Our friend and comrade, Noureddin Mohamed, died in the centre of Calais, France, in the early hours of Saturday 7 July 2012. Noureddin was 28 years old. Originally from North Darfur, Sudan, he had been in Calais for more than four years. He was well known and loved in Calais, and leaves many grieving friends. He died just some 200 metres from the Sub-prefecture (government office) where he had recently been granted leave to remain in France as a refugee.
That night, Noureddin had been out with a group of friends in the town centre. But a normal night out in Calais, if you are black or look “foreign”, means the constant danger of harassment and aggression from the police. In Calais, companies of CRS riot police patrol the streets night and day with specific orders to stop anyone who looks like a migrant, and arrest anyone who can’t show the right travel documents. Despite a recent French Appeal Court ruling against such racist policing, nothing has changed.
According to Noureddin’s friends, as they left a bar near the main street Rue Royale, they were once again stopped aggressively by the police. Minutes later he was dead. At 3.30 am, his body was dragged out of the canal.
We do not believe that his death was an accident. And we do not believe the official story, which was immediately parroted without further investigation by the local press. According to the police, Noureddin stole a mobile phone from a woman, her friends chased him, and Noureddin jumped into the canal where he drowned. Noureddin was not a thief, and had never done anything like this. Nor do they believe that he simply “jumped”. The police have provided no evidence for their story, except the word of the three people who are supposed to have chased Noureddin.
Racist attacks against migrants are all too common in Calais, sometimes involving local fascist groups, as well as the police themselves. Whatever happened that night, Noureddin’s death deserves a proper investigation. Instead, the case was closed immediately, and the police have refused to perform an autopsy. On Wednesday 11 July, Noureddin’s uncle submitted an official demand to the state prosecutor for an inquiry into “murder by persons unknown”. According to legal counsel, this demand means that the authorities should now perform an autopsy and reopen the investigation. There was no official response.
Noureddin’s story raises grim parallels with the death of a young Eritrean man, Ismael, whose body was found at the bottom of another canal bridge on 22 December. The police immediately closed the case, writing it off as suicide, without any evidence for this conclusion. In fact since 2002 over 100 people have died in Calais due to the inherent violence of the border regime, making Noureddin’s story far from unique. There is no accurate count of how many migrants have died in Calais, their deaths ignored, the facts covered-up or altogether unreported.
Every day in the week following Noureddin’s death, friends, family, and their supporters held demonstrations demanding justice for Noureddin. On Tuesday 10 July around 60 people – not only Sudanese but Afghan, Eritrean, French, and others – demonstrated outside the central police station. They were met by a show of force including around 20 CRS riot police, with flashball guns, who blocked off all the streets around the areas. As people were leaving, one CRS (riot police) officer called after them: “be careful you don’t fall in the water”. It’s certainly clear for “civilian” racists and fascists, too, whose side the authorities are on. So long as deaths go without acknowledgement or reply, it’s open season on migrants in Calais. Racist police officers in Calais know that they can beat, chase, and continually harass migrants without fear of sanction.
Undeterred, the next day members of the Darfuri communities from Paris and Belgium arrived to join another demonstration outside the Town Hall. They carried placards with pictures of Noureddin, demanding “We want to know the reason for the death of our brother.” The mobilisation continues, and solidarity demonstrations have happened in London, Berlin and Düsseldorf, Germany, where 12 No Borders activists occupied the French Consulate while outside, a demonstration of a group of more than 35 people gathered with a local samba band. A banner read “Justice for Noureddin” – in English, French and German. The occupation and demonstration lasted for four hours.
We ask for international actions and solidarity for our fallen friend.