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IMMIGRATION

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

They have become an influential presence behind the scenes in France's "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais, but the myth surrounding the shadowy No Borders activist group serves many agendas.

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

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'

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

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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