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Calais: Olympics border control repression

Corporate Games graphicfrom Corporate Watch

Members of the group Calais Migrant Solidarity tell Corporate Watch about how the repression of migrants in Calais increased as a direct result of the London Olympics, how corporations have benefited from this and how Olympics sponsors are causing further problems in France. Calais Migrant Solidarity is part of the No Borders network and works with migrants in Calais to gather evidence of police violence and harassment of migrants and to strengthen resistance to the border regime.

Calais border repression

Only 21 miles from the English Coastline, around 150 to 200 migrants survive daily repression by French and English authorities. Many people from different countries, such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq, are stuck in Calais as it is a bottleneck for migrants and refugees who are trying to reach the UK. Migrants face constant harassment and abuse by the police patrolling around the city and port. For the last few years there has been a big push to make Calais 'migrant free'.

In March this year, the biggest migrant squat in Calais, known as Africa House, was evicted. Since then, many people with and without papers have been depending on smaller squats for shelter to avoid sleeping on Calais’ violent streets. However, these spaces have been continually raided and at least another ten squats have been evicted since March, including an Iranian squat, an Eritrean squat, a Somali squat, a Palestinian and Egyptian squat, a Sudanese squat and some mixed ‘global’ squats with people from Sudan, Eritrea, Chad, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq.

All the long-standing squats have also gone within the last few months, including Palestine House, Paradise House and the Villa, which have been home to people for years. There has also been continued destruction of migrant camps in the 'jungle' area where migrants camp, in town, in parks or under bridges, as well as constant evictions of the food distribution area – a concrete yard surrounded by barbed wire - where people have been forced to sleep when they have nowhere else to go.

The Olympics exacerbates repression

The lead up to the Olympics saw a rapid increase of police brutality against migrant communities and their supporters in Calais. People were pre-emptively arrested, and beaten, during 'official Olympic visits' and there was a big sweep of migrant's living spaces, evicting and demolishing many of the buildings where migrants sleep and driving people out of the city.

The raiding and evicting of sleeping spaces is nothing new to Calais's migrant population, but recent months have seen the authorities trying to thoroughly clear every sleeping space, meaning it has been near impossible for people to find shelter to sleep for any length of time. Evicted from place to place by the police for more than two months, a lot of migrants found precarious shelter where the charities provide meals and under the arcades of nearby buildings. It seems obvious that this was part of a push to clear up the city for the Olympics, so migrants were made less visible to tourists in Calais and those travelling to the UK for the Games.

The evictions of squats have largely been illegal. In France residents must be informed beforehand, notices placed in City Hall and on the building set to be evicted, and people should be allowed to contest the decision and how to do this should be included in the notice. The police are also meant to show the judgement when making the eviction. This very rarely happens. There has been some effort more recently to at least get court orders for a few of the evictions of the bigger squats, but most evictions are still being carried out illegally. The police consistently raid and evict when and how they like.

A social housing organisation, The Office Public de l’Habitat de Calais (OPH), is largely complicit in these evictions. They own a lot of empty buildings in the area and have been authorising their evictions and demolition, showing up whilst police are kicking people out from their buildings onto the street.

At the end of March there was also a big round up and pre-emptive arrest of migrants and Calais Migrant Solidarity (Calais No Borders) activists during an official Olympic visit by the new UK ambassador to France Sir Peter Ricketts. Riot police (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité) carrying out ID controls beat people before arrest and while being detained in police vans before handing them over to the border police (Police aux Frontières) who then carried on beating them in the police station, leading to some people requiring medical attention. Attacks by the police, including beating, punching and kicking people on the streets and in confined spaces out of sight or in custody is a regular occurrence in Calais. People were held in custody for the duration of the Olympic visit.

Emily Haythorn from CMS told Corporate Watch that: "There is a relentless attack on migrants means of living in Calais. From 'banal' racism to overt violence. This is mostly enforced by the police, it is their job to catch migrants. This plays out like a witch hunt, constantly controlling people's identity, arresting and detaining people believed to be migrants, humiliating people, destroying their belongings and shelters all the time. The police act with impunity."

