arrested and jailed by the government. After fleeing across the desert to Libya he was again forced at gunpoint to work for rival militias.
“I had to get out or they would have killed me, so I paid all I had for a boat to Italy,” he said.
“I was so afraid—our heads were lower than the water line, and I knew that many people had been killed.”
Yessir’s journey from Syria involved travel on foot, rubber dinghy, plane, train and truck.
“It was very difficult,” he said, “But in Syria everything is destroyed—Bashar al-Assad was killing us.”
The migrants are in Calais to try and get across the Channel to Britain.
Applying for asylum in France means a three month wait with no food or shelter—often only to be turned down.
Kiprom from Eritrea was among those to succeed in reaching Britain.
But European Union rules say refugees must apply for asylum in the first country they get to, so he was told to go back to France.
“Now the French authorities say they have no proof I was here before and I should have applied in Britain,” he said. “Why do these governments play games with us?”
Sadiq said, “Most of us want to stay in France. But if another country took us in we would go there.”
As well as deprivation, the migrants face regular violence from masked attackers. People talked of beatings with stones, clubs and even a machete.
Some blame undercover cops. But most believe it is the local fascist group “Save Calais”, which held its own small demonstration last Saturday.
The refugees’ protest was part of an international day of action for refugees, with other protests around Europe. In Greece protesters rallied at the Amygdaleza detention centre.
In Germany they dug symbolic graves outside parliament for those drowned at sea. In Calais the refugees organise together as best they can.
The jungle shantytown has quarters for each nationality and language group, as well as shops and a church.
The timber and tarpaulin Afghan Hotel is a hub for refugees fleeing the war in Afghanistan.
Several are in desperate need of medical attention.
Fawad injured his leg trying to get on a truck to Britain. Safi has the blood disease Thalassemia.
If left untreated this can lead to organ damage, heart failure or even death. But hospitals in Italy and France have refused to treat him, making Britain his last hope.
Gulzamen said, “Why isn’t the British government letting anybody in?
“It makes everybody very angry. If they opened the border for just one hour it would help hundreds of people.”
Several hundred Eritrean refugees and their supporters marched through Liverpool on Tuesday of last week.
They were protesting at a recent Home Office report which claims that Eritrea in eastern Africa is now a safe place to return to.
One protest organiser stated, “We have an open letter to give the Home Office which says that is not true. These protesters are from all parts of the UK and we have been organising it for some time.”
The crowd stood outside the Home Office building holding signs reading “No human is illegal” and “We need your support”.
Protester Yacob said, “We are asking the Home Office to be truthful about the regime in Eritrea.
“We are people who have been ruled by fear.”
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle