• France's news in English
No Borders: Are extremists really causing a rumble in the Calais 'Jungle'
Photo: AFP

No Borders: Are extremists really causing a rumble in the Calais 'Jungle'

AFP · 4 Mar 2016, 12:05

Published: 04 Mar 2016 12:05 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

As the demolition continued in the southern half of the camp, where thousands of migrants have gathered in the hope of smuggling their way to Britain, the French government has accused the "violent and extremist" No Borders group of spearheading resistance. But distinguishing its members from the many volunteers and aid workers in the camp was often difficult.

Were these mysterious radicals among the dozens of Europeans standing alongside Kurdish and Iranian refugees as they tried to block the bulldozers from destroying the Hashram Kitchen, one of the main food distribution centres? It was hard to tell.

"If they're here, none of them will talk to the press, that's one of their key rules," said Maya, who works with the charity Auberge des Migrants.

She said they certainly had a more "revolutionary" air than the charities working in the camp, and were more willing to confront the police, but the image of violent hooligans presented in some parts of the French and British press was greatly exaggerated. Anarchists, anti-globalists, agitators: these are only some of the words used to describe the group by politicians.

Several thousand migrants are living in makeshift shelters on the outskirts of the northern French port city, hoping to sneak across the Channel and claim asylum in Britain.

The camp has also attracted an ever-changing cast of volunteers from Britain, all trying to help, but often arriving with different ideas about how to protest the grim conditions in the Jungle.

'Done lots of good things'

The most notorious are No Borders. But aid workers who know the inner workings of the Jungle agreed there were barely a dozen No Borders activists - a far cry from the hundreds sometimes reported by the press or authorities.

"They've done lots of good things in Calais, like opening a squat for women. They are useful, talk a lot to the migrants, especially on political questions," said Maya.

Around the Hashram Kitchen, the atmosphere was more "peace and love" than violent thuggery - most had the air of earnest students or ageing hippies, all dreadlocks and beanie hats.

"They can be a real pain, too - doing things their own way. But their influence on the camp is minimal," Maya said.

Tom Radcliffe, a British volunteer who helped establish Help Refugees and has been living in one of the shacks cleared away this week, dismissed the idea that No Borders is a dangerous source of disorder as "absolute nonsense".

"They are not sinister- they're kids," he said. "They sometimes do some rather foolish things, giving people inaccurate information. They can be immature because many of them are very young and haven't seen what happens when things go bad."

'Profoundly racist'

Story continues below…

No Borders began in 1999, according to its website, and claims to fight against borders and immigration controls saying "we believe in freedom of movement for all". Calais is only one of their causes.

The group says the idea that the Jungle residents cannot organize themselves and need white activists from No Borders is "profoundly racist". "There is a very strong movement which is entirely led by the migrants," they wrote on their website.

For many, the biggest problem was the myth surrounding No Borders.

"They have built up their own mythology, and the pro-migrant organizations sometimes use them for cover," said one charity worker who did not give his name. He said authorities use them as a scapegoat.

Another aid worker estimated there were around 15 "pure and hardcore" No Borders activists onsite, mostly  British women from relatively privileged backgrounds.

They have been known to push the migrants to forcefully resist actions by the police and organize protests in the town, he added. "On at least two occasions, No Borders provoked hundreds of migrants to protest at the port or the train station, telling them that the police presence had been reduced."

Some of the more senior migrant community leaders are wary of the activists, fearing that the group is using them to advance a political agenda.

"They have the support of quite a lot of the migrants, but not the leaders of the migrant communities, who have understood their game," said the aid worker.

Their influence could be seen on Thursday, when a group of Iranians emerged from the information centre with their mouths stitched shut in silent protest at the eviction.

It was a powerful way to draw the attention of the world's media, and no one was able to say whether it was the work of the refugees themselves or a group working behind the scenes.

by Eric Randolph

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

UK border must move back, says 'next French president'
Photo: AFP

If favourite Alain Juppé is elected, Britain and France are in for some difficult negotiations.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available