Tourism and freedom of movement for corporations

For the Olympics, the regional council launched a dual operation, running an artificial ‘Welcome the World’ campaign to boost tourism from passing athletes and spectators whilst at the same time cracking down on migrants, driving out ‘foreigners’ who do not have cash to spend. Calais was an 'Olympic village' during the Games. For the Olympic period, over 100m euros were pumped into the local area in order to build gymnasiums and boost tourism. The Nord Pas-de-Calais region of France hosted over 47 foreign delegations in 2011 visiting to use these facilities, such as from Pakistan and Senegal.

It is darkly hypocritical that the council worked with tour operators, even releasing a guide of 'how to cater to tourists', organising cultural events, dances and shows every evening throughout the Games to keep holidaymakers happy whilst at the same time making life impossible for other 'foreigners', kicking them out of their homes onto the streets.

To boost small and medium sized French businesses, not just major Olympics sponsors, the National Olympic Committee and French sports (CNOSF) created the 'Club France' centre in London near Big Ben, where businesses joined athletes and state institutions for the first time. It included competitions for small businesses with cash prizes. Public System is the agency that was responsible for the management, marketing and entertainment at Club France.

Allianz, Adidas, BMW, EDF, Somfy, Omega, Française des Jeux, the Savings Bank, Visa, Tarkett, Eurostar and Sega are all partners of the Olympic team in France and are part of Club France. The French company EDF, which is pushing for a new generation of nuclear power in the UK, received more than 1,000 guests for lunches and dinners throughout the Olympics at the Brasserie at Club France. EDF was one of the sustainability partners of the London Olympics and hosted presentations on 'tomorrow's energy' to visitors of Club France.

Security and surveillance

In order to protect and promote the Olympic image and the corporate sponsors, already existing security measures have been stepped up and new ones introduced in London and further afield. The Olympics is a huge commercialising enterprise and globally televised feeding frenzy for sponsoring and supporting corporations, such as Coca Cola, McDonald’s, BP, Dow Chemical and Group 4 Security (G4S) – some of the worst offending companies with a whole host of abuses against people and the environment the world over.

London was on military lockdown during the Olympics as the government showcased its arsenal of draconian technology and stifling security measures justified, once again, by the threat of 'terrorism'. Cities are militarised with police and private security occupying the streets, flyer drones for aerial surveillance alongside snipers and air missiles on rooftops, all to keep the Olympic industry secure.

The Olympics is a clear reflection and reinforcement of privilege, exposing the divide between people who benefit from the Games and those that are bulldozed out of the way. The history of the Games is marred with galvanizing the oppression of the day, that is why we have seen pre-emptive arrests and evictions across London and Calais as part of the 'clean up' of cities to pave way for the Olympic elite.

State ‘security’, or in other words the attempt to control people, for ‘immigration’ purposes and against ‘terrorism’ is becoming very much hand in hand, with multinational arms companies and defence industries increasingly expanding into the realm of immigration control and merging surveillance systems. The Olympics is just another excuse for reinforcing the deployment of authoritarian surveillance systems and arsenal of security measures to protect the privileged and their profit-making.

The day before the Olympics started, the military built a camp just outside Calais and the military police, Gendarmerie, who are usually only in the port area, roamed the streets. In total, there were around 750 to 800 police in Calais on the eve of the Games. In the week preceding this, the border police, PAF, were consistently waking migrants up early not to check ID, arrest or evict them, but just to ask for their nationality.

Resistance: Games without borders

The first day of the Olympics saw a demonstration and mock Olympics in Calais called 'Games without Borders'. There were around sixty migrants, No Borders activists and people from other campaigns. The event started with food distribution and an assembly, followed by a counter-Olympic procession through the town, including refugees from many different communities. The first stop on the march was the police station, where demonstrators were greeted by French riot police, CRS, as they put up stickers with the names of two migrants - Ismael and Noureddin - who died recently under suspicious circumstances.

Noureddin's body was found in the canal after he had been walking home alone shortly after being hassled by police yet again. The police claim that he stole a mobile phone and then jumped into the canal. However, with the CRS riot police patrolling the streets night and day with specific orders to stop anyone who looks like a migrant, their story seems unlikely. Noureddin had recently been granted asylum in France. Even though there has been a recent French court ruling against racist policing, nothing has changed and Noureddin’s story is far from unique. It raises grim parallels with the death of a young Eritrean man, Ismael, whose body was found at the bottom of another canal in December 2011. The police immediately closed the case, writing it off as suicide, without any evidence for this conclusion.

