Old Blog, New Location

I have just transported this blog to this new location. Another tiny step out from the clutches of Google – like a step toward the moon really.

It’s funny looking back over these past posts; written by another entirely different Jo from the one who is typing this now. I have decided to archive the entire blog here, without edits, for reference for myself and others.

Please feel free to comment, and please visit me at my current blog, which is more focused on travel: A Girl and Her Thumb

Advertisements

Last Post From Calais… for now

–> Read this first! <–

A text message from a friend: “Are you Sans Papiers? Am I going to have to come and feed you?”

After an emotional morning I was overjoyed to hear that my passport had arrived in the post. I could go home! I decided to leave that night as I would still only have four days in Brighton and lots to do while I was there, preparing for my big traveling adventure (more on that soon…)

Cycling down to the ferry I passed lots of Afghan men carrying boxes and bags full of food. I waved from my bike and nearly swerved into the pavement as my front basket was also laden with food. They saw me and recognising me, shouted “Jo! Jo!”

To my shame I’m finding it very hard to remember anyone’s name. I have enough trouble with this under normal circumstances, but my efforts are even further frustrated when I can’t even pronounce the name properly to begin with! I recognise people often, but usually have no idea where from. These people were obviously heading towards the Hazara Jungle – one I spent some time in on my last visit but didn’t go to at all this time. Why had I not gone back there?

I shouted “I’m late! I’m sorry! Goodbye! I’ll be back soon!”
They shouted their goodbyes after me.

After buying my ticket and infiltrating a line of cars with my bike I saw them again, passing by on the other side of the giant white metal security fence. I was painfully aware of how much each of them wanted to be in my place. Why should I have such privileges, denied to so many?

We waved to one another again through the white metal bars and they were gone. I will be back.

Ethiopian Squat – 12th August 09

–> Read this first! <–

Last night P and I went to visit the Ethiopian Squat – two large buildings with a courtyard in-between near to the railway tracks. This is the one the police boarded up so I got first hand experience of the plank of wood and the rickety ladder.

It was dark by the time we got there, good thing I brought my head torch as this squat has no electricity. We brought them some candles as well.

A few of us sat huddled around two tealights in the courtyard, attempting to position a magazine page as a windbreak, picking it up quickly whenever it blew into the candles.

There are women at the Ethiopian Squat and the atmosphere felt to me different from some of the other Jungles, perhaps because of this. I wanted to find out more about the women and their stories, but the girl sitting with us was very shy and quiet and I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable by asking too many questions. She and the man she was with had both been in Calais for fifteen days. I asked the man how long it was since he left Ethiopia. I thought he had misunderstood me, but no, his English is very good. It has taken him four years to get to Calais. He was put in prison for crossing one of the borders he passed over in order to get here. I asked if his family knows where he is, if he is in touch with them? He said no, he has not spoken to them in a long time. This is no life he is living. He does not want them to know where he is. If he gets to England, then he will contact them.

There were only four of us left around the candles and we realised this was a bad time for a visit. P has spent time there before and knows a little of how the Ethiopian community works. They are apparently one of the most organised Jungles, with a rota of who will try to cross and when. Freight train hopping is a popular choice, rather than paying Mafia to stuff them in trucks. The success and casualty rates are both quite high.

I have just read an update on wwwcalaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com that a delegation from No Borders South Wales has just delivered some 12volt car batteries, lights, LED lamps, a volt meter and a car battery charger to the Ethiopian squat. This has made me smile.

Iranian Jungle – 11th August 09

–> Read this first! <–

Some of us met some Kurdish guys in the park the other day with very good English. They lived in Liverpool for a few years before being deported back to Iraq. Now they are back in Calais and again trying to reach England. They are young, around 18 and dress like typical London teenagers. One of them calls himself J. J was here during the No Borders Camp and he and his friends remember it well. They say they enjoyed it, lots going on and the police could not get onsite. The camp was held in the park we were sitting in, a regular hang-out for Kurdish people. I asked J if he could translate our ‘Who We Are’ statement into Kurdish and he agreed, so today M and I went back to find him.

