Calais: the battle of Fort Galloo

Calais, on the France/UK border. Some time from 6 August, the French government will send in the riot cops to evict “Fort Galloo”, an old industrial building where several hundred refugees and supporters have made a community.

Fort Galloo is a giant 12,000 square metres former metal recycling plant, abandoned over a year ago. Then on 12 July, after a demonstration and march through the streets, some of the 1000 refugees stuck in Calais moved in, along with supporters from the No Borders network and local groups. The ‘fortress’ has become not just a symbol of defiance, but a living example of self-management, anarchy in action. No cops, no bosses, no borders. People from all over the world living together and organising their own space including communal kitchens cooking for 300 a day, a bakery, film and music evenings, daily assemblies to make collective decisions. Showers and toilets have been installed by the international charity Medecins du Monde.

On 24 July the court gave the order to evict. The inhabitants were given ten days grace until 6 August. the eviction could come any time after that. It will need a major police operation, and the inhabitants have said they will resist. There are high walls and barricades, and the defenders are calling for reinforcements to arrive before the 6th.

galloo tree

The border wars in Calais

There are now about 1000 refugees stuck living rough at the border in Calais. You can see the white cliffs of Dover in the distance on a clear day. The numbers go up and down: there were only some 300 people a year or two ago. They have swelled as more people flee from war and  repression in Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere.

In the face of the media propaganda, it maybe worth remembering a couple of basic points. People become refugees because of wars and regimes that are started, funded, and profited from by the UK, France and other powerful corporate states. Calais is a little bit of this war reaching our doorstep. Only a small percentage of refugees come to Europe, and even fewer reach the UK border: for example, of the 4 million or so Afghan refugees, 3 million are in Iran and Pakistan. Why do some head for the UK? In general, because they come from former British colonies, and have been taught English and the myth of ‘British democracy’ at school.

The numbers go up and down, but the misery in Calais is not going away. So long as capitalist powers spread war, famine and poverty, there will be refugees. So long as there are borders, thousands will get stuck in the hell of documents, police raids, detention centres, senseless killings and barbed wire that keep ‘us’ from ‘them’.

France, UK and other governments have no solution to this. They aren’t even looking for one. They just use raids and evictions to keep the numbers down a bit, make people abit less visible, and assert an illusion of control.

Until June, refugees in Calais were living in a number of camps and squats throughout the town. The biggest camp, called the ‘Syrian Jungle’, was on the main road between the town centre and the port. All the camps were by riot police (the infamous CRS, and gendarmes) with tear gas and batons over one night in May. Refugees then occupied the ‘Salam’ food distribution yard where charities give out dinner. This occupation lasted a month, until the police came again at dawn on 2 July. Over six hundred people were surrounded at the camp. 300 of them were rounded up taken away on buses to be held in detention prisons. People were arrested, beaten, gassed, abused, terrorised … and then they returned, to try once again to cross the Channel.

On 12 July, supporters from Calais and across France organised a major demonstration in the town. The demo ended with 300 people moving together into the new ‘Fort Galloo’.

galloo 2

Community of hope

Amidst the relentless misery in Calais, there is also life and hope. We know that the governments have no help to offer us at the border. Thery are the problem, not th solution.  We also know that we don´t need them:  Fort Galloo shows how we can organise for ourselves and make life in Calais liveable. Refugees, Calais residents, and international supporters have done this together, for themselves. Fort Galloo is a small liberated territory, that shows how much is possible. We need to defend it, and make it grow.

galloo diagram

map of Fort Galloo

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