The demonstration had a very positive atmosphere and was followed by athletic events in the park, including badminton, football, acrobatics and a 400 meter race with the added obstacle of pretend French border guards and riot police (UKBA, CRS and PAF) trying to block the contestants. Then it continued into the town centre, leaftleting locals and tourists. The aquatic games followed on the tourist beach, including diving and swimming in the channel, where migrants and others were joined by police speedboats. Every time the police boats went near, the migrants held their hands up in unison. It seemed like the police thought they were all going to swim to England!

In Calais, as everywhere, refugees, migrants, and all people without the right official documents, are world champions in endurance and survival events. Each day involves hours of dedicated training in escaping police harassment. The quest to cross the border to England is a momentous sporting challenge in the journey of a lifetime. To make the race still tougher, at each Olympic Games governments deploy stifling security measures under the pretext of anti-terrorism. The games without borders event celebrated the fighting spirit of cross-border athletes.

On 7th August, there was a demo and banner drop in Calais to commemorate one month since Noureddin died and to call for his case to be reopened. There were violent arrests, with one activist sent to hospital, and two people snatched on the street on 9th August and re-arrested, then released the following day. There is ongoing resistance in Calais to the repression against migrants and people working with them.

Olympic sponsors throughout France

Aside from the Olympic crack down in Calais, France had further repressive involvement in the Games. French corporations involved with the London Olympics included multinational GDF Suez, which was contracted to build and run the Olympic Park Energy Centre, supposed to be the flagship of the sustainability claims of the Olympics. GDF Suez is described as "one of the worst and most violent companies in Brazil in terms of its social and environmental record". The French company Compte R, which specialises in biomass boilers, won the contract to heat the Olympic swimming pools, for almost one million euros. The company Doublet again won the contract to produce all the official Olympic flags, with its workers having to work six day weeks in order to produce 12,000 flags in six months.

French steelworkers protested against the company ArcelorMittal, which carried the Olympic torch in France, and denounced the commercialism of the Olympics. ArcelorMittal funded the 'Olympic Orbit' structure in London, to the tune of £16 milllion. In 2009, ArcelorMittal held around 8 per cent of the worldwide steel output and generated US $65.1 billion. It is the largest steel company in the world and the EU's 5th biggest polluter. Despite this wealth, the Orbit's sponsor has aggressively pursued an anti-environmental agenda, and is responsible for significant opposition to carbon cap and trading schemes. The company was a tier two sponsor of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. ArcelorMittal has also come under fire for negligent safety and environmental practice at numerous operations worldwide, including South Africa, Liberia and notably Kyrgyzstan where around 100 workers have died in accidents in the last six years. In France, ArcelorMittal has been trying to close down some of its factories, which has led to occupations of its factories by workers.


Aside from the repression that the corporate Olympics seems to necessitate, there is also a history of people using the Olympic Games as an opportunity for resistance. For example, there is a long tradition of Olympic athletes using the Games as an opportunity to escape from their country of origin and many have been successful in claiming asylum. In recent days, athletes from Cameroon, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea and Ivory Coast have disappeared from the Olympic Village.

As France steps us its racist policing and evicts Roma and migrants across the country, resistance and solidarity is needed in Calais more than ever. Emily Haythorn from Calais Migrant Solidarity told Corporate Watch that: "People need to stop using undocumented people as the scapegoats to the problems of societies in crisis. ID controls and the enforcement of identity papers, check points and patrols in order to control the identity of populations has, and always will, result in persecution. Time and time again ID controls by authorities scanning populations in order to pick out certain categories of people is a telling sign that systematic abuse against those people is happening. Rather than build up barriers and fortresses to protect the rich from the poor, we need to break these barriers down and engage in practical solidarity with people at the brunt of exploitation or persecution no matter where they are from."

First published July 27, 2012 in Corporate Games, illustration by Edd Baldry

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