We found the Iranian Jungle first in the same park, and had just sat down with the men there to ask about Persian translations and how to find the Kurdish people when three CRS suddenly appeared, seemingly from nowhere. Neither the migrants nor us had a chance to go anywhere. They checked M’s ID and asked if I could speak French. I replied no, only English. They asked for my ID. I said I don’t have it. One of them saw my bag and told me to open it.
I asked “for what are you searching?”
He said “Just open it.”
I said “Why?”
He replied “Because I am a policeman.”
I said “That’s not a reason”
But he said “Yes it is.”
I opened my bag. I don’t know French law and I didn’t have my passport. I wanted to do the minimum amount possible to get them to leave me alone.
He saw my notebook and went to read it, but I grabbed it from him and said, “that’s my notebook! What are you looking for?”
He saw my wallet and asked for it. I feigned shock and said “you want my money?!”
He said something about ID so I opened my wallet, took out my bank card and gave it to him. He looked at it and handed it back. That seemed to satisfy him.

They then moved onto their intended victims: the four Iranian men we had been sitting with. As the police were talking to them I began quietly writing a text message to send out to the emergency number, but I was seen by ‘hands-on-hips CRS’ and told to stop. We basically had to just sit there and watch while the cops took the men, despite protests from them that they had already been picked up early that morning. The CRS simply replied that this was “not possible”. Before the cops arrived the men had been telling us of how there had been 11 arrests at 6am that morning when the police came and woke everyone up and took them all. Twice in one day! They wouldn’t even let one man put his bag away in his tent.

P turned up as they were leaving and managed to take some pictures. My hands were shaking like crazy as I sent texts out saying what was going on.

www.calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com

The Palestinian Jungle – 10th August 09

–> Read this first! <–

We have a piece of writing about who we are that has already been translated into Pasto and Dari. We still need some other languages, especially Arabic and Kurdish. B and I headed down to the “Palestinian Jungle” to say hi and hopefully make some contacts there.

As with all the Jungles I have visited, the people sitting around makeshift structures in the port were friendly and pleased to see us. We brought them candles and some oranges, which they shared with us.

We chatted to a weathered-looking man from Sudan who told us he has been living in Calais for the past eight years, in the structure nearest to where we were sitting. B and I were both shocked. Eight years is by far the longest any of us has heard of someone living in the Jungle. I asked if he was trying to get to England but he shook his head slowly, pointed to his hair, his knees, his tattered clothes. “I am fifty-seven, nearly fifty-eight. I stay here in Calais.”

We spoke with some of the other men, mostly from Sudan, one from Eritrea. Most spoke reasonably good English. There were no Palestinians in sight and I have since discovered it has been mis-named, although some people report having met at least one Palestinian there previously. This is the most international of the Jungles with a mixture of different nationalities living together.

After three games of dominoes in which the winner was unclear (I never did understand the rules of that game), the CRS police suddenly showed up. Some of the men got up. Some shouted, some ran away and were chased by police with truncheons. One man hid behind the sofa we were sitting on. The remaining men stayed where they were sitting and laughed at the others being chased by the cops. This was obviously such a familiar scene that it had become a source of some amusement. To us it came as something of a shock. B went over to the police to confront them. I was on my way to back him up when I saw them check his ID Shit – I still don’t have my passport! I backed off and went back to the guys still sitting around the dominoes table. Some of the others were standing near to the waters edge, pretending they were about to jump whenever the cops came near. It seemed to work really well. The police obviously weren’t too keen in jumping in after them. The men by the dominoes table thought it was a hoot! Eventually I managed to figure out that I had our emergency phone number in my pocket and after a couple of botched attempts I succeeded in remembering the French code.

Within a few minutes around ten activists were on the scene on bikes, some with cameras – filming the cops filming us. The CRS were clearly not very pleased to see us. They were checking IDs and photographing people, sometimes a few cm’s away from people’s faces, an intimidation tactic familiar to me from experiences in the UK.

To my shame I stayed well back, fearful of arrest without any ID. The migrants have to put up with this everyday – sometimes more than once a day. Yes, I am a coward. But I am getting better. At least I am here in Calais.

The police left without arresting anyone, but unfortunately returned later when most of us had gone and took three people.


www.calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com

A Sunrise Cycle-Tour of Calais Slums

–> Read this first! <–

My alarm went off at 4am. This is the earliest morning I have seen since my first retreat. Knowing that in England it was an hour earlier made me feel the cold and dark even more. Still, the spirit of adventure was with me as three of us crawled out of our tents, unlocked our bikes and peddled out into the night. We were going to check out a rumour told to us by some of the street cleaners – that the CRS gather at 5am every morning outside the train station, before moving off to the Jungles to carry out dawn raids and arrests.

We positioned ourselves opposite the station and sipped black coffee in plastic cups while keeping a bleary eye on the road opposite. Nothing. We waited until around 5:30am, moving a little into the park behind us when we realised how conspicuous we must look.

I hadn’t seen this park before. It currently has a display of aerial scenes from around the world with an environmental focus. Some of them are really stunning. This is the place activists recently fly-posted pictures of migrants, making connections between migration and environmental crises, as well as saying, “look – this is what’s going on here, in Calais, right under your noses!”

The moon was still high in the black sky and deep in the even blacker waters of the pond when we left the park and I was given a cycle-tour of Calais. I can report that even Calais is beautiful at sunrise.

We didn’t enter any of the Jungles as early morning is when people try to sleep after having spent the night attempting to stow-away or cling under trucks, jump trains, steal boats or swim…

I saw the squat by the railway that the Ethiopians live in. The police recently bricked it up, with wounded and a pregnant woman still inside. Activists came and knocked through a doorway while the cement was still wet, but police came back again. Now access is only via a wooden plank going up to a wall and a rickety wooden ladder on the other side. This means the wounded people and pregnant woman must remain inside the whole time as the route in and out is too dangerous. The only bonus of this is that the police have effectively blockaded themselves out. They tried to get in but the first was too fat and they gave up. People have been taking food and vitamins to the pregnant woman.

I have an instinctive urge to find this woman and see if I can help her situation in any way. It occurs to me that any of us could spend our time helping any one person and of course it would be worthwhile, but there are up to 2,000 migrants in Calais living like this. Everything we do seems so ineffectual, like a sticking-plaster on a gunshot.

We cycled past the Eritrean squat and the Palestinian Jungle, which had been trashed by the police a day earlier. A few tiny pallet structures covered in blankets remained or had since been rebuilt.

We made our way back to camp where we drank more coffee and I passed out for a couple of hours before the sun got too hot on the tent. D was cooking something hot and spicy for breakfast, but alas the emergency phone rang and it was abandoned as we all sped off to the Pashtun Jungle to check a report that 20-30 CRS vans were headed there. False alarm. The only action was a few Afghan men gathering water in containers from the pump out front and slooshing it over their heads. Back to camp and breakfast – finally!

www.calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com

Sans Papiers in Calais

I am about to post some of the stuff I have written about my recent visit to Calais. I am back in the UK now. It might be helpful to first read the account from when I was last in Calais as part of the No Borders Camp. There is now also a blog about what we have been doing over there and some of the things we have witnessed at www.calaismigrantsolidarity.wordpress.com

I took my bike this time, which meant cycling 12 miles over Dover Hill (basically a mountain!) from Folkestone to Dover after a three hour train journey. I eventually made it to the ticket office after cycling for over two hours (including a few stops for blackberry munching) and asked for a ticket. The woman booked me a space and asked for my passport. This was the point at which I realised I had not given a single thought to my passport until now – it was safely put away in my drawer at home. Shit! I explained my situation to the woman at the desk and she said she would sell me a ticket, but I might get stopped at passport control. I decided to go for it…and somehow made it to France without getting checked.

All well and good, but in France it is law that you have to carry ID with you at all times. A bit of a problem if you are expecting harassment from French police on a daily basis!