by Lucy Auger
Last Saturday, on the 18th June, a procession of 250 vehicles containing food, clothes, tents and other aid were turned away at the border by the French Border Police. This cruel attempt to prevent aid from reaching refugees in Calais takes on an even crueller irony when considering that the incident took place two days before World Refugee Day. The irony of the situation becomes ever clearer whilst the border stood firm between refugees and aid, as the Remain campaign reached a crescendo in the last week of campaigning, still citing ‘freedom of movement’ as a core principle of the EU.
The Convoy To Calais, organised by the People’s Assembly, Stop The War Coalition, Stand Up To Racism and others, is the product of months of planning, designed to simultaneously raise awareness and deliver aid to the refugees stuck at Calais. Among the Convoy were two minibuses sent from Norwich filled with helpers and supplies, one organised by Stand up to Racism and Refugees Welcome, and one organised by the Chapelfield Mosque which managed to cross the border.
When the Convoy reached Dover, the French authorities denied them entry, claiming that they would not be allowed to cross the border on that occasion due to ‘security concerns’. This decision, described by Dianne Abbott as ‘shocking’, sparked a spontaneous protest at the border as the convoy got out of their cars and buses, chanting ‘We’ve got aid, let us through. Refugees are human too!’ After they dispersed, many from the convoy then travelled back to the French Embassy in London to protest further, leaving a small amount of supplies that did not manage to get through as a symbolic gesture to illustrate the futility of projects like the Convoy To Calais while authorities remain silent.
When the Convoy reached Dover, the French authorities denied them entry
The head of the Calais prefecture released a statement claiming that the convoy was blocked due to heightened security whilst France remains in a state of emergency. The state of emergency following the Paris attacks will continue until the end of UEFA Euro 2016 and the Tour de France, but for many, this was not an acceptable excuse. The Convoy To Calais was a humanitarian mission above all else, and it was not associated with any planned protests or demonstrations. When the French authorities blocked the Convoy they did so in full knowledge of this, and to stand in the way of an act of solidarity such as this is shameful.
The decision taken by the French authorities is hugely detrimental to refugees right now, in a way that is blatant and damaging. They are being denied aid, and because of what has happened, more refugees will be sleeping without tents this week. That is the short-term reality. Looking past that, the decision to block aid whilst refugees are stranded in ‘the jungle’ at Calais clearly demonstrates where European governments’ interests really lie. Among the chants at the border on Saturday was ‘Freedom of movement is a right –not just for the rich and white’. With football fans pouring into France for the UEFA Euro and refugees waiting patiently in Calais, that chant has never been more appropriate. While governments continue to prioritise private profit over displaced peoples we will never see an end to the refugee crisis.
‘Freedom of movement is a right –not just for the rich and white’
During this final week of EU Referendum campaigning we are likely to hear the phrase ‘freedom of movement’ a lot, but if the Convoy To Calais has proven anything, it’s that freedom of movement across Europe is a lie. We will never have freedom of movement until we have open borders and effective strategies to help refugees.
These demonstrations of solidarity must continue if we are to resist the attempts to dehumanise refugees in the hope that people will not see through our government’s horrific lack of compassion, and their ineptitude at handling this situation. There will be a meeting in July to plan the next step, and details will be announced soon on the ‘Refugees Welcome Here –Norwich Group’ Facebook page. Until then, educate yourself, stay vocal, and be visible in your solidarity with refugees in Calais, because we must not allow these disgraceful decisions go unchallenged.
Header image via socialistworker.co.uk