Thursday, 25 June 2009

No Borders protesters must defy the media lies and police intimidation

In Calais, this week, anarchists from the No Borders Network have set up a protest camp as part of a campaign to "highlight the realities of the situation in Calais and Northern France; to build links with the migrant communities; to help build links between migrants support groups; and lastly, but not least, to challenge the authorities on the ground, to protest against increased repression of migrants and local activists alike." The Camp's aims are clearly stated;
This camp calls for the freedom of movement for all, an end to borders and to all migration controls. We call for a radical movement against the systems of control, dividing us into citizens and non-citizens, into the documented and the undocumented.
It should come as no surprise, then, that comprehension of this in a media system in the thrall of a "free-market" propaganda model was minimal.

At the "liberal" end of the spectrum, the Independent - supposedly "pro" immigration for supporting a more dovish take on border control - gave the camp only a passing mention. Buried within a story about the "increasingly desperate battle" against "the growing number of foreigners who believe they have a chance of a better life in the UK," based on reports that "the number of illegal immigrants caught trying to enter Britain from the continent has nearly trebled in the past five years," the paper told how "the French town was under siege after hundreds of protesters arrived to demand an end to border controls between France and Britain." That "riot police were on alert in the streets after intelligence reports raised fears of widespread violence" was all we needed to know. The viewpoint, and non-violent intent, of the protesters themselves was utterly bypassed.

The "conservative" press, however, dedicated a lot more space to the protests. The Daily Mail's headline declared with triumph that "police arrest[ed] 17 anarchists threatening to lead swarms of illegal migrants through Channel tunnel to Britain." According to the paper - the Sun reported a similar version of events - "weapons including machetes, metal poles and a spiked club were found hidden by the activists during raids in Calais late on Wednesday." Contrary to the truth, the No Borderites have "pledged to ‘tear down the borders’ stopping migrants getting across the Channel," and "authorities" apparently "said they had received email threats by protesters pledging to destroy wire fences and other security measures around the Channel Tunnel."

As the No Borders Brighton blog points out;
Utter bollocks! What do they expect us to do? Storm the port and commandeer ferries? Hijack a Eurostar train and ask the driver to "Take me to England?" I repeat, utter bollocks.
Whilst the "threats to burn ‘symbols of capitalism’ including local government offices, and even hotels run by prominent global chains" and "tense atmosphere" which "has gripped the port all week,"are contrasted by the fact that "there are currently only 500 people at the Camp against the estimated 2,000 police in the area." The police, of course, are "just waiting for an excuse to wade into the protesters and crack a few heads as they have admitted to local activists on a number of occasions recently." And, contrary to the threats of "swarming" the Channel Tunnel, the activists at the Camp "have specifically told the migrants in leaflets handed out prior to the Camp that we cannot do this." As they explain;
Why would we seek to raise the hopes of people who live for months in conditions that you and I would find it hard to survive by offering to do something we know we cannot hope to follow up on. We don't want to leave the migrants in worse situation after the camp has left than the one they were in before we cam. That is why we are offering no false hopes.
What the article doesn't say is that the locals around the Camp site have been reacting positively to our presence despite the hysteria from the press and local authorities. Some have even been helping in the Camp set-up. Nouchi Pierre, the president of the Union des M├ętiers de l'Hotel du Calais, has called on its members, the owners of cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels, "not to panic" and to stay open during the week of the Camp. This despite the local paper Nord Littoral stirring things up by suggesting that hotels belonging to the Accor group might be a target after the Strasbourg anti-NATO camp events.
But, of course, such realities are inconvenient. More importantly, they cannot even remotely hope to pass through the doctrinal system of a media that reflects only elite opinion. Over two centuries, some things don't change, and that anarchists remain a bogeyman whom the media refuse to even try and understand is one of them.

None of this should matter. In Calais, the treatment of migrants by the French authorities goes beyond appalling, and the desperate conditions that these people face is beyond imagining. Before the No Borders Camp arrived in Calais, French authorities bulldozed migrant camps and allegations that "the hard-line French riot police, the CRS, had thrown tear gas into their camps, and frequently arrested and harassed them" are constantly re-iterated. Likewise, those migrants who manage to cross the border are greeted by what the group No One Is Illegal calls a "gulag archipelago of immigrant prisons." Conditions are so bad that Libcom has reported mass "hunger strikes and rioting by immigration prisoners" in response.

This brutal treatment of the poorest and most wretched people needs to be challenged by direct action, and the issues need to be highlighted. If this means harrassment by the police and smears and lies from the corporate media, then so be it.