'Let me get my gun': Xenophobic groups intimidate migrants in Calais
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A group of protesters in the French port city of Calais have been caught on video threatening migrants by brandishing what appears to be a weapon. In the two clips, a man can also be heard saying ‘let me go fetch my gun’ while others hurl a barrage of verbal abuse at dozens of asylum-seekers and migrants.
At least one of the videos was uploaded by the group ‘Calaisiens en colère’, which roughly translates into English as ‘Angry residents of Calais’. In the YouTube clip, which lasts 23 seconds, migrants walk under cover of darkness while an onlooker shouts ‘tonight, it’s war’. A ballistics expert told FRANCE 24 that the sound of a metal object being handled can be clearly heard at around 16 seconds. Just before the 20 second mark, an object passes in front of the camera for a split second that appears to glimmer under the light. A shot – or what could be a blank - can then be heard barely one second later. Sensing the danger, the migrants run for their lives.
"Wait, I'm going to go get my gun"
The second clip lasts almost a minute and a half. Filmed from a vantage point, it shows French police vehicles patrolling a stretch of road. Behind the camera, groups of men and women shout "we’re in France", "come on, bastards", "sons of bitches", while another comments, "there’s loads of them". At the one minute mark, a man can be heard saying off camera "wait, I’m going to go get my gun". At 1:10, another says "do you have a flash-ball boss, can I use it?" [Editor’s note: A flash-ball is a non-lethal weapon that fires rubber rounds. Although it isn’t designed to be lethal, it can cause serious injury].
Although both videos can be seen in full on YouTube, a shortened version of the first one – without the sound of a firearm – was later uploaded to the Facebook page of 'Calaisiens en colère'. Philippe Wanesson writes the blog ‘Passeurs d’Hospitalité’ [Hospitality smugglers]. In a blog post, he points out that members of the group themselves were quick to notice the change. Referring to the first clip, one user posted: ‘they took it out of the video because it was something unusual, to avoid charges being pressed against the person. Avoid saying anything that relates to what’s missing.’
Screen grab showing a comment posted by a member of the Facebook page 'Calaisiens en colère'. He says: 'they took it out of the video because it was something unusual, to avoid charges being pressed against the person. Avoid saying anything that relates to what’s missing.’
On its Facebook page, the group claims to take a stand against the ‘security problems’ caused by the thousands of refugees and migrants living in squalid camps on the outskirts of the city, and asks its members to avoid making racist remarks or inciting violence.
Asked to comment, ‘Calaisiens en colère’ declined our request for a phone interview.
"They do this to spread a climate of fear, to scare the migrants"Claire Millot is the general secretary of SALAM, a French-based NGO that helps migrants in the sprawling camp that has come to be called ‘the jungle’.
There are two groups that often hold protests: ‘Sauvons Calais’ and ‘Calaisiens en colère’. The migrants are scared of these groups. Lots of migrants have been attacked by individuals in isolated incidents. People pull up in cars carrying iron bars and try to attack isolated groups of migrants outside the camps. But there’s no way of establishing a link between these individuals who carry out the attacks and the two groups that I mentioned. Whenever there are clashes, there are neither police nor witnesses. It appears that these individuals do this to spread a climate of fear, to scare the migrants.
"As the migrant influx grew, so too did the hostility towards them"
In the past, most resident of Calais were welcoming to the migrants. But it seems that as the migrant influx grew, so too did the hostility towards them. That’s why groups like ‘Calaisiens en colère’ – which only recently came into being – have been getting more and more support from residents. I can understand why some people might be frightened. But now almost everyone here is against their presence. That said, having talked to people who live here, it seems that lots of people who take part in protests against them aren’t even from the city, but have come from further afield.
Indeed, ‘Calaisiens en colère’ isn’t the only group campaigning against the migrants. In December, some of its members were photographed protesting alongside militants from an extreme right-wing group.
"There's a difference between being angry, and inciting violence and hatred"Christian Salomé is the president of the NGO ‘Auberge des migrants’ [Inn of the migrants]. He says that some groups are encouraging individuals to commit acts of violence against asylum-seekers.
On the Facebook pages of groups like ‘Calaisiens en colère’ we can see plenty of people inciting violence. I’m not saying it’s necessarily members of these groups carrying out the attacks, but they spread a message of hate. Other people get that message, and then go and attack migrants themselves. Groups of people go and shout insults at the migrants pretty much every night. The police hardly ever do anything to stop them. I can understand the anger of residents from Calais at having thousands of migrants suddenly living in their town. But there’s a difference between being angry, and inciting violence and hatred.
This article was written with France 24 journalist Andrew Hilliar (@andyhilliar).