France: Communiqué on buildings occupied in Calais

February 28, 2014

We are a group of people from different countries and different political backgrounds who are fighting for the right to housing for everyone, whatever their origin. We announce that we have occupied (now for more than 48 hours) empty and abandoned public buildings in different parts of the town of Calais, and intend to continue these occupations and maintain them as squats for as long as possible.

Why here and why now? There are more than 4,000 buildings empty in Calais, which represents 9% of homes (500 of them are in fact the property of a single large housing association, the OPH/Public Office of Housing, the town’s major ‘social’ landlord…), and yet against this backdrop more than 500 people are on the streets, out of sight of any dignified solution, and used only as sound bites by politicians who purport to offer assistance and in reality offer nothing. To address this situation, the authorities have turned Calais into a ghost town.

Who can claim to have walked in the streets of this town and not passed at least one house with windows bricked up, doors barricaded, and cellars sealed? Why leave places empty and people outside in the cold? Why spend money to condemn access to buildings rather than using them to help a precarious population?

To answer these questions that the public authorities have chosen to avoid (for several years now), a group of individuals have set out to find collective solutions by giving life to abandoned buildings and the homeless a roof over their heads. Until now, the authorities have responded with repressive tactics that have resulted in multiple illegal evictions based on the perversion of legal procedures, manipulation of witnesses during neighbourhood investigations, and alteration of evidence…

In Calais, the discourse on the right to housing is taken hostage by the various levels of Power that have continued to use the migration situation to stir up fears and fantasies about the issue of squats. In recent months this political manipulation has been incarnated in the call for the denunciation and exposure of squats; spearheaded by UMP mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart (who in reality has no real political prospects for this town), a racist attitude has been established, which suggests that squats and their alleged inhabitants are the origin of all the ills of Calaisians. This poisonous atmosphere has allowed the xenophobic collective ‘Save Calais’ (whose founder is a neo-Nazi with a swastika tattoo) to germinate —their establishment occurring, somewhat coincidentally, just two days after Bouchart’s call for action on ‘the problem of migrant squats’.

Remember, further, that two of the town hall’s main representatives, Philippe Mignonnet and Emmanuel Agius (who both work under Bouchart), came out to welcome ‘Save Calais’ and to support the group’s ‘sit-in’ on Thursday, November 7, 2013 outside the town hall, despite the fact that organizers and participants did not hide their racism (including, for example, some discriminatory remarks that migrants ‘are harmful, three quarters of them are potential aggressors’), and displayed clear affiliation with the Front National.

‘Save Calais’ has since extended their ‘stigmatization of squats’ campaign with a sickening xenophobic discourse and hard-line violence against people trying to find shelter. This group has become the operational arm of the mayor’s call to denounce squats in Calais, and has set up a system for tracking down migrants and others living in squats, identifying buildings being used for shelter, and organizing actions against these people and their homes. It was almost impossible to stay in Calais when you were homeless (particularly homeless and undocumented) without becoming a victim of abuses by the authorities before, but now it’s also a struggle to avoid being the victim of Nazi attacks.

Fascist extremists, members of ‘Save Calais’, and manipulated residents have effectively been besieging a small farmhouse on the outskirts of Calais (which was squatted by a couple of people in need of a home) issuing death threats, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, stalking and attempting to violently attack individuals going about their daily business, and consistently attempting to burn the house down, making life impossible for residents of the house trying to carve out a semblance of a normal life. Today in Calais (and the surrounding area) being a squatter means taking the risk of being lynched under the impassive eyes of police inaction and the defiant ignorance of the sub-prefect and the prefect.[1]

We cannot let the arbitrary violence of a minority—hitherto unpunished—prevent us from having access to shelter and defending the need of decent housing for everyone regardless of their origins. We refuse the trivialization of these methods, and oppose the inaction of state officials; we will not sit back and do nothing, or see these events become an entrenched norm.

It would be great to have more people coming to Calais to help support and sustain our occupations, especially since the police are likely to ignore our strong evidence of legal right to stay, as they have consistently done in the past.

Stop the Rot, Squat the Lot.

[1] In France, the role of the prefect and the sub-prefect is somewhat similar to the one of a district judge combined with the powers of a council official and the crown prosecution service (in England and Wales) in that they can take decisions on police action, whether to intervene in certain political matters, etc.