Migrants in Calais hoping to make their way to England are holding a demonstration calling for more protection from the police today, as far-right groups plan to protest their presence this weekend.
They claim to have experienced an increase in the number of physical attacks by French police in the past week and say that they have no confidence that they will protect them when an anti-immigration group marches in Calais on Sunday.
The news comes after the town’s mayor threatened to close the port following an attempt by scores of would-be migrants to storm a ferry bound for England on Wednesday. Natacha Bouchart demanded more help from the British government in dealing with people attempting to cross the Channel illegally.
According to march organisers, the demonstrators will gather this afternoon at the food distribution in Calais, before making their way through the town.
“In the last weeks many of us had to face a lot of police violence,” said one of the migrants, whose identity was not disclosed. “Some of us got broken hands and others broken legs and even some got hurt their heads,” they said.
The anti-immigration group “Sauvons Calais” (Let’s Save Calais) has planned its own demonstration on Sunday 7 September. The group demands that the migrants be expelled from the Calais area and groups helping them be banned and anyone sheltering them arrested.
They have been involved in a long-running confrontation with squatters in a Calais suburb, which culminated in one of the squatted buildings being burned down.
Their demonstration on Sunday will include a security detail – they say – to counter the perceived threat posed by “far-left rabble”. However, they promise, anyone among their ranks breaching public order will be ejected from the march.
The protest is likely to be opposed by anti-fascist groups, including Calais Migrant Solidarity, who have called on supporters to resist.
But the migrants say that they have nowhere to hide and fear for their safety. “In the next days the fascists will come to Calais to meet and demonstrate here. There is no shelter for us to be secure and to hide from them. We cannot trust the police to protect us from them as we experienced already so much violence from them,” said one.
Doctors of the World, which is present in Calais, confirmed to Channel 4 News that it has seen injuries to migrants – some of which required hospital treatment – caused by police.
There have been increasing tensions in Calais in recent weeks. Police reinforcements have been sent to try to stop desperate people clambering aboard ferries.
And Natacha Bouchart threatened to use the town’s population to blockade the port. She demanded more action from the UK government to “send a message that migrants from Calais will not be welcomed”.
She told reporters: “My proposal [to block the port] still remains. We are sick of not being listened to. There needs to be a realisation that the people of Calais have suffered in this situation for 12 years. Until now we have had no help, no word of compassion and no support… It is time for the UK government to take responsibility.”
She acknowledged that the move would be illegal but said she could not allow the crisis to continue.
At the end of last month, the French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve met Theresa May to discuss further cooperation. In a joint statement, they said: “The increase in migrant numbers seen in Calais and its regions since the spring of 2014 has brought very difficult economic, social and public order problems. We have a duty to strengthen our efforts and find new solutions to alleviate the impact of these migrant numbers on the Calais population and its economy, and to prevent illegal immigration.”
Neither the French interior ministry – on behalf of the country’s police force – nor Sauvons Calais responded to requests for